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Perrotto: Why Pirates Aren’t Giving Up on Rowdy Tellez

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I received a text from a former Pirates player last week who played on good and bad teams in Pittsburgh in the pre-PNC Park days.

“Never put yourself in a position for bad karma,” the message read.

The text was about Pirates first baseman Rowdy Tellez, who has been roundly booed in recent weeks whenever he comes up to bat at PNC Park. It was Tellez, of course, who admonished the fans for booing closer David Bednar after he blew a save opportunity on April 9 against the Detroit Tigers.

Considering he had played in his fifth home game with the Pirates, Tellez did not have enough gravitas to tell the fans how to act. Especially fans of a franchise that has had losing records in 27 of the previous 31 seasons.

Tellez certainly hasn’t given Pirates fans much to cheer about since being signed to a one-year, $3.2-million contract as a free agent during the offseason. The 29-year-old is hitting .175/.242/.225 in 32 games. Tellez has only one home run in 132 plate appearances.

That begs the question of why the Pirates are hanging onto Tellez.

“Just the underlying physical traits are still there,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “The bat speed, the ability to hit the ball really hard. He’s healthy, he’s working hard. He’s scuffling. He knows that. We all know that. I know he feels the burden of that and he’s accountable for it. We’re all accountable for our performance ultimately.”

Ultimately, though, veteran players must produce in the major leagues. Tellez is in his seventh big-league season so there should no longer be a learning curve.

There has also been very little evidence that Tellez is even close to breaking out of his season-long slump or being the same hitter who had 35 home runs for the Milwaukee Brewers two years ago. Yet the Pirates are standing by the left-handed hitter.

“We’re not seeing the outcomes that we’ve seen in the past,” Cherington said. “We’re not seeing the outcomes that we hoped to see. The physical things that would and hopefully still can lead to those outcomes are still there.”

Many fans don’t feel that way as the preponderance of booing would suggest. However, Pirates manager Derek Shelton thinks it would be unfair to give up on Tellez just yet.

Shelton pointed out that when Nick Gonzales’ hit a walk-off single last Tuesday night in the Pirates’ 7-6 victory over the San Francisco Giants at PNC Park, Tellez was the first player to greet him.

“That’s a good teammate,” Shelton said. “That’s someone that is staying within the fight in the group when he’s going through a tough time. Obviously the fans have showed that and are frustrated and I understand that but the character of the person and like that, if that’s a person that is pouting or feeling sorry for themselves, or not working, he’s not the first guy that gets to Nick Gonzales in that situation. And I think that stands out of how he’s continuing to act and behave.”

It’s great that Tellez does not need an attitude adjustment. It would be even greater if he added some juice to the lineup.

The regular first baseman job is gradually shifting to Connor Joe, who has started in nine of the last 12 games. Joe deserves the playing time with his .280/.351/.458 slash line and six homers in 47 games.

Yet the Pirates continue to hold out hope for Tellez.

“We’re working on some things, so he’s been working really hard and trying to give him a chance to get his feet underneath him,” Shelton said. “Hoping to get him back to where he needs to be.”

It is a results-oriented business, though, And Tellez’s results — and karma — have been bad.

 

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