Pedro Florimon had one job in the first game of the Pirates’ split doubleheader Tuesday: Score the game-winning run for Pittsburgh.
With the score tied at four, Florimon ascended the stairs of the third base dugout and headed toward first base in the bottom of the eighth inning to serve as a pinch-runner for Pedro Alvarez, who had just hit a lead-off single. The speedy Florimon was called on to replace the lumbering Alvarez with the hope that he would have an easier time rounding the bases to score.
Florimon got his sign, gazed at Chicago Cubs pitcher Justin Grimm and began his lead off the base. As Grimm delivered his first pitch to the next batter, Starling Marte, Florimon turned to his right and began churning his legs toward second base. Catcher Miguel Montero caught the inside pitch, popped out of his stance so hard he almost lost his mask and gunned the ball across the diamond to shortstop Starlin Castro.
Diving head first, Florimon was well ahead of the throw, which ended up ricocheting off the edge of the grass in front of the base. Castro couldn’t track the bounce, and the ball flew over his left hand into center field. Florimon immediately jumped to his feet and jogged to third base while watching the center fielder pick up the ball and toss it back to the infield.
Three pitches later, Marte lifted a routine line out to Austin Jackson in the middle of left field. Jackson gunned the ball home, but the throw drew Montero well to the left of the third base-side batter’s box. Even a well-placed throw would not have caught Florimon, who used third base to start his bolt home the way a sprinter uses starting blocks. An emphatic leap toward the plate to score the Pirates’ fifth and winning run was the exclamation mark.
Mission accomplished for Florimon.
Florimon has little business being in the Pirates’ starting lineup, especially now that everyone in their deep middle infield is healthy and the rosters have expanded. He has two hits in 22 at-bats this season with 12 strikeouts. His .091 average is lower than three Pirate starting pitchers.
With numbers like that, one could wonder how he is even on a major league roster. Fans groan when he is in the starting lineup, and has even been booed at PNC Park when coming to bat.
But what Florimon gives the Pirates is speed between the bases, and that helped him score the game-winning run as a pinch-runner in two straight games.
After Travis Ishikawa hit a bloop single to left field and advanced to second base on a fielding error on Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers, Florimon was called on to run for Ishikawa. He advanced to third on a Jordy Mercer groundout, and went home on Josh Harrison’s ensuing single.
The impact may have seemed minimal since neither base-taking instance by Florimon was the result of his speed, but the Brewers still had to respect it.
If nothing else, that is what Florimon offers as a pinch-runner. If the other team is less likely to test him, his impact is felt.
He has 25 career stolen bases in his five-year career, including 15 with the Twins in 2013. His stolen base Tuesday was his first of this season, though consider how few times he has been on base, which have given him a limited amount of opportunities to have more.
Being a late-inning pinch-runner is not likely to get Florimon a spot on a post-season roster; it would be very difficult for the Pirates to justify giving him one of the limited number of spots for that sole purpose. He is not currently blocking anyone off the roster, but could prevent a guy like Michael Morse or Travis Snider from playing in the postseason once the roster size shrinks back down to 25 players. It is hard to even see him on the club’s 40-man roster come Spring Training.
But in a tight race for the National League Central counts, every possible asset on an expanded roster needs to be utilized. When Florimon’s only job for the Pirates is to give them a better chance to leg out a game winning, it is a responsibility he runs with.