Wednesday, April 10

DH Daniel Vogelbach embracing non-traditional look as leadoff hitter in Pirates’ lineup

Daniel Vogelbach didn’t treat his return trip to Milwaukee as a homecoming, even though he spent the past two seasons playing for the Brewers. To him, it’s just another series that he wants to win.

That it coincided with the one-year anniversary of his two-home run game against the Pittsburgh Pirates — he hit a 397-foot shot off Chad Kuhl and a 411-foot bomb off Chris Stratton in a 6-5 loss in 10 innings — isn’t something Vogelbach was planning to celebrate.

The 6-foot, 270-pounder returned to American Family Field on Monday focused on keeping his job as the Pirates’ regular designated hitter and occasional leadoff batter, one role he’s perfectly suited for and another that requires some explaining.

“It’s early on but it’s nice to know where you stand a little bit,” Vogelbach said. “It’s one thing about having a role and another to keep it. You’ve got to perform. That’s coming to the field every day and getting your work in and performing when your number is called. I’m just trying to take it day to day, one game at a time and we’ll look up at the end of the year and see where the numbers are.”

Vogelbach’s reticence is understandable. He has twice been traded, was designated for assignment by Toronto and non-tendered by Milwaukee. His positional versatility is limited to playing only first base and DH, although he’s shown he can handle hitting anywhere in the order.

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Vogelbach earned a reputation as a slugger for the Seattle Mariners in 2019, when he was selected to the All-Star Game after hitting 21 homers with 51 RBIs in the first half and finished with 30 home runs and had 76 RBIs in 144 games. He hit 16 homers and 40 RBIs as the DH.

Since the pandemic season in 2020, however, Vogelbach has been searching for a regular role because of injuries and ineffectiveness. So he’s welcomed his chance to share the first base and designated hitter roles with Yoshi Tsutsugo.

In eight games, Vogelbach is batting .333 (9 for 27) with a .400 on-base percentage, one double, one home run and two RBIs while scoring six runs. He batted cleanup in the 6-1 loss Monday night in Milwaukee, going 2 for 3 with a walk, his first of the season.

Derek Shelton doesn’t defend his decision to bat the lefty leadoff so much as the Pittsburgh Pirates manager prefers to explain why.

“He gets on base. He works counts,” Shelton said last Wednesday, after Vogelbach went 2 for 4 with a lineout to center in a 6-2 win over the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park. “The fact that against right-handed pitching he gets on base. … The fact that you’re coming to a new team and you’re hitting in a spot in the order that’s a little non-traditional for him, having three good swings was really important.”

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Vogelbach has batted first in the order in five games, hitting .350 (7 for 20). Those numbers were boosted by his performance in a 9-4 win over the Washington Nationals on Thursday, when Vogelbach finished 4 for 6 with a home run, a double, three runs scored and two RBIs. It was his second career four-hit game, and he finished a triple shy of hitting for the cycle — something Shelton joked would have been both “magical” and “fun to watch.”

When asked about batting leadoff, Vogelbach simply shrugs.

“You’re really only leading off the game one time,” Vogelbach said. “There’s going to be a lot of times no matter where you’re hitting in the lineup that you’re leading off an inning. I just take it as I’m just leading off an inning. That’s how it is. I’m trying to get on base for the guys behind me because we’ve got some really good hitters in this lineup. If you get on base, it makes it easier for them.”

Vogelbach led off three innings with hits in that Nationals game, hitting a 419-foot homer into the visiting bullpen in left-center in the first, knocking a single to right and scoring on a Bryan Reynolds homer in the third and a double in the sixth where he scored on a Tsutsugo sacrifice fly. Vogelbach also had an RBI single in the seventh.

If Vogelbach batting leadoff looks odd, he’s not complaining. He likes knowing that Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes and Tsutsugo are following him in the order.

“I try to get on base for those guys and let them do what they do — and that’s hit,” Vogelbach said. “They can really hit.”

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So can Vogelbach, whether he’s batting in a traditional role or not.

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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