Hanson, playing LF, throws out two at plate

Plays by former infield prospect occurred in same inning

Hanson, playing LF, throws out two at plate

BRADENTON, Fla. -- For three innings on Sunday afternoon, Gerrit Cole breezed through the Blue Jays lineup. He faced the minimum nine hitters, struck out five and mixed in all four pitches. Then he came up with a new game plan in the fourth inning: Let them hit it to left fielder Alen Hanson.

"That worked out well for us," Cole said.

Hanson threw out two runners at home plate, saving two runs in a three-batter span. He gunned down Gregorio Petit at home on Steve Pearce's ground-ball single to left then again teamed up with catcher Francisco Cervelli to cut down Pearce after Darrell Ceciliani's base hit. The game ended in an 11-11 tie.

Lesson learned, apparently: Don't run on Hanson, the former shortstop-turned-second base prospect now being groomed to fill a super-utility role.

"In that situation, I'm ready to throw hard to home if that happens," Hanson said.

Hanson, 24, has played some left field in the Minor Leagues, but he is moving around the field this spring, preparing for a more versatile role off the Pirates' bench. He is still learning some positions, including the outfield.

"He had a lot of opportunities out there today," manager Clint Hurdle said. "There's work to be done, because there's plays out there today that were complicated for him, and there were two strikes home to throw people out."

Hurdle joked that he couldn't remember the last time he saw a left fielder throw out two runners at home plate in the same game.

"Might have been 1982 Opening Day, Reds vs. Cubs," Hurdle said. "Left fielder for the Reds threw out Bill Buckner twice at home."

The left fielder for the Reds that day, of course, was Clint Hurdle. He threw out Buckner in the sixth and again in the eighth.

Hanson is out of Minor League options, so he will likely make the Pirates' Opening Day roster as a super-utility option off the bench who can pinch-run and hit from both sides of the plate.

"If they give me an opportunity, I'm ready," Hanson said. "I'm ready to do my job."

After a breakout 2012 season with Class A West Virginia, inconsistency has been the issue holding back Hanson. Hanson made his Major League debut last season, batting .226 with a .531 OPS and two steals in 27 games. He hit .266/.318/.389 with eight homers and 36 steals for Triple-A Indianapolis.

"The tools still play. The challenges still exist," general manager Neal Huntington said. "At times, he'll show you the flashes of the guy we all think he can become. At times, he reminds us that there's still a lot of work left.

"Depending upon who else is on this club, we'll see where he does fit. You still love the upside, but at some point in time there's a transition from prospect to Major League player that needs to take place."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.