Polanco's hamstring issues puzzling Pirates

Outfielder working his way back from third stint on DL this season

Polanco's hamstring issues puzzling Pirates

CHICAGO -- Gregory Polanco is on his way back again, testing his strained left hamstring by sprinting and running arcs around the infield. The only box left to check before he can return, head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk said Wednesday, is baserunning.

After that, all the Pirates have to do is keep him healthy. That's been the challenge this season for Pittsburgh's right fielder. Sidelined since Aug. 13, Polanco is on the disabled list for the third time this season due to a left hamstring strain.

The recurring injuries have sparked an ongoing conversation with Polanco, manager Clint Hurdle and the club's performance team: What can they do to avoid this in the future?

"Polanco's missed games at the Major League level unlike any of [his] Minor League time," Hurdle said. "This is something we're digging into and trying to figure out as well."

Polanco had only been on the disabled list once in his professional career before this season, and that was five years ago in the Minors. He was held back by a number of nagging injuries last year, but it was never enough to land him on the DL. This year has been a different story, however, as he's dealt with injuries beyond his troublesome hamstring.

Hurdle said the club will consider whether Polanco, who has only played in 91 of the Pirates' 134 games, needs more regular rest. But the work toward a healthy, productive 2018 season for Polanco will begin this winter.

"As a performance team, we've got to take back a number of layers," Tomczyk said. "We really have to look into his offseason training. ... He's done everything we've asked. Unfortunately, we keep coming up with the same result."

Trainer's room
• Relievers Wade LeBlanc (left quad strain) and Joaquin Benoit (left knee inflammation) could be close to returning after pitching simulated innings indoors on Tuesday. Reliever George Kontos (right groin strain) threw off flat ground and tossed a few pitches off the mound Wednesday afternoon, Tomczyk said.

LeBlanc is eligible to return but was reportedly put on outright waivers. Kontos became eligible to come off the DL on Wednesday, and Benoit is eligible to do so on Friday.

• Catcher Francisco Cervelli (left quad irritation) has begun hitting, playing catch and jogging, Tomczyk said. He is eligible to come off the disabled list on Monday.

Adam Frazier (strained right hamstring) is in a "holding pattern," Tomczyk said, and will be re-evaluated on Friday.

Around the horn
• Left-hander Steven Brault on Wednesday was named the International League's Most Valuable Pitcher after recording a league-leading 1.94 ERA in 21 games for Triple-A Indianapolis this season. Currently working out of the Pirates' bullpen, Brault is expected to make a few starts for Pittsburgh down the stretch. The last Indianapolis pitcher to win the award was Zach Duke in 2005.

• The Pirates' top two Minor League affiliates clinched postseason spots on Tuesday. Indianapolis secured the International League West division title, and Double-A Altoona is bound for the Eastern League playoffs for the third straight year.

Top Pirates prospect Austin Meadows is out due to an oblique injury in Triple-A. The club is assessing his status daily to determine his availability for the International League playoffs. Meadows is not expected to be among Pittsburgh's September callups.

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