Polanco extends hitting streak to 11 games

Outfielder extends career-starting stretch on infield single in seventh

Polanco extends hitting streak to 11 games

CHICAGO -- After Gregory Polanco's first week with the Pirates, Las Vegas books established him as the overwhelming favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year race.

What race?

Polanco extended his career-starting hitting streak to 11 games with an infield single off Cubs right-handed reliever Justin Grimm in the seventh inning Saturday night.

Just to make it more interesting, Polanco was initially called out on shortstop Starlin Castro's throw by first base umpire James Hoye. Manager Clint Hurdle successfully challenged the call.

"It was a hard ground ball," Castro said, helplessly. "That's the only thing that I can do. That guy can run, he hustled out of the box. It's a tough play."

"He's got speed, and is smart with it," Hurdle said. "The reason he was able to be safe is, he got out of the box and got down the line. There was no stop; he finished the play hard through the bag."

That hit improved Polanco's ledger to .365 (19-for-52) with a homer and seven RBIs, besides the 10 runs he has scored in the 11 games.

Compare that start to the season's first 11 games of those of the NL's other three leading Rookie of The Year Award contenders:

Billy Hamilton, Reds: .154 (6-for-39), one RBI, three runs.

Tommy La Stella, Braves: .368 (14-for-38), four RBIs, three runs.

Chris Owings, Diamondbacks: .297 (11-for-37), zero RBIs, four runs.

Why draw comparisons among the initial 11 games? After an adjustment period, it is not unusual for young players to settle in and for real talent to emerge. For instance, Hamilton has become a versatile producer for the Reds, with a current average of .275.

So, yes -- Polanco may still be warming up.

No one in the National League has begun his career with a comparable hitting streak since 2000 when Colorado's Juan Pierre started out with a 16-game streak (amid a total of 18 game appearances, entering two others only on defense).

Pierre's batting coach with the Rockies? Clint Hurdle.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.