Jun. 15—Josh Bell wasn’t sure what might happen after the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ dismal 2020 season. A different front office than the one that drafted, signed and made him a rich man was in charge now.
No one was safe.
During the offseason, he exchanged several text messages with teammate Jameson Taillon, speculating on the immediate future of the Pirates and their veteran players.
“We were wondering who was going to go, if anybody was going to go,” Bell said Monday before his current team (the Washington Nationals) met his former team (the Pirates) at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. “If (the Pirates) were going to sign some guys in the offseason.”
As it turned out, “Jamo gets traded. I get traded. (Joe) Musgrove gets traded. It’s, ‘OK, on to the next chapter.’ “
Bell and pitchers Taillon and Musgrove became the sixth, seventh and eighth established veterans traded by the Pirates in the past three years, joining All-Star outfielders Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Austin Meadows, plus Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow, currently two of the American League’s best pitchers.
Turning the page hasn’t proved fruitful for the Pirates, Nationals or Bell, with both teams in last place in their respective divisions. Before Monday, Bell was hitting .214.
His average dipped to .113 at the end of April before he raised it 101 points, largely by hitting .395 from May 13-26. He also had a six-game hitting streak end Sunday. For the season, Bell had eight home runs and 24 RBIs.
“Slowing things down again, trying to stay behind the ball, put balls in play,” he said of trying to solve his problems at the plate. “I feel really good the last few week,s and, hopefully, I can turn things on again here.
“I dug myself into a little bit of a hole. Now, as of late, I feel like I’m kind of treading water, waiting to gain traction again and go off on a good, little spurt.
“I’ve been fluctuating between .210, .220 for a while now. If I can (rally) and start driving runs in, I think the team as a whole will be in a better place.”
Bell said he remembers his five seasons in Pittsburgh as “not too distant of a memory, but definitely a memory.”
He said he keeps in touch with several former teammates, including Adam Frazier, Kyle Crick, Colin Moran and Jacob Stallings.
He’s noticed Frazier’s .335 batting average, raised impressively after he hit only .230 last year.
“He’s lights out, huh,” Bell said. “Last year was kind of tough for everybody, but he figured some things out and is barreling the ball.”
The Pirates traded Bell, with the intent of replacing him at first base with Moran, who was losing third base to Ke’Bryan Hayes. But Moran has been battling groin, hand and (currently) back injuries, and four others have spelled him at various points this season.
Erik Gonzalez started there Monday night, but Will Craig, Phillip Evans and Todd Frazier also have been forced into duty. Overall, in Bell’s absence, the Pirate have 11 home runs, 53 RBIs and a .227 batting average from their first basemen.
Bell said he’s comfortable in Washington, D.C., while living close enough to Nationals Park to avoid the infamous D.C. traffic jams.
Plus, former Pirates teammates Josh Harrison (the starter at second base Monday), Jordy Mercer and Daniel Hudson (injured) are with him in Washington.
“Good, little reunion,” he said.
At 33, Harrison has found new life, hitting .278 last season and .279 before Monday.
“He’s a lot of fun to watch,” Bell said. “When he’s on, when he’s hitting, he brings electricity to the dugout, to the clubouse, to the stadium. He takes care of his body. He’s one of the first ones here. He really cares. You can see it.”
Still, Bell can’t shake the thought of those five seasons with the Pirates, including one as an All-Star.
“It’s a little different seeing the black and gold on the other side of the field,” he said.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .