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Pirates Josh Harrison is a man for all fields

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PITTSBURGH (AP)

(Eds: Updates throughout. With AP Photos.)By WILL GRAVESAP Sports Writer

Josh Harrison stood in a hallway deep inside PNC Park on Tuesday afternoon, trying to make his way to the field for batting practice.

One problem. His gloves made the going slow. And treacherous..

There was his middle infielder's glove. His first baseman's glove. His third baseman's glove. Oh yeah, don't forget the outfielder's glove, the one he received in training camp but had spent the last six weeks tucked away in the back of his locker - until Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle told Harrison earlier in the week he'd be playing right field for the first time since he was in Class A four years ago.

Balancing all four gloves and a couple of bats takes some doing, particularly if you're 5-feet-8. Harrison will manage, however, so long as it helps him keep his job, whatever it is.

The most exciting moment of Harrison's day is the minute he walks into the clubhouse and checks the lineup card to see where he'll be next.

''I always look,'' Harrison said. ''If I'm in the lineup I'll see where I'm at and I'll take my work there and if I'm not in the lineup I'll try to take my (at bats) wherever I can get them.''

Those at bats are coming more often than ever. The 24-year-old sparkplug is one of the few pleasant offensive surprises for the run-starved Pirates, who open a three-game series with the Cubs on Friday.

Harrison is hitting .274 - good enough for second on the team behind Andrew McCutchen - and gained a piece of fame last week by breaking up a no-hit bid by Detroit ace Justin Verlander with one out in the ninth inning.

The at-bat was typical Harrison. He looked overmatched while flailing away at a couple of breaking balls before throwing his bat at one final slider Verlander left in the middle of the plate. The ball rolled into center field and Harrison found himself playing spoiler.

''He probably thought I was expecting a fastball and could get me off guard,'' Harrison said. ''I was thinking fastball and that pitch, he just left it up a little bit.''

Then again, the ball doesn't have to get very high to be considered ''up'' when Harrison is in the batter's box. His crouch leaves little room for pitchers to put the ball and the ones that do find their way to the strike zone, he attacks.

Harrison is riding a nine-game hitting streak since being elevated to the starting lineup and has scored at least one run in eight of Pittsburgh's last nine contests.

Now the player who spent most of last season as Pittsburgh's 25th man is becoming too invaluable to leave on the bench. Hurdle joked with bench coach Jeff Banister on Tuesday that Harrison is so busy he needed a day off.

It's a good problem to have for Harrison, a sixth-round pick by the Cubs in 2008 before being traded to the Pirates a year later. He's worked his way up through the minors before breaking through last year as a utility infielder.

The Pirates told him in spring training if he wanted to stay in the majors all year, he'd better be ready for anything. About the only position Harrison figures he can't handle is catcher.

''That's out of the question,'' he said with a laugh. ''They probably tell you that when I catch between innings, the glove takes me. I blink and the ball is at the backstop.''

The way Harrison is playing, Hurdle hasn't ruled out a turn at first, if just so the manager can placate his wife.

''My wife challenges me at home, she says `Well have you put him at first base yet' and I'm like `no I haven't','' Hurdle said. ''She goes `Why is that?' and I say ''I never think it's right when you throw downhill to first base' but we might kick that one to the curb as well.''

Harrison will adapt. It's what he does.

Though he played basketball and football as a kid, baseball is the sport that stuck. His family jokes he came out of the womb swinging, and Harrison remembers using a fork as a bat and having his older brother toss a wadded up piece of paper at him for a little impromptu batting practice.

Harrison still attacks the game the same way, though he credits a mental adjustment for his improved play. There used to be a time where he figured he was one 3 for 4 night away from becoming a regular. It led him to take unnecessary chances and lose his focus.

''If you go 1 for 4 and you have good at bats, that's a good day,'' he said. ''Off the bench (batting) .250 is great because you really don't have any rhythm.''

Harrison does now, and the way he's playing don't expect him out of the lineup anytime soon.

''He's worked hard to become this versatile,'' Hurdle said. ''It's going to play out well for him and it's going to work out well for us.''

Tagged: Pirates, Josh Harrison

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