PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Pirates are turning to a familiar face in their attempt to stay in the crowded National League Central race.
Pittsburgh claimed veteran utility infielder Sean Rodriguez off waivers from Atlanta on Saturday and sent the Braves minor league infielder Connor Joe in return. The Pirates hope Rodriguez's versatility and bat can give their bench a much-needed boost over the final two months of the season as they try to remain within striking distance of first-place Chicago.
This is Rodriguez's second stint with the Pirates. He revitalized his career while filling several roles for Pittsburgh in 2015 and 2016, when he hit .260 with 22 home runs in 279 games, helping Pittsburgh to a playoff berth in 2015 and putting up career highs in hits, home runs and RBIs in 2016. Rodriguez turned that into a two-year, $11.5 million deal with the Braves, who promised to give him a chance to become an everyday player after filling a super utility role in Pittsburgh.
A Jan. 28 car crash in Miami that involved Rodriguez, his wife and his two young sons changed the trajectory of Rodriguez's season before it began. His wife was seriously injured, and he sustained a significant tear in his left rotator cuff as well as a dislocated biceps tendon and damage to his labrum. He underwent surgery in February and didn't make his debut with the Braves until after the All-Star break. He hit just .162 in 15 games with Atlanta, though the Pirates are hardly worried about Rodriguez's bumpy start since his return.
"We see the same aggressiveness, see the same impact," Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington said. "The swing-and-miss has been a challenge in a short sample, but it's a short sample."
Both Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle said the Pirates heavily pursued Rodriguez when he hit the free-agent market. The 31-year-old Rodriguez provided a "unique energy and edge" in his first go-around with Pittsburgh. The Pirates expect more of the same going forward.
"I anticipate getting him on the field and him being able to spot up in a number of different places, not just in the field but at the plate," Hurdle said. "He's been very aggressive in his rehab to come back. I'm just looking forward to putting my eyes on him."
Depth has been an issue for Pittsburgh, which began Saturday 4 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the tight NL Central. Third baseman Jung Ho Kang has spent the entire season in South Korea with visa concerns following an offseason DUI arrest and conviction, and outfielder Starling Marte served an 80-game suspension after testing positive for steroids.
The Pirates spent most of Marte's absence trying to make do by attempting to turn Adam Frazier, John Jaso and Jose Osuna -- infielders by trade -- into outfielders. Results were mixed at best. Rodriguez, who can play three infield positions and both corner outfielder spots, gives Pittsburgh plenty of options.
In addition to Rodriguez, the Pirates claimed reliever George Kontos off waivers from the San Francisco Giants. Kontos went 0-5 with a 3.83 ERA in 50 games for San Francisco this season. To make room for Rodriguez and Kontos, the Pirates designated reliever Jhan Marinez and outfielder Danny Ortiz for assignment.