Bixler proud to be a Pirate again

PITTSBURGH It's been quite a week for Brian Bixler. It started with a quick flight la
Dan Angelo
May 24, 2010

 

PITTSBURGH

It's been quite a week for Brian Bixler.

It started with a quick flight last Sunday from Pawtucket, R.I., where the Perkins graduate was playing shortstop for the Triple A Indianapolis Indians, to Miami where the Pittsburgh Pirates were in action against the Florida Marlins.

The next day, he was being introduced to a sell-out crowd at PNC Park in the Pirates' home opener.

"This is just exciting," Bixler said before taking the field at short as the Pirates closed their six-game homestand Sunday against the Reds. "I'm just really eager to get out there every day and try to play hard to help the team win."

He made his first major league start Wednesday against the Cubs, then collected his first big-league hit Saturday in a 4-3 win over the Reds.

"I got a fastball from the pitcher and drove it up the middle," Bixler said. "The second baseman actually dove and got a piece of it. I thought he caught it and he might have a chance to throw me out but it bounced off his glove.

"It was just awesome to get that first hit. It helps you relax a little and now I can just go out there and play."

Bixler struck out in his first plate appearance as a pinch-hitter against the Marlins.

"I was a little nervous but more excited," Bixler said of the pinch-hit appearance against the Marlins. "You almost don't have enough time to sit there and thing about it. It was exciting but it was pretty quick."

He was used as a pinch runner during Opening Day, and was 0-for-5 in his three starts before Saturday.

"If I was 0-for-15 or 20, I would probably be thinking 'oh no, is it ever going to happen,' but it wasn't too bad," Bixler said, "I was more eager to succeed than anything. I just want to do well."

Bixler got his big-league opportunity when the Pirates placed veteran shortstop Jack Wilson on the 15-day disabled list with a strained calf.

"I knew the situation and knew I had a chance to come up, but it still took me by surprise a little," Bixler said. "It was a little bit of a shock because you never know.

"Last year I was close to getting a shot and it didn't end up happening, so when it did happen, it was really exciting."

For Bixler, the difference between Triple A and the big leagues is opportunity.

"There are a lot of guys in Triple A, and it's not because they are not good enough," Bixler said. "It's because it's all about the opportunities you get."

Bixler made his fourth career start Sunday, going 1-for-4 with a hot grounder to third for an infield single. He hustled to third on a sacrifice bunt and came home on a grounder from Luis Rivas.

But he could also find himself back in Indianapolis at the end of the week when Wilson is scheduled to come off the DL.

"We feel like he's a big part of our organization, and if he's not going to play here, the best scenario is he needs to play," Pirates manager Jack Russell said. "With Jack (Wilson) being our shortstop and Freddie (Sanchez) at second, it's an opportunity for (Bixler) now but it is important for him to get at-bats and not just sit the bench and play occasionally.

"We feel Brian is a bright spot in our future and we want to see him playing."

While it took Bixler a couple of at-bats to get that first hit, his fielding has been solid. He committed two errors in 21 chances -- one Saturday and one Sunday -- and has been part of two double plays.

"I feel like I've been playing good defense," Bixler said. "(Saturday's) error was a tough play. I was trying to make a play of our pitcher and I just rushed it. But we ended up winning so it didn't hurt us, and we move on.

"Once you get that first ground ball out the way, that first at-bat, it's just another game."

Well, not exactly, particularly when a childhood idol like Ken Griffey Jr. comes to the plate.

"That's one of those things where you step back a little and enjoy it," Bixler said. "As a kid, he was one of the guys I looked up to. He was a big-name guy when I was a kid, so that's kind of cool.

"But I've played with some of those guys in spring training as was able to get through that already. You just got to step back and then get ready to play, You can't get caught up in who you're playing against, especially at shortstop because you're in the middle of everything."

Which is exactly where Bixler, who heads West to begin a X-game series against the Dodgers, would like to stay.

"I'm just hoping to play well and help Pittsburgh win as much as possible, and to stick around as long as I can," Bixler said. "I have no idea what will come of this, whether it's me staying here longer or getting another chance later on.

"I just hope to play well and prove I can play at this level."