When you look at MSU’s lineup, it may seem odd that Brett Pirtle – a 5-foot-9, 176-pound second baseman – is hitting in the cleanup spot. It’s especially odd when you see who he’s sandwiched between in the batting order. Hunter Renfroe (6-1, 216), who has 15 home runs, bats third; Wes Rea (6-5, 272), a former offensive lineman with six homers, bats fifth.
But Pirtle has become a fixture in the No. 4 hole, batting there in 28 of MSU’s 60 games this season. Rea recalled his shock the first time he saw Pirtle batting cleanup.
“I was like, are you serious, coach? Pirtle in the four-hole and me in the five-hole? And then I kind of started understanding a little more,” Rea said.
There is indeed a strategy behind it. Coach John Cohen likes to have speed sprinkled all throughout his lineup, and that’s what Pirtle brings to the table.
“Here’s what I love about our lineup the most: I like runners, non-runner, runner, non-runner, runner, non-runner, and of course we’re fortunate when you’ve got a guy like Hunter is a runner and a power guy,” Cohen said. “In terms of flexibility and short game and putting guys in motion, when you have two or maybe three non-runners in a row, it puts a little bit more pressure on you in terms of being able to manage a game.”
Said Rea, “It’s really been working out for us. It’s hard to understand from the outside, but there’s a lot of stuff that goes on that really helps our club.”
Pirtle is batting .310 with 28 RBIs and 31 runs scored, and he has a .424 on-base percentage. MSU is 19-9 when he bats cleanup. Seeing him batting there might throw pitchers for a loop.
“They get Renfroe to come up, and they get all over-excited because they’re facing him – he’s about to do something nasty,” Pirtle said. “Then all of a sudden I come up, and they’re just like, oh yeah, I’m going to get this guy out. I don’t know what they’re thinking. I just go out there and play.”
You can watch Pirtle talk about his cleanup role in the video above. Rea and shortstop Adam Frazier also talk about it – among other things – below.