Alan Dell

Commentary: Milledge deserves full-time spot

Message to Lord John Russell: It’s time to let Lastings Milledge be Lastings Milledge.

You gave him a job last year when he joined the team late last season and he produced, compiling a .291 batting average.

He provides inspiration — as he showed a few days ago when he dove head first into first base legging out an infield hit. He is a bundle of energy and spreads positive vibes through a roster that sometimes looks to be on its last breath.

Best part is that he has matured and can now bring those intangibles you don’t find in statistics, but are so vital to winning teams.

So what do you do?

You give his leftfield job to untested rookie Jose Tabata and platoon him in right with Ryan Church, whose batting average is so low, he could qualify for government assistance.

You are saying Tabata is a phenom who just needs to get his feet wet.

They said the same thing about Milledge not that long ago, and now that he has survived the trappings of youth and battled his way through some tough injuries, you take away his hope.

Isn’t a manager supposed to have patience? Isn’t he supposed to encourage instead of discourage?

If you had a Corvette in your garage, would you tow it out and bring in a car that still belongs on the manufacturing line?

Nothing against Church, but right now he can’t hit lefties, righties or anyone who is standing on the mound. The lefty swinger has a .188 average against right-handers and has fanned 22 times in 96 at-bats. Milledge is batting .257 against those who throw from the same side.

The Lakewood Ranch product is hitting .381 for the month of June. More impressively, he is batting .408 with runners in scoring position, which includes a .364 average against righties in those situations.

Doesn’t sound like a platoon player, particularly one who swings from the right side, which means he is likely to play just a few times a week.

So, Lord John, we ask you: What is happening in the upper reaches of the Allegheny Mountains? Has the thin air clouded everyone’s thinking?

We don’t want to believe those critics who claim you operate in a comatose state, and we know providing inspiration is not one of your strengths. But dampening enthusiasm is a crime if you are a big league manager punishable by banishment to the Siberian Independent Leagues.

Tabata might be a valuable commodity at the major league level someday. He sure has the tools, but it should not come at the expense of sacrificing a 25-year-old about ready to reach the lucrative potential that flows through his veins.

In the same breath you talk about Tabata, Andrew McCutchen, Brad Lincoln and Neil Walker as if they are destined for Cooperstown, and then say Milledge is not a bench player.

Is that the best you can do?

We are trying to understand your dilemma and be sympathetic.

Things are so bad, the Pirates brass kept it a secret when they extended your contract, and even mascots are getting the boot these days in the city of three rivers.

But please don’t sacrifice one of ours to thwart off your critics.

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