Pre-game notes from Milwaukee; Doumit re-joins team

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MILWAUKEE — This is Trib reporter John Grupp at the three-game series with the Brewers, as Trib beat writer Rob Biertempfel is traveling to the Dominican Republic to file an anticipated report on the new Pirates baseball academy.

Anyhow, here are some notes from the pre-game clubhouse, which included the return of a familiar face and some proud Wisconsin natives who are playing in front of friends and family in their home state for the first time.

· Center fielder Nate McLouth missed his fourth game in a row with a strained right oblique. He is unlikely to see much action in Milwaukee.

“He felt better today; We’ll see how he is tomorrow,” manager John Russell said. “(But) if he comes in tomorrow and he feels good, he’s going to go through a few tests before we can actually get him back on the field.”

· Catcher Ryan Doumit arrived in Milwaukee today, per his plan to stay around his teammates during his 8-10 week recovery from a broken bone in his right wrist.

Doumit, with his wrist heavily wrapped in an Ace bandage, played cards and attended coach’s meetings on Monday afternoon at Miller Park. The team’s clean-up hitter will be re-evaluated in 4-5 weeks, Russell said.

“He’s happy to be back,” Russell said. “He said he feels good.”

· The three-game series in Milwaukee is a homecoming for 25 percent of the Pirates’ starting position players and one coach.

Catcher Jason Jaramillo was born in Racine, Wisc. — which, remarkably, happens to be the same birthplace of yours truly — and starred at nearby J.I. Case High School.

Right fielder Eric Hinske, who is getting a fourth consecutive start for McLouth, was a three-sport star at Menasha High School about an hour and 15 minutes away.

Bench coach Gary Varsho played high school and college ball in Wisconsin and, like Jaramillo, still makes his off-season home here. Hinske and Jaramillo were overwhelmed with ticket requests. In 903 career games, including 11 against the Brewers, Hinske has never played a major-league game in his home state.

Jaramillo is fortunate enough to have a family member who works in the Brewers’ front office.

“I lucked out,” Jaramillo said. “I’m not sure what she does, but she got her hands on some tickets.”

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Monroe, Bixler, Hinske get starts

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Eric Hinske, making a homecoming to the state where he was a three-star athlete, will get his fourth consecutive start in right field, and Brian Bixler is back at shortstop as the Pirates meet the nemesis Brewers at 8:05 p.m. tonight at Miller Park in Milwaukee.

The retractable roof is cracked right now for a little fresh air, and the weather is overcast but dry.

Here are the starting lineups for tonight’s opener of a three-game series, as the Pirates try to win another series, this time against a team that beat them in 14 of 15 meetings last year.

Pirates – 1. Nyjer Morgan cf, 2. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Craig Monroe lf, 4. Adam LaRoche 1b, 5. Eric Hinske rf, 6. Andy LaRoche 3b, 7. Jason Jaramillo c, 8. Brian Bixler ss, 9. rhp Jeff Karstens (1-0, 3.60)

Brewers – 1. Rickie Weeks 2b, 2. Corey Hart rf, 3. Ryan Braun lf, 4, Prince Fielder 1b, 5. Mike Cameron cf, 6. J.J. Hardy ss, 7. Bill Hall 3b, 8. Jason Kendall c, 9. rhp Braden Looper (2-0, 2.12)

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Depth pays dividends

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SAN DIEGO — Ryan who? Jack who? Freddy who?

The backups played large roles again today in the Pirates’ 8-3 win against the Padres.

Ramon Vazquez, who gave second baseman Freddy Sanchez a breather, singled, walked and scored a run. Robinzon Diaz, a fill-in for wounded catcher Ryan Doumit, lined a two-run single which tied the game 2-2 in the fourth inning. Brian Bixler stepped off a plane from Indianapolis and into the starting lineup. He walked and hit a two-run double.

“We really could have gotten exposed if we didn’t have guys to back up (the injured starters),” Adam LaRoche said. “But we have guys who can jump right in there and produce. We don’t have to hide players out there. That’s something we haven’t had since I’ve been here.”

• In one at-bat today, Bixler equaled his RBI output from all of last season. Manager John Russell said Bixler revamped his approach at the plate — not his mechanics — and is a more patient hitter.

“He’s really come a long way,” Russell said.

A year ago, Bixler was thrust into the lineup when Wilson went down with an injury. The suddenness of the situation overwhelmed Bixler, and his anxiety showed at the plate and on the field.

“It’s a lot easier the second time around, just knowing what I’m getting into,” Bixler said. “You always get a little bit of butterflies. But moreso than that, I was excited. I’m happy to get the opportunity and looking forward to playing.”

• Eric Hinske was called out in the fourth inning after taking a full-count pitch that was so far inside it nearly knocked him down. TV replays appeared to show the pitch from Jake Peavy was several inches off the plate, but umpire Larry Vanover saw it differently. Hinske was dumbfounded by the call and lingered at the plate to ask Vanover for an explanation.

• One of the best parts of a Sunday game at sunny Petco Park is standing and clapping along with “Anchors Aweigh” as members of the U.S. Navy stand at attention and look on from a special section in the upper-deck.

• The Diamondbacks called up infielder Josh Wilson (Mt. Lebanon) from Triple-A to replace shortstop Stephen Drew, who’s on the disabled list.

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Jaramillo getting it done

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SAN DIEGO — Jason Jaramillo was supposed to be the defensive catcher.

“I still am,” Jaramillo said, grinning after he whacked a pair of doubles in Saturday’s 10-1 rout of the Padres. “I feel comfortable (at the plate). It’s one of those things, you get in there and you feel confident.”

Losing Ryan Doumit for upwards of two months had the potential to torpedo the Pirates’ decent start this season. Jaramillo is helping avoid that by heating up at the plate.

“He’s doing great, both hitting and behind the plate,” Duke said. “He’s calling a great game. He’s blocking everything. He’s doing everything we could ever ask him to do. J.J.’s a very smart guy and a very hard worker.”

In five games since taking over for Doumit, Jaramillo is batting .388 (7 for 18) with three runs scored, three walks, one RBI and a stolen base. Not bad for a guy with about one week’s worth of major league experience.

“He’s swinging well,” manager John Russell said. “He’s always been able to hit a little bit. But the biggest thing is, he’s doing a nice job behind the plate. If he gets his hits, that’s a bonus for us.”

• Jaramillo gets today off (day game after a night game), so Robinzon Diaz starts at catcher. Freddy Sanchez also is off — “He’s earned it,” Russell said — so Ramon Vazquez will start at second base. Brian Bixler, whose plane was scheduled to land in San Diego a few minutes ago, will start at short.

• Duke was taken out last night two outs shy of a complete game. He threw 114 pitches, 79 for strikes, and allowed a run on six hits. Duke was working on an extra day’s rest because of Thursday’s off day.

“Joe (Kerrigan) and I talked, and we figured about 115 (pitches) was where we wanted him to stop,” Russell said. “He did what he was supposed to do. We didn’t want him to do much more than that.”

Evan Meek, who arrived earlier in the day to replace Craig Hanson (DL, neck spasms) got the final two outs.

• Lineups for today’s game:

PIRATES — 1. Nyjer Morgan cf, 2. Ramon Vazquez 2b, 3. Brandon Moss lf, 4. Adam LaRoche 1b, 5. Eric Hinske rf, 6. Andy LaRoche 3b, 7. Robinzon Diaz c, 8. Brian Bixler ss, 9. Ross Ohlendorf (1-2, 3.00) rhp.

PADRES — 1.Jody Gerut cf, 2. David Eckstein 2b, 3. Brian Giles rf, 4. Adrian Gonzalez 1b, 5. Chase Headley lf, 6. Kevin Kouzmanoff 3b, 7. Henry Blanco c, 8. Chris Burke ss, 9. Jake Peavy (2-2, 5.13) rhp.

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Wilson goes on disabled list

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SAN DIEGO — Shortstop Jack Wilson tonight was placed on the 15-day disabled list due to a sprained left middle finger.

Infielder Brian Bixler was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis, and will join the team Sunday.

Wilson injured the finger during the home opener April 13, and it never fully healed.

“It’s pretty painful,” Wilson said. “I told (manager John Russell), ‘As long as I can play short, I’ll be out there.’ The last couple of days I’ve tried to do things differently to try to compensate for the pain — catching balls different ways, fielding balls different ways — and it’s getting to the point where it’s hurting us as a team, and it’s not getting any better.”

Wilson bobbled a grounder and made a fielding error in the 10th inning Friday, but said that wasn’t due to the injury. “That one came up and hit me in the thumb,” he said. “It was more the double play ball I caught with two hands. I never catch a double play ball with two hands.”

Wilson tried to take some fielding practice before Saturday’s game, but had to stop when a weak roller hit right on his sore finger. “It felt like someone stabbed me in the finger,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he won’t have to wear a splint on the finger. The tendons in his finger swell after he bats or plays catch, so a week or so of reduced activity — and no grounders smashing into his hand — should help.

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Wilson out again with sprained finger

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SAN DIEGO — Shortstop Jack Wilson’s was scratched from tonight’s lineup against the Padres due to a sprained left middle finger.

Ramon Vazquez will start at short and bat seventh.

It’s the same finger Wilson injured during the April 13 home opener. Wilson missed three of the next four games because of the injury.

Friday night, Wilson played all 11 innings of the Pirates’ 4-3 loss against the Padres. In the 10th inning, he had trouble fielding Chase Headley’s grounder and wound up making an errant throw to first base.

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Pirates extra cautious with McLouth

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SAN DIEGO — Center fielder Nate McLouth, who was scratched from yesterday’s game due to a tweaked right oblique, is out of action again today.

“Nate’s a little better today,” manager John Russell said. “But it’s still day to day. Hopefully, we caught it early enough. If he hurt it real bad, he’ll be sitting with (Ryan) Doumit, and Doumit might get back before he does. These are very, very tough injuries in baseball and there’s not much you can do for them.”

So much of baseball involves upper-body rotation and generating torque, which puts a lot of strain on the obliques. The only way to recover it to shut things down entirely.

McLouth sustained the injury while swinging during batting practice Friday. Russell hopes it won’t be necessary to put McLouth on the DL.

“All indications are, I don’t think that’s in the future,” Russell said. “We’ve got to see how he responds. It’s a good sign that he’s better today. But again those obliques are not fun. I’ve known guys who’ve had problems with them and it’s a minimum of six weeks (on the DL), usually on the longer end of that.”

• Reliever Craig Hansen is on the DL with neck spasms. Hansen said he began feeling stiffness at the base of his neck about halfway through spring training. Over the past few days, the pain moved up into his neck. “It could (have been caused by) many things,” Hansen said. “Throwing, sleeping a certain way, sitting down too long.”

Hansen will be shut down for a few days and give the stiffness time to work itself out. “The weird thing is, when I was throwing, it was kind of a pain-reliever,” Hansen said. “I wouldn’t feel it when I was out there. I guess I was thinking about too many other things.”

Lineups for today’s game:

PIRATES — 1. Nyjer Morgan cf, 2. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Craig Monroe lf, 4. Adam LaRoche 1b, 5. Eric Hinske rf, 6. Andy LaRoche 3b, 7. Jason Jaramillo c, 8. Jack Wilson ss, 9. Zach Duke (2-1, 2.95) lhp.

PADRES — 1.Scott Hairston cf, 2. David Eckstein 2b, 3. Adrian Gonzalez 1b, 4. Chase Headley lf, 5. Kevin Kouzmanoff 3b, 6. Nick Hundley c, 7. Chris Burke ss, 8. Jody Gerut rf, 9. Shawn Hill (1-0, 3.60) rhp.

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Hansen goes on DL

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SAN DIEGO — The Pirates today made a roster move — but not the one many folks might have expected.

Reliever Craig Hansen was placed on the 15-day disabled list due to neck spasms. Righty Evan Meek was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis and is expected to arrive here in time for tonight’s game against the Padres.

Center fielder Nate McLouth, who was scratched from yesterday’s game due to a tweaked right oblique, is out of action again today. However, McLouth was not put on the DL, which is an encouraging sign.

• Lineups for today’s game:

PIRATES — 1. Nyjer Morgan cf, 2. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Craig Monroe lf, 4. Adam LaRoche 1b, 5. Eric Hinske rf, 6. Andy LaRoche 3b, 7. Jason Jaramillo c, 8. Jack Wilson ss, 9. Zach Duke (2-1, 2.95) lhp.

PADRES — TBA 9. Shawn Hill (1-0, 3.60) rhp.

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McLouth scratched with oblique injury

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SAN DIEGO — Center fielder Nate McLouth was scratched from the Pirates lineup tonight due to a strained right oblique.

There was no immediate word on when McLouth was injured — he seemed fine in the clubhouse about an hour before batting practice — or how long he might be sidelined.

The re-worked lineup:

PIRATES — 1. Nyjer Morgan cf, 2. Jack Wilson ss, .3 Freddy Sanchez 2b, 4. Adam LaRoche 1b, 5. Eric Hinske rf, 6. Brandon Moss lf, 7. Andy LaRoche 3b, Jason Jaramillo c, 9. Ian Snell rhp.

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Davidson claimed by Marlins

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Lefty Dave Davidson was claimed off waivers by the Marlins. Davidson was designated for assignment when the Pirates acquired Delwyn Young.

Davidson, 24, had a 4.15 ERA this season in three relief appearances for Triple-A Indianapolis.

• The Pirates raised $76,103 for the Fallen Heroes Fund during the home opener and via an online auction. The money will benefit the families of slain Pittsburgh policemen Eric G. Kelly, Stephen J. Mayhle and Paul J. Sciullo II.

“I would like to personally thank all of our fans, employees and players who donated their time and money to assist these families,” Pirates chairman Bob Nutting said in a prepared statement. “We recognize that no amount of aid can fill the void left behind by this senseless tragedy. Once again the people of Pittsburgh have shown how we always rally together to help those in need.”

The highest bid was $2,625 for a hat and jersey autographed by closer Matt Capps.

• Thursday morning, the Pirates will open their Latin American headquarters and training complex in the Dominican Republic. Among those expected to attend the ceremonies are Nutting, team president Frank Coonelly, members of the Clemente family and Dominican President Dr. Leonel Fernandez Reyna.

• Class A Lynchburg catcher Kris Watts is batting .462 — the highest average in the minors — with five doubles, a triple, two home runs, eight RBI, 12 runs scored and six walks. He has a .553 on-base percentage, which also is tops in the minors. Watts is hitting .643 (9 for 14) against lefties; he began this season with a .200 career average left-handers.

• Lineups for today’s game:

PIRATES — 1. Nyjer Morgan lf, 2. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Nate McLouth cf, 4. Adam LaRoche 1b, r. Brandon Moss rf, 6. Andy LaRoche 3b, 7. Jack Wilson ss, 8. Jason Jaramillo c, 9. Ian Snell (1-2, 4.24) rhp.

PADRES — TBA 9. Kevin Correia (0-1, 4.09) rhp.

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