Six-man rotation a possibility

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Manager John Russell said he won’t necessarily go with a full-fledged six-man rotation in September, even though some pitchers are running up their innings pitched totals. “Whether we (use) a six-man rotation or we just spot-start guys, we haven’t made that determination yet,” Russell said.

That decision could come tomorrow, which is an off day for the team. Russell, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and GM Neal Huntington are slated to meet and evaluate the pitching staff.

• Pitcher Jose Ascanio has a sore muscle in his back and will be out for at least two weeks. “It’ll be anywhere from seven to 10 days before we start doing some activity with him,” Russell said. Ascanio had been expected to make a spot start or two down the stretch. “We’ll re-evaluate when he starts feeling less pain or no pain. If he can throw, then we’ll see when he can come back. If he can’t throw, we’ll have to re-evaluate it.”

• Kent Tekulve, Manny Sanguillen, Jim Rooker and Steve Blass will sign autographs from 4-5:30 p.m. Friday at the North Shore Saloon on Federal Street.

• Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

BREWERS (58-61) — 1. Felipe Lopez 2b, 2. Mike Cameron cf, 3. Ryan Braun lf, 4. Prince Fielder 1b, 5. Casey McGehee 3b, 6. Mike Rivera c, 7. Jason Bourgeois rf, 8. Yovani Gallardo (11-9, 3.52) rhp, 9. Alcides Escobar ss

PIRATES (48-70) — 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Delwyn Young 2b, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 4. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Steve Pearce 1b, 6. Brandon Moss lf, 7. Andy LaRoche 3b, 8. Ramon Vazquez ss, 9. Charlie Morton (2-6, 5.51) rhp

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Pirates beat Brewers, 5-2

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Lastings Milledge hit his first home run for the Pirates and Ross Ohlendorf pitched another strong game in a 5-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night at PNC Park.

Delwyn Young also homered for the Pirates, who have suddenly found some pop in their bats after a disastrous, power-lacking four-game losing streak.

The Pirates have won two in a row in the wake of a dire skid in which they lost 17 of 20 games. They will try to win three in a row for the first time since June 24-27 — and sweep a team they lost to 17 times in a row spanning the past two years — when they meet the Brewers tonight.

Ohlendorf (11-8) allowed one earned run on five hits in seven-plus innings. He struck five, including Brewer slugger Prince Fielder twice, and walked two. Ohlendorf improved to 4-1 with a 2.72 ERA since the All-Star break.

Andy LaRoche, hitting cleanup for the first time, went 2 for 2 with one RBI and a stolen base and Garrett Jones was 2 for 4 with two runs scored.

Fielder hit his 32nd home run, a solo shot in the second. Brewers starter Manny Parra (8-9) allowed four runs — three earned — on six hits in six innings.

It was Milledge’s two-run, two-out homer in the bottom of the fifth, giving the Pirates a 4-1 lead, that drew the biggest cheers from the crowd of 12,188.

One day after hitting three home runs in a 9-5 victory over the Brewers, the Pirates used another deep ball to take a first-inning lead. With one out, Young lined Manny Parra’s pitch over the left-field wall for a 1-0 lead.

Fielder’s solo home run in the top of the second tied the score at 1-all, but the Pirates took advantage of some sloppy Brewers’ fielding to go ahead, 2-1, in the third.

With runners on second and third and two out, Parra fielded Ryan Doumit’s soft grounder and threw wildly to first. The throw pulled Fielder off the bag and Young scored.

In the fifth, Jones opened the inning with a perfect bunt single. LaRoche walked, but Doumit grounded into a double play. Five pitches later, Milledge drove a two-run homer to left for a 4-1 lead.

Jones doubled in the seventh and scored on LaRoche’s one-out single for a 5-1 lead. The Brewers scored on Casey McGehee’s RBI-groundout in the ninth off Jesse Chavez to close out the scoring at 5-2.

- By John Grupp

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Pirates-Brewers pre-game notes

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· General manager Neal Huntington met with reporters to discuss the 2009 draft signings. He said the total signing bonuses for 23 players, including each of the top 14-picks in the 50-round draft, was just shy of $9 million. There were three other players who were close to signing, but it didn’t work out for various reasons, and another half-dozen or so targeted draft picks in which there was on-going discussions but “nothing that got close” to both parties agreeing on value, Huntington said.

· Ryan Doumit, hitting .212 since returning from a broken wrist, was dropped to No. 5 in the lineup. Andy LaRoche is batting clean-up for the first time this year. Manager John Russell said he hopes dropping Doumit from the clean-up spot for the first time this year will help his relax at the plate.

“I think he’s been really pushing,” Russell said. “He’s trying to do too much. The biggest thing is to get him relaxed.”

· Russell plans to keep Lastings Milledge in the lower portion of the lineup, primarily because he seems more relaxed and the current top of the order — Andrew McCutchen, Delwyn Young and Garrett Jones — are comfortable and hitting well in those spots.

“We’ll see how it works out,” Russell said. “It seems like when we’ve moved (Milledge) down, he’s a little more relaxed.”

· Reliever Jose Ascanio (right shoulder) will be shut down for at least 10 days.

· Russell, Huntington and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan will sit down in the next couple of days and map out the inning limit for the some of the starters. The cap is roughly 20 percent more innings than last season.

· As for going with a six-man rotation, Russell said regardless of the rotation’s makeup, the Pirates will likely need six or seven starters in the final month of the season for no other reason than to accommodate a pair of doubleheaders.

— John Grupp

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Pirates-Brewers lineup LaRoche hitting clean-up

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Here are the starting lineups for tonight’s game between the Brewers and Pirates at PNC Park:

BREWERS — 1. Felipe Lopez 2b, 2. Craig Counsell ss, 3. Ryan Braun lf, 4. Prince Fielder 1b, 5. Casey McGehee 3b, 6. Mike Cameron cf, 7. Frank Catalanotto rf, 8. Mike Rivera c, 9. lhp Manny Parra (8-8, 6.64)

PIRATES — 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Delwyn Young 3b, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 4. Andy LaRoche 3b, 5. Ryan Doumit c, 6. Lastings Milledge lf, 7. Steve Pearce 1b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. rhp Ross Ohlendorf (10-8, 4.30)

— John Grupp

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Pirates end skid with 9-5 win over Brewers

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The Pirates hit three home runs, enjoyed their biggest inning in nearly two months and ended a four-game losing streak with a 9-5 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday night at PNC Park.

The Pirates, who had lost their past four games by a combined score of 38-4, used a five-run third inning to catapult themselves to a much-needed victory.

Monday night’s third-inning outburst, which turned a 1-all tie in a 6-1 Pirates lead, was the biggest since a six-run inning during a 10-6 victory over the Cleveland Indians on June 24.

Andy LaRoche, Garrett Jones and Ronny Cedeno homered as the Pirates topped the Brewers for the third time in the past four meetings after losing 17 in a row to their NL Central foe. The Pirates had gone nearly six games without a home run.

Delwyn Young went 3 for 5, and Jones, LaRoche, Lastings Milledge, Cedeno and pitcher Kevin Hart all had multi-hit games as part of the Pirates’ 16-hit attack. Seven different Pirates drove in runs.

Defensively, the Pirates turned three double plays – all in the first four innings – to help Kevin Hart (4-2) earn his first victory in three starts since being acquired from the Cubs on July 20. Hart allowed four runs on nine hits over six innings. He also went 2-for-2 at the plate with one RBI.

In front of 12,478 fans, the Pirates snapped an eight-game losing streak at PNC Park and erased some of the bitter taste of a skid that included an historic 17-2 loss at Wrigley Field.

Brewers starter Carlos Villanueva (2-10), who saved two games against the Pirates earlier this year, allowed six runs on 11 hits in four innings.

Prince Fielder and Mike Cameron homered for the Brewers.

— John Grupp

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Pirates-Brewers pre-game notes

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· Just spoke with Matt Capps about his recent struggles and he stressed he is perfectly healthy. Based on speaking with the higher-ups, there seems to be no doubt he will remain the team’s closer for the balance of the year.

“My arm feels good,” Capps said. “I’m throwing 94-95. I’ve had some bad luck and made some not smart decisions with pitch selection. But as far as health, I feel pretty good.”

More about Capps in Tuesday’s coverage.

· Manager John Russell bristled at the weekend column — mentioning, in particular, one in Sunday’s paper — that opined the Pirates would be better served to lose games, finish dead last and snag Las Vegas high schooler Bryce Harper in the 2010 draft.

“We don’t want to lose,” Russell said. “I hate losing. I don’t think I’ve slept in four weeks. I don’t think many of our players have slept. It’s not a good feeling. Until we turn around, people are going to say a lot of different things about us.

“(But) it’s very frustrating. I hate losing. I’ve always hated losing. People say he’s stoic, he doesn’t care. He doesn’t say anything. That’s their opinion. But it’s not fun. I can tell you right now, I hate it. We are going to do everything we possibly can to make this a winning organization. It’s going to happen, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

· With the signing deadline for the 2009 draft at midnight tonight, the Pirates have inked each of their top 14 picks (through 13 rounds). “I don’t think I’ve seen much like it,” Russell said. “I’ve got to tip my hat to (the front office). Everyone talks about not spending money, but I think that’s a testament that they are going to do what it takes to make this a winning organization.”

· Brewers manager Ken Macha, the Murrysville native, will bat pitcher Carlos Villanueva in the No. 8 spot, and heralded rookie shortstop Alcides Escobar, recalled last week, in the No. 9 hole. It is the fifth time this year the Brewers batted their pitcher in the No. 8 spot.

· Russell didn’t come out and criticize the way the Cubs handled Sunday’s rainout after a nearly four-hour delay, but he sure wished Ross Ohlendorf could have made his scheduled start.

Ohlendorf has fared well in sold-out hostile environments like Wrigley Field. Ohlendorf (10-8, 4.30 ERA), who already has more wins this season than any Pirates starter for all of 2008, will pitch Tuesday. “Ross has been throwing really well and I would have liked to seen him pitch,” Russell said. “I wasn’t really looking forward to a day off.”

· Utilityman Brian Bixler will have to wait to make his first start since being recalled Saturday from Triple-A Indianapolis. He is not in the lineup. Where he will play remains unsure. He played mainly second base at Indy in recent weeks, but also saw action in center field and short. All 39 of his big-league games have been at short.

“He will be playing all over,” Russell said.

· Leftfielder Lastings Milledge, stuck in an 0-for-10 slump, will bat seventh for the first time this season. He is the 10th different Pirates player to bat seventh this year.

— By John Grupp

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Pirates-Brewers starting lineups

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Here are the lineups for tonight’s game with the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park:

Brewers (58-59) – 1. Felipe Lopez 2b, 2. Craig Counsell 3b, 3. Ryan Braun lf, 4. Prince Fielder 1b, 5. Mike Cameron cf, 6. Frank Catalanotto rf, 7. Jason Kendall c, 8. rhp Carlos Villanueva (2-9, 5.80), 9. Alcindes Escobar ss.

Pirates (46-70) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Delwyn Young 2b, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 5. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Steve Pearce 1b, 6. Andy LaRoche 3b, 7. Lastings Milledge lf, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. rhp Kevin Hart (3-2, 3.69)

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Daniel McCutchen on a tear

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CHICAGO — Right-hander Daniel McCutchen has rebounded from some struggles earlier this season at Triple-A Indianapolis. Saturday, McCutchen tossed six scoreless innings — his second straight shutout start — in Indy’s 7-0 victory against Columbus.

McCutchen (12-6) is second in the International League in victories. He’s worked at least six innings in each of his past seven starts, going 5-1 in that span. In two starts this month, he racked up 19 strikeouts in 20 innings.

• Friday’s 17-2 wipeout against the Cubs was the first time the Pirates had allowed 14 runs over the first two innings. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the previous club “record” was 13 runs on May 31, 1994 in a 15-5 loss at San Diego. The Padres scored all 13 runs in the second inning.

• Since 1954, most runs allowed by a Pirates starting pitcher in an outing of one inning or less:

… 10 by Charlie Morton, Aug. 14, 2009 at Cubs, one inning pitched

… 9 by Rick Rhoden, July 4, 1982 vs. Expos, one inning

… 8 by Steve Cooke, May 31, 1994 at Padres, one inning

… 7 by Ryan Vogelsong, Sept. 24, 2004 vs. Reds, zero innings

… 7 by Rick Rhoden, Sept. 21, 1985 at Mets, 2/3 inning

… 7 by Jim Bibby, May 8, 1983 at Giants, one inning

… 7 by John Candelaria, May 28, 1982 vs. Giants, one inning

… 7 by Al McBean, June 3, 1962 vs. Houston Colt .45s, 2/3 inning.

• As you’d expect, that loss sparked a lot of e-mail venting from the fan base:

… “The team is a joke, the owners are a joke, the whole organization is a joke.” — Shawn Mikesell, Shrewsbury

… “They deserve everything that happens to them now for selling out us fans. I hope they lose every game.” — Nick Grant

… “How about asking Pirates ownership if it is considering a major ticket price reduction, since the product it is selling is a lower-quality item?” — Dave, Greensburg

… “I can’t help but think the Pirates are in a nosedive to fall below the Nats in the overall ineptitude standing. I think it’s not only possible at this point, but probable. The silver lining could be an opportunity to draft the high school sensation Bryce Harper, the kid Sports Illustrated calls the LeBron James of baseball prospects.” — Jeff Zahratka, Virginia Beach, Va.

• Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

PIRATES (46-70) — 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Delwyn Young 2b, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 4. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Steve Pearce 1b, 6. Brandon Moss lf, 7. Andy LaRoche 3b, 8. Ramon Vazquez ss, 9. Ross Ohlendorf (10-8, 4.30) rhp

CUBS (60-55) — 1. Kosuke Fukudome cf, 2. Milton Bradley rf, 3. Derrek Lee 1b, 4. Aramis Ramirez 3b, 5. Jake Fox lf, 6. Mike Fontenot 2b, 7. Geovany Soto c, 8. Aaron Miles ss, 9. Rich Harden (7-7, 4.30) rhp

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Bixler, Bautista recalled; Ascanio on DL; Salazar cut

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CHICAGO — Jose Ascanio this morning went on the 15-day disabled list with what for now is being labeled shoulder tendinitis. He will have an MRI exam Monday in Pittsburgh.

To fill the bullpen vacancy, right-hander Denny Bautista was selected from Triple-A Indianapolis. Bautista had to be placed on the 40-man roster, so outfielder Jeff Salazar was designated for assignment. To fill that opening on the 25-man roster, utilityman Brian Bixler was recalled from Indy.

At Indy, Bixler was on a rotation of three days in center field, two days at short and two at second base. He’ll be used in all those roles — and perhaps even a corner infield spot in a pinch.

• Ryan Doumit is back in the lineup, after missing two games because of soreness in his wrist. Third baseman Andy LaRoche and second baseman Delwyn Young are just getting normal days off, according to manager John Russell.

• Team prez Frank Coonelly is in town for this series, and this morning met with Russell in the manager’s office.

• Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

PIRATES (46-69) — 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Lastings Milledge lf, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 4. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Steve Pearce 1b, 6. Ronny Cedeno ss, 7. Ramon Vazquez 3b, Luis Cruz 2b, 9. Zach Duke (9-10, 3.40) lhp

CUBS (59-55) — TBA 9. Tom Gorzelanny (4-2, 6.23)

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