Pirates fete Alvarez, Owens

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The Pirates named third baseman Pedro Alvarez their Minor League Player of the Year and Rudy Owens their Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

Alvarez hit a combined .288 with 27 homers and 95 RBI for Class A Lynchburg and Double-A Altoona. The 2008 first-round pick lead all Pirates prospects in homers and RBI.

“Pedro performed up to the lofty expectations placed upon him, showing a quality combination of power and patience plus improving defense,” farm directork Kyle Stark said. “He performed across two levels, raising his level of play as he faced tougher competition at Double-A.”

Owens went a combined 11-2 with a 2.10 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 25 starts for low-A West Virginia and Lynchburg. The right-hander is tops in the system in ERA and strikeouts and tied for third in wins.

“Rudy made significant strides this year, showing consistent fastball command and improving secondary pitches,” Stark said.

Owens will be recognized on the field before tonight’s game. Alvarez is in Italy, playing in the World Cup.

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Claggett will be evaluated

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Anthony Claggett, whom the Pirates claimed yesterday off waivers from the Yankees, flew to Bradenton, Fla., to throw a bullpen session for Pirates officials today. GM Neal Huntington has not yet decided whether Claggett will join the Pirates or simply begin his usual offseason conditioning program.

“He’s been down 10 days (without throwing in a game),” Huntington said. “We have to get a feel for where he is.”

One reason the Pirates claimed Claggett: he is not out of minor league options.

· Shortstop Ronny Cedeno is out of the lineup for the second day in a row due to a tight hamstring, according to manager John Russell.

· Before tonight’s game, Steve Blass will present catcher Ryan Doumit with the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association’s Heart & Hustle Award. The awards are given each season to one member of each team, with one member of that group chosen as the final Heart & Hustle winner.

· The Dodgers can clinch a playoff spot tonight with a victory. Their magic number for claiming the NL West title is four.

· Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama will throw out the first pitch tonight.

· Whatever happened to the Pirates’ winning record this season at PNC Park? They must sweep this four-game series from the Dodgers – a long-shot, at best – in order to finish above .500 (41-40) at home. Since PNC Park opened in 2001, the Pirates have one winning record at home (43-38 in 2006).

· Andrew McCutchen will sign autographs from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at PNC Bank in Oakmont.

· Follow me on Twitter @RobBiertempfel.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

DODGERS (92-61): Rafael Furcal ss; Andre Ethier rf; Manny Ramirez lf; Matt Kemp cf; James Loney 1b; Blake DeWitt 3b; Orlando Hudson 2b; Brad Ausmus c; Jon Garland (3-0, 2.33) rhp

PIRATES (56-95): Andrew McCutchen cf; Andy LaRoche 3b; Garrett Jones 1b; Ryan Doumit c; Lastings Milledge lf; Brandon Moss rf; Delwyn Young 2b; Luis Cruz ss; Jeff Karstens (3-5, 5.53) rhp

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Pirates claim Claggett

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Today, the Pirates claimed right-hander Anthony Claggett off waivers from the New York Yankees. To make room on the 40-man roster, Jose Ascanio was transferred to the 60-day disabled list.

Claggett, 25, went 7-7 with a 3.07 ERA in 39 games (five starts) for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He also made two appearances for the Yankees. Claggett was the Detroit Tigers’ 11th-round draft pick in 2005. He was traded to New York in 2006 as part of a deal for Gary Sheffield.

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Reds 4, Pirates 1

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A four-run rally in the third inning this afternoon lifted the Cincinnati Reds to a 4-1 victory and a four-game sweep of the Pirates.
The Pirates have dropped six games in a row and 22 of their past 25.
Right-hander Charlie Morton (4-9) gave up four straight hits with two outs in the third inning, including back-to-back, RBI doubles by Drew Sutton and Joey Votto.
“I had a bad sequence of hitters and it cost us the game,” Morton said. “Votto’s a great hitter, and I let him get too comfortable. I wasn’t aggressive enough there. But as the game went on, I learned more of how I need to approach them instead of just throwing what I need to throw from what I’ve seen on paper (scouting reports). I made adjustments as the game went on, and I feel good about it. I hate to lose, but I can take some positive from it.”
Morton worked seven innings and allowed four runs on six hits, walked two and struck out three. He retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced.
“Charlie threw really well,” manager John Russell said. “He was really cruising, especially late in the game. All his pitches were working.”
Russell said Morton was helped by an aggressive mindset on the mound. That’s been the case over Morton’s past half-dozen starts, even though he has just two victories in that span.
Lastings Milledge hit a solo home run in the seventh inning, triggering the usual, brief fireworks display. Within seconds, a military helicopter buzzed over PNC Park – a reminder of the tight security due to the G-20 summit across the Allegheny River.
The paid attendance was announced as 15,892, but there were only about 3,000 fans in the seats.
Reds righty Bronson Arroyo (14-13) allowed five hits in seven innings and notched his 12th straight quality start.
— Longtime Reds beat writer Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News blogged this morning about being in Pittsburgh during the G-20 summit:  “A cab driver yelled at a passenger for rolling down the windows and said, ‘Don’t you know there are people out there throwing human feces through car windows?’ He must have meant some of the Pittsburgh pitchers we’ve seen the last two days.” Ouch.

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Empty roads, empty seats?

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Hooray for the G-20 summit! It took me about 15 minutes this morning to breeze down the unusually empty Parkway East and into the parking garage across from PNC Park. All of the players I talked to this morning in the Pirates’ clubhouse said the same thing: easy access from the North Hills and North Shore.

The Pirates said about 12,000 tickets have been sold for this afternoon’s game. However, folks I spoke with here this morning said they expect to see 2,000 fans or fewer in the seats.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

REDS (71-81)

  1. Willie Tavares cf
  2. Drew Sutton ss
  3. Joey Votto 1b
  4. Brandon Phillips 2b
  5. Scott Rolen 3b
  6. Jonny Gomes rf
  7. Wladimir Balentien lf
  8. Ryan Hanigan c
  9. Bronson Arroyo (13-13, 4.04) rhp

PIRATES (56-93)

  1. Andrew McCutchen cf
  2. Delwyn Young 2b
  3. Garrett Jones 1b
  4. Lastings Milledge lf
  5. Brandon Moss rf
  6. Andy LaRoche 3b
  7. Jason Jaramillo c
  8. Luis Cruz ss
  9. Charlie Morton (4-8, 5.00) rhp
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Some protest-free G20 items

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Some more “G20″ notes — none of which have anything to do with protesters, blocked-off roads or French president Nicolas Sarkozy:

  • Garrett Jones leads all rookies with 20 homers. He is the fourth Pirates rookie to hit 20-plus in a season, joining Jason Bay (26 in 2004), Ralph Kiner (23 in 1946) and Johnny Rizzo (23 in 1938).
  • Jones hit his first homer of the season July 2 and his 20th last night. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the second player ever to hit 20 homers without hitting one before July 1. Kevin Maas, as I mentioned before, was the first.
  • At 28, Jones is the oldest rookie to reach 20 homers since the Twins’ Bobby Darwin. Darwin, who began his career as a pitcher, hit 22 homers as a 29-year-old rookie in 1972.

– Manager John Russell does not believe Jesse Chavez is wearing down and said the reliever will not be shut down before the season is over. Chavez has thrown 62.2 innings this season, which is less than he threw in 2008 (83.2 combined innings for the Pirates and Indy) and 2007 (80.1 innings). “I don’t see a decline in what he’s doing,” Russell said. “He’s still got his velocity. His command was a little off last night.”

– The MRI on Ramon Vazquez’s knee showed no structural damage, and no surgery is necessary. Vazquez is day to day.

– Jose Ascanio (right shoulder tendinitis) threw a simulated game and was pain-free. “A little erratic, but healthy,” Russell said. Ascanio will throw another sim game, then likely will be activated off the DL.

– Joel Hanrahan’s elbow remains a bit tender, and his status is day to day

– Andy LaRoche (illness) was exhausted after playing last night, and is being given today off to recuperate.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

REDS (69-81)

  1. Franklin Stubbs cf
  2. Paul Janish ss
  3. Joey Votto 1b
  4. Brandon Phillips 2b
  5. Scott Rolen 3b
  6. Jonny Gomes rf
  7. Darnell McDonald lf
  8. Ramon Hernandez c
  9. Johnny Cueto (9-10, 4.41) rhp

PIRATES (56-91)

  1. Andrew McCutchen cf
  2. Delwyn Young 2b
  3. Garrett Jones 1b
  4. Ryan Doumit c
  5. Brandon Moss rf
  6. Lastings Milledge lf
  7. Neil Walker 3b
  8. Ronny Cedeno ss
  9. Zach Duke (10-14, 3.96) lhp
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MVP musings

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My National League MVP ballot rests before me on the table. There are 10 slots to fill and — as the BBWAA has stressed in its e-mail — none of them should be considered a “throwaway.”

The top two spots are practically gimmes — Albert Pujols and Hanley Ramirez. But in what order? Don’t laugh. Although most folks might assume (as, I confess, I did at first) that Pujols was a sure-thing at No. 1, Ramirez can make a strong case for the honor. The more I studied their stats, the more impressed I was by Ramirez.

Pujols leads the league in runs (120), homers (47), RBI (128), walks (109), OBP (.447), slugging percentage (.681), OPS (1.128), intentional walks (43) and total bases (358). He’s made 651 plate appearances

Ramirez has made 609 plate apps and owns a league-high 190 hits and the league’s best batting average (.352). He’s also up there in runs (95), homers (23), RBI (100), OBP (.416), slugging (.556) and OPS (.972).

Since midseason, Pujols has had Matt Holliday for protection in the batting order. Ramirez has Dan Uggla and Jorge Cantu.

— One guy who definitely will be somewhere on my ballot, although he often plays in obscurity because he’s on a losing team, is Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. That leaves seven spots for … Ryan Howard? Prince Fielder? Chris Carpenter? Hmm … decisions, decisions.

— I read today on Pete Abraham’s blog that outfielder Xavier Nady has rejoined the Yankees and will stay with them the rest of the season as he continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery. Nady hopes to be back on the field sometime during spring training.

— One ex-Bucco takes a step back toward the majors, another gets hurt. Freddy Sanchez twisted his left knee Monday night during the Giants’ game against the D’backs. It’s the same knee that was bothering Sanchez around the time the Pirates traded him away.

— A cautionary tale: Over the final three months of the 1990 season, a span of 79 games, Kevin Maas mashed 21 homers for the Yankees. It was one of the most electrifying performances by a rookie in major league history. But in 1992, he was still fighting his way out of the minors. In ’94, the Yanks released him. By ’96, Maas was playing in Japan.

Last night, rookie Garrett Jones hit his 20th home run and is challenging Maas’ mark. But before we label Jones a legend, let’s see what he can do over the course of an entire season.

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A complete lineup, more or less

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The Pirates, more or less, have their usual lineup in place for tonight’s game against the Padres. I say more or less because the three players who are back in action – Andy LaRoche, Garrett Jones and Delwyn Young – each are still less than 100-percent healthy.

“They’re still feeling it a little bit,” manager John Russell admitted.

· Jones tested his shoulder in the indoor batting cages and seems OK. He’s still a bit sore in the shoulder, which he separated Friday while making a sprawling, outstanding defensive play at first base. An MRI revealed some internal bleeding, but Jones’ range of motion has improved of the past couple of days.

· LaRoche was moving slowly around the clubhouse before the game, continuing to feel the effects of what the Pirates have only said is an “illness.” Could it be swine flu? The Pirates say no. LaRoche said a friend he saw last week in Los Angeles had contracted the H1N1 virus over the summer, but she was no longer contagious.

· Young’s still lower back has loosened up enough for him to get back out to second base.

· Joel Hanrahan played catch on the field before the game and reported no pain in his right elbow. Evan Meek, who’s on the 60-day DL due to a strained oblique, threw a pain-free, 20-pitch bullpen session.

· Follow me on Twitter @RobBiertempfel.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

PIRATES (56-91): Andrew McCutchen cf; Andy Laroche 3b; Garrett Jones rf; Ryan Doumit c; Lastings Milledge lf; Steve Pearce 1b; Delwyn Young 2b; Ronny Cedeno ss; Daniel McCutchen (0-2, 5.50)

PADRES (68-82): Everth Cabrera ss; David Eckstein 2b; Adrian Gonzalez 1b; Chase Headley 3b; Will Venable rf; Oscar Salazar lf; Nick Hundley c; Tony Gwynn Jr. cf; Wade LeBlanc (2-1, 4.30) lhp

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Another record within reach

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There is one record the Pirates are in line to set this season that’s not a bad thing: Going into tonight’s game, the Pirates have made 63 errors, the fewest in the majors. They are on track to shatter the franchise record of 83, set in 2007. The Pirates’ .988 fielding percentage also would surpass the team mark of .986, also set in 2007.
— Follow me on Twitter @RobBiertempfel.


Lineups for this afternoon’s game:
PIRATES (55-89)

  1. Andrew McCutchen cf
  2. Andy Laroche 3b
  3. Garrett Jones 1b
  4. Ryan Doumit c
  5. Lastings Milledge lf
  6. Brandon Moss rf
  7. Ronny Cedeno ss
  8. Ramon Vazquez 2b
  9. Charlie Morton (3-8, 5.35) rhp

PADRES (66-81)

  1. Everth Cabrera ss
  2. David Eckstein 2b
  3. Adrian Gonzalez 1b
  4. Chase Headley 3b
  5. Will Venable rf
  6. Drew Macias lf
  7. Nick Hundley c
  8. Tony Gwynn Jr cf
  9. Tim Stauffer (4-6, 3.31) rhp

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Another tough loss

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LOS ANGELES — I’m guessing not many folks in Pittsburgh stayed awake until the bitter end, but it was a tough 5-4 loss — even the hard-luck standards of this season — for the Pirates to swallow last night.

The Pirates blew two saves: Matt Capps yieled a run in the ninth (snatching a win away from Zach Duke, who once again deserved a better fate) and Phil Dumatrait served up Andre Ethier’s game-winning, two-run homer in the 13th inning.

Ethier’s swat came on the first pitch, a two-seamer that Dumatrait insisted had good location. “It was a great game,” manager John Russell said. “I thought we had it won twice. But they’re a great comeback team.

• Ian Snell took a shot at the Pirates during a recent interview with Fox Sports Net Northwest. Snell credited Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair for finding a flaw in his mechanics and making “one little adjustment with my foot.”

When asked if he was frustrated that the Pirates never made that tweak, Snell replied: “In Pittsburgh, I had four or five pitching coaches and they all had different philosophies and ways of pitching. I’d only been here a couple of weeks and Adair finds that thing in like a second. And I’m like, ‘Wow, why couldn’t they find this?’

It tells you the difference of organizations, the way things are and how much more they want to win here than over there.”
Follow me on Twitter @RobBiertempfel.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

PIRATES (55-88)
Andrew McCutchen cf, Andy Laroche 3b, Garrett Jones rf, Steve Peace 1b, Brandon Moss lf, Ronny Cedeno ss, Jason Jaramillo c, Ramon Vazquez 2b, Kevin Hart (4-6, 4.86) rhp

DODGERS (87-59)
Juan Pierre lf, Ronnie Belliard 2b, Andre Ethier rf, Matt Kemp cf, James Loney 1b, Blake DeWitt 3b, Brad Ausmus c, Juan Castro ss, Hiroki Kuroda (6-6, 4.00) rhp

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