Morton scraps his sinker

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Charlie Morton has scrapped his sinker, relying instead on his four-seam fastball. GM Neal Huntington explained why ditching a pitch from his arsenal should make Morton a better pitcher:

“Charlie actually has almost identical movement on his four-seamer as his two-seamer, it’s just that the two-seamer’s slower. So (the sinker) is not as effective of a pitch for him and, truthfully, he doesn’t really need it because he gets such good movement on his four-seamer. He’s simplifying a little bit. He gets more ground balls on his four-seamer than on his two-seamer, which is highly unusual. He gets more swings and misses with his four-seamer, which is fairly standard.”

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Reds (17-15) — 1. Chris Heisey cf, 2. Brandon Phillips 2b, 3. Joey Votto 1b, 4. Scott Rolen 3b, 5. Jay Bruce rf, 6. Jonny Gomes lf, 7. Ramon Hernandez c, 8. Paul Janish ss, 9. Johnny Cueto (1-1, 5.18) rhp

Pirates (14-18) — 1. Aki Iwamura 2b, 2. Andy LaRoche 3b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Ryan Doumit c, 6. Lastings Milledge lf, 7. Delwyn Young rf, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Charlie Morton (1-5, 10.30) rhp

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Bass DFA’d, Ohlendorf activated

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Right-hander Brian Bass today was designated for assignment. That opened a roster spot for righty Ross Ohlendorf, who was activated off the disabled list to start tonight’s game against the Reds.

Bass was DFA’d because he’s out of minor league options. He had no record and a 12.79 ERA in three relief outings with the Pirates. In 6 1/3 innings, he allowed nine hits, eight walks and got four strikeouts.

Ohlendorf has not pitched since April 7 due to back spasms. “We’ve missed Ross,” manager John Russell said. “It will give us a boost to get him back.” Although he’s been out a month, Ohlendorf won’t necessarily be on a pitch count tonight. “It more about how his delivery holds up, the shape of his pitches,” Russell said.

– Outfielder Ryan Church (wrist) is available to pinch-hit tonight, if needed.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Reds (16-15) – 1. Orlando Cabrera ss, 2. Brandon Phillips 2b, 3. Joey Votto 1b, 4. Scott Rolen 3b, 5. Jay Bruce rf, 6. Lance Nix lf, 7. Drew Stubbs cf, 8. Ryan Hanigan c, 9. Bronson Arroyo (1-2, 6.14) rhp

Pirates (14-17) – 1. Aki Iwamura 2b, 2. Andy LaRoche 3b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones rf, 5. Ryan Doumit c, 6. Lastings Milledge lf, 7. Jeff Clement 1b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Ross Ohlendorf (0-0, 3.60) rhp

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Karstens to the ‘pen, Burres stays in rotation

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Jeff Karstens, who tossed six scoreless innings Saturday against the Cardinals, will move into the bullpen and lefty Brian Burres will remain in the starting rotation.

It’s necessary to put Karstens into the ‘pen because right-hander Ross Ohlendorf will come off the disabled list Monday and start against the Reds. Brian Bass, who has a 9.00 ERA in two outings, likely will be sent back to Triple-A Indianapolis. Burres will start Friday — on seven days’ rest — against the Cubs in Chicago.

“We’ll make the switch now and see where we go,” manager John Russell said. “We know Jeff can start. But with Ross coming back and the off day (Thursday), it was jut going to be too much time before his next start (if he stayed in the rotation). It makes more sense to utilize him in the bullpen until we’re in a regular five-man rotation. We’ll re-evaluate it at that point.”

– Reliever Brendan Donnelly (strained oblique), who’s eligible to come off the DL Friday, won’t be activated until at least May 19. Due to the unseasonably cold weather, Donnelly played catch indoors Sunday morning.

– Chris Jakubauskas (concussion) played catch Friday, but got dizzy after the workout. His recovery continues at a slow pace. “He still has those moments when he gets real dizzy,” Russell said.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Cardinals (19-12) – 1. Joe Mather cf, 2. Ryan Ludwick rf, 3. Albert Pujols 1b, 4. David Freese 3b, 5. Yadier Molina c, 6. Nick Stavinoha rf, 7. Brendan Ryan ss, 8. Adam Wainwright (4-1, 1.96) rhp, 9. Tyler Greene 2b

Pirates (14-16) – 1. Aki Iwamura 2b, 2. Andy LaRoche 3b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones rf, 5. Ryan Doumit c, 6. Lastings Milledge lf, 7. Jeff Clement 1b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Paul Maholm (2-2, 4.06) lhp

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Hanrahan fans Pujols

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How ’bout some love for reliever Joel Hanrahan?

The right-hander got the call in the eighth inning tonight, with the Pirates clinging to a 1-0 lead. He made a little jam for himself — against the top of the Cardinals’ lineup — but escaped.

Matt Holliday, who did not start due to a sore groin, legged out a broken-bat, infield single. With two outs, Ryan Ludwick was hit by a pitch. That brought up Albert Pujols … who then struck out swinging.

“Just doing my job,” Hanrahan said with a shrug. “Anytime you’re facing the game’s best hitter, especially with the game on the line, it’s a tight situation. But I had confidence I could get him out. It was fun.”

Hanrahan hasn’t allowed a run in his past three outings, and has struck out four of the past eight batters he’s faced.

Against Pujols, Hanrahan started with a slider, the fired a low fastball. With a 1-1 count, catcher Jason Jaramillo called for another fastball.

“I did a no-look pitch — I didn’t look at the runners — and I think that might have messed up (Pujols’) timing a little bit,” Hanrahan said. “It was a good pitch, well-located.”

Ahead in the count 1-2, Hanrahan came back with another slider.

“I threw it as hard as I could and made sure I didn’t leave it anywhere close to the plate,” he said. “I got him to swing through it. It was exciting. Fun.”

It must’ve been. Hanny pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

“I don’t show much emotion out there normally,” he said. “But that was kind of a big situation, so I let it out a little bit.”

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McCutchen a fast starter

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Andrew McCutchen doubled in his first at-bat tonight against the Cardinals. It marked the fourth straight game he’s gotten a hit in the first inning.

Over his past 10 games, McCutchen has singled twice, doubled three times and homered twice in the opening frames. He came into the game leading the majors with a .462 batting average (12 for 26) in the first inning this season.

– Last week, the Pirates got three quality starts when they swept the Chicago Cubs. It’s no coincidence that each game was played in less than 2 1/2 hours. Even Thursday’s game, in which 12 runs were scored, wrapped up in 2:28.

“That’s what good pitching does for you,” manager John Russell said. “When you make good pitches, the games go cleaner for both sides. If your starting pitchers give you quality innings, the game moves along at a faster pace.

“It’s nice when you get into a rhythm like that. It makes you confident you’re playing pretty good baseball. The next key is to continue that, and it all starts with the guy on the mound.”

– Infielder prospect Josh Harrison had 49 walks and 74 strikeouts over his first two pro seasons. At Double-A Altoona this year, he has just five whiffs in his first 98 plate appearances.

Harrison has not struck out since April 21. His strikeout-plate appearance ratio of 18.80 ranks 10th best in the minors.

Farm director Kyle Stark said it’s no so much that Harrison has dramatically cut down his strikeouts as he’s being more selective at the plate.

“His strikeouts did increase last year when he (joined the Pirates’ system), but I think that was more of a function of being tired in his first full professional season and coming to a new organization,” Stark said. “We have challenged him to be more selective early in the count — because he has such great hand-eye coordination, he ends up putting pitcher’s pitches in play rather than waiting for something he can hit hard — and he is doing a decent job of executing that.”

Harrison, 22, arrived last July as part of the John Grabow-Tom Gorzelanny trade. The Cubs drafted him as a second baseman, but he’s also played third base and outfield. The Pirates have used him mostly at second.

“I think Josh shows abilities to play either (second or third),” Stark said.  “Obviously, a move to third base increases the demands on the bat, so the ability to stay in the middle of the field increases his chances of playing every day in the big leagues.”

When Harrison starts at second, Chase d’Arnaud usually is stationed at shortstop and Jordy Mercer plays third.

Correction: I got some bad info from the Pirates p.r. department last night, and passed it along in the blog. The Pirates are 6-1 when they wear the black alternate jerseys. They wore them during the 4-3 victory against the Dodgers on April 7. Kudos to reader Bill, who pointed out the error via the blog comments.

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Bucs bench Iwamura; Cards without Holliday

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Pirates second baseman Aki Iwamura was not in the lineup Saturday against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The night before, Iwamura missed the tag when Joe Mather stole second base in the ninth inning. Mather scored the winning run on Yadier Molina’s two-out double.

“We’ve talked,” Russell said. “And with the left-hander (Jaime Garcia) pitching … Aki’s struggled a little bit offensively. (Garcia) is pretty tough on left-handers.”

Iwamura is hitting .194 overall, including .125 against lefties.

– Albert Pujols went 0 for 5 Friday night against the Pirates — that’s like seeing a unicorn. It just doesn’t happen. Against the pitchers now on the Pirates’ roster, Pujols is batting .423 with a .500 OBP and 1.191 OPS.

What will happen tonight, especially with a stiff wind blowing out to left-center field at PNC Park?

“When somebody figures out how to handle him, I’d like to know,” Pirates manager John Russell said. “If he’s not the best hitter in the game, I don’t know who could challenge him. He’s phenomenal — the way his approach is, how he doesn’t give things away, he can drive the ball to all fields, he can hit offspeed and fastballs, in and out. He’s a great player. You try to limit the damage he does against you, try not to let him beat you. It’s not that you try to do anything different.”

The presence of Matt Holliday (who went 4 for 5 last night) and Yadier Molina (4 for 5) makes Pujols even more deadly. However, Holliday is sidelined tonight by a sore groin. Rookie Jon Jay will start tonight in left field.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Cardinals (19-11) – 1. Skip Schumaker 2b, 2. Ryan Ludwick rf, 3. Albert Pujols 1b, 4. Colby Rasmus cf, 5. David Freese 3b, 6. Yadier Molina c, 7. Jon Jay lf, 8. Jamie Garcia (3-1, 1.13) lhp, 9. Brendan Ryan ss

Pirates (13-16) – 1. Bobby Crosby 2b, 2. Andy LaRoche 3b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones rf, 5. Lastings Milledge lf, 6. Steve Pearce 1b, 7. Jason Jaramillo c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Jeff Karstens (0-1, 6.17) rhp

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Too much weird stuff

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There was so much weird stuff in Friday’s 4-3 loss against the Cardinals, it did not all fit the game story you’ll read in tomorrow’s Trib. Some leftovers:

– Zach Duke labored through 31 pitches and gave up two runs in the first inning. It would have been worse if he hadn’t survived — barely — a 12-pitch ordeal against Albert Pujols.

With a runner on first and one out, Pujols fouled off seven straight pitches. One of them hugged the third base line with plenty of distance for a homer, but veered foul.

Finally, Pujols whipped a low, sharp liner that seemed headed for the gap in left-center. At the last instant, shortstop Ronny Cedeno reached out and snagged it.

Pujols flipped his bat as he walked back to the dugout.

Cedeno has drawn management’s ire for his hot-and-cold defensive tendencies. He reared his ugly side against the next batter, Holliday, booting what should have been a double-play bouncer.

David Freese walked, loading the bases.

With Yadier Molina, a right-handed batter, at the plate, second baseman Aki Iwamura was shifted way over toward the second base bag. Molina slapped the ball through the gaping hole, driving in two runs.

“I was just getting settled in,” Duke said. “I made good pitches, but the balls just got through.”

– Duke was lifted after the Cardinals put runners on first and second with one out in the seventh inning. Up to the plate again came Molina … and Iwamura again moved over toward the bag.

Molina poked another single through the hole between Iwamura and first baseman Garrett Jones. But right fielder Ryan Church’s throw to the plate was on line (though a big high), and Doumit blocked the plate and tagged out Holliday.

– Duke went 6.1 innings and allowed three unearned runs on nine hits. He struck out seven, two shy of his career high, and kept Albert Pujols hitless in four at-bats. “I kept the big guys from doing damage,” Duke said. “I’m pretty happy with how it worked out. I feel like we could have and should have won this game.”

– In the sixth, the Cards had runners on first and second and two outs. Skip Schumaker singled to center, scoring Molina. First baseman Garrett Jones cut off the throw and looked to third, but it was too late to get Brendan Ryan. As Jones held onto the ball, and Doumit gestured wildly, Schumaker slipped into second. “I lost track of the guy at first,” Jones admitted.

– Jeff Clement snapped an 0-for-19 skid with a pinch-hit single in the ninth inning.

– The Pirates fell to 0-7 (including three games at PNC Park) when wearing their black jersey alternate uniforms.

– Before Friday’s game, the Pirates honored eight local high school students — Kim Antosz, Stephanie Mitana, Daniel Salmon and Katie Wozniak of Shaler Area and Meg O’NSell, Noah Rosen, Tadhg Schempf and Alimpon Sinha of Fox Chapel — for outstanding volunteer work in their communities.

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Red-hot Marauders

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The hottest team in the Pirates’ farm system – in fact, one of the top teams in all of the minors – is Class A Bradenton.

The Marauders have three players among the top 10 hitters in the Florida State League. Brock Holt is fourth with a .346 batting average, Starling Marte is fifth at .338 and Tony Sachez is ninth at .325.

Sanchez is tied for third in doubles (10) and extra-base hits (13), ranks third with a .446 on-base percentage, and is fourth in slugging percentage (.563) and RBI (20). Marte has reached base in 19 of 21 games and is fifth in the FSL with a .432 OBP.

Bradenton can pitch a little, too. Bryan Morris has a league-best 0.78 ERA. Jeff Locke has held opponents to a .198 BA, third-best in the league. Reliever Diego Moreno has held opponents to a .121 BA and averages 13.24 strikeouts per nine innings.

A quick hit about Locke from farm director Kyle Stark: “Jeff continues to grow and mature in his daily preparation.  He will show multiple weapons on any given night, along with very good success.  The consistency is what we are striving for at this point, and as his daily work continues to gain consistency, so too will his results.”

• Who’s not hot? Jeff Clement and Delwyn Young, among others. Clement, who’s batting .164 with a .225 OBP, tonight is benched for the fourth time in five games. Young is hitting .238 and has been struggling off the bench. Both players took special, early batting practice — with manager John Russell on the mound — this afternoon.

• Australian left-hander Wilson Lee, 18, signed with the Pirates. He’ll be assigned to MLB’s Australian Academy. Lee’s coach on the South Australian Claxton Shield is Tony Harris, who also is a Pirates scout.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Cardinals (18-11) – 1. Skip Schumaker 2b, 2. Ryan Ludwick rf, 3. Albert Pujols 1b, 4. Matt Holliday lf, 5. David Freese 3b, 6. Yadier Molina c, 7. Colby Rasmus cf, 8. Chris Carpenter (4-0, 2.84) rhp, 9. Brendan Ryan ss

Pirates (13-15) – 1. Aki Iwamura 2b, 2. Andy LaRoche 3b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Ryan Doumit c, 6. Ryan Church rf, 7. Lastings Milledge lf, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Zach Duke (2-3, 609) lhp

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Nope, it was a double

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Lastings Milledge was able to laugh about the grand slam that wasn’t in the fourth inning of Thursday’s 11-1 blowout win over the Chicago Cubs. His teammates were able to laugh about it, too, and apparently there will be some penance to be paid tomorrow in the weight room.

But Milledge also seemed a little upset with himself for not watching the ball and getting caught up in the music and the fireworks exploding.

“Definitely if it had been a one-run game it would have been kind of devastating,” he said. “Luckily it wasn’t like that but it doesn’t matter, any time of the game you have to be on your toes and treat every out as if it’s precious. I didn’t do that well, I had a lapse and I got caught in the moment a little bit.”

When asked if third base coach Tony Beasley got his attention, he said he saw Beasley and a hundred thoughts went through his head.

“Someone reached over, go back to second, or replay, I never thought that it just didn’t go out,” Milledge said. “The music was still playing so I was like, ‘OK, alright, what happened here?’ Then clearly it didn’t go out.”

That’s when one of his teammates walking through the clubhouse behind the pack of media yelled out, “Double!”

Milledge smiled.

“It was a double. It was a double. And I have to go to the weight room in the morning.”

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Thursday’s lineups, Ohlendorf back

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Here’s today’s lineup for the Pirates:
Iwamura 4
Laroche 5
Mccutchen 8
Jones 3
Doumit 2
Church 9
Milledge 7
Cedeno 6
Burres 1

Also, Ross Ohlendorf is back with the team after a rehab start with Double-A Altoona on Wednesday night and expected to start on Monday against Cincinnati.

“I felt really good,” Ohlendorf said. “I tried to pitch as I would pitch here.”

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