Bucs could use buzz of Alvarez debut

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WASHINGTON — Pirates President Frank Coonelly was in a suite at Nationals Park on Tuesday when Nats whiz kid Stephen Strasburg made his major league debut.

Coonelly saw the sellout crowd and the herd of local and national media. He felt the buzz around town, as folks in Washington for one day forgot about the soaring budget deficit, sluggish economy and the Gulf oil leak.

“It was a very exciting evening,” Coonelly said. “it was a great night for the Washington Nationals, to have that kind of excitement even before the first pitch was thrown.”

As he looked around, Coonelly had to be thinking what it would be like to have that kind of energy at PNC Park.

It could happen. All the Pirates need to do is call up Pedro Alvarez, the second overall draft pick in 2008 and the top player in their farm system. If he’s ready, they could do it, say … Tuesday at the start of a six-game homestand.

Of course, Alvarez would not generate the same level of national hype as Strasburg, who’s already sent his cap and ball from Tuesday’s game to the Hall of Fame. But the Pirates — whose average home attendance (17,828) is the fourth-lowest in the majors — could expect a significant boost from Alvarez’s arrival.

“We won’t force a player onto our major league roster before our development people say he’s ready just to sell tickets,” Coonelly said.

Still, it would be logical for management to choose a home date for Alvarez’s arrival.

Would the game sell out? Maybe not. But with the right kind of planning, which means putting the word out with enough time for fans to buy tickets, it could come close.

Last year, Andrew McCutchen got a surprise callup on a Wednesday night when Nate McLouth was traded. McCutchen made his debut the next afternoon against the Mets, and the Pirates drew 20,683 — including 3,494 last-minute walkup ticket sales.

Wednesday, the Pirates called up two of their “Big Three” top prospects, waiting until just a few hours before game time to officially announce the news. When pitcher Brad Lincoln and outfielder Jose Tabata played in their first game that night, only 18,000 folks were in the seats at Nationals Park.

“It would’ve been nice if it would’ve been 40,000 fans in Pittsburgh to come watch them,” McCutchen said.

Tabata will be stationed in left field Tuesday, when the Pirates face the Chicago White Sox at PNC Park. Lincoln will be the starting pitcher. McCutchen and Neil Walker already are fixtures in the lineup. All the pieces of the Pirates’ future — except one — are in place.

Assuming he’s proven himself in the minors, it would be a fine time to send Alvarez to Pittsburgh.

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Doumit starts at first base

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WASHINGTON — Ryan Doumit tonight will make his first start at first base since May 14, 2007. Doumit sat out the past two games due to concussion-like symptoms.

Manager John Russell said the earliest Doumit might return to catcher would be Sunday’s game in Detroit. Doumit was injured Sunday when a foul tip struck him in the face.

“We’re going to be cautious with it and not put him back behind the plate for a few days,” Russell said. “Could he catch today? Yeah, he’s been cleared. But, being a (former) catcher, I know the risk of getting hit again. I don’t want to set him back.”

• Jose Tabata tested his sore leg this afternoon and will start tonight in left field. Tabata left last night’s game — his major league debut — in the eighth inning after feeling a cramp in his right hamstring. “It’s fine now,” Tabata said. “It’s still a little tight, but I’ll be OK.”

• Jack Taschner, who was designated for assignment Tuesday, declined the Pirates’ offer to pitch for to Triple-A Indianapolis, effectively ending his time with the club. The Pirates have eight days left to either trade, waive or release the left-hander.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (23-36) — 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Neil Walker 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Ryan Doumit 1b, 6. Bobby Crosby ss, 7. Andy LaRoche 3b, 8.Jason Jaramillo c, 9. Zach Duke (3-6, 5.43) lhp

Nationals (29-31) 1. Cristian Guzman 2b, 2. Ian Desmond ss, 3. Adam Dunn 1b, 4. Ryan Zimmerman 3b, 5. Josh Willingham lf, 6. Pudge Rodriguez c, 7. Mike Morse rf, 8. Roger Bernadina rf, 9. Livan Hernandez (4-3, 2.22) rhp

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Lincoln finally gets the call

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WASHINGTON — It seemed Brad Lincoln had been inches away from major league debut for weeks.

“I tried not to think about it too much because I knew my chance would come,” Lincoln said Wednesday after his first outing netted him a seven-inning no-decision against the Nationals. “For me to get that chance this early in the year is a great opportunity.”

At Triple-A Indianapolis, Brad Lincoln went 6-2 with a 3.16 ERA. He allowed three earned runs or less in nine of his 11 starts.

“Brad pitched ahead in the count frequently because of his ability to throw three quality pitches for strikes,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “He also improved the consistency of his curveball and increased the use and effectiveness of his changeup.”

Lincoln is three years removed from Tommy John surgery and threw a total of 240 innings over the past two seasons. He tossed 68 1/3 innings at Indy before his callup.

Director of player development Kyle Stark said Lincoln will not have any pitch-count restrictions.

“We will monitor his innings workload and may have to make an adjustment at some point,” Stark said. “Our preference is that he starts through the end of the season, rather than have to shut him down at some point.”

• Former Pirates pitcher and broadcaster Jim Rooker has written a series of baseball-themed children’s books: “Paul The Baseball,” “Matt The Bat” and “Kitt The Mitt.” Rooker will do a book signing from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Barnes & Noble store in Cranberry Township.

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Karstens keeps rotation spot

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WASHINGTON — Right-hander Jeff Karstens, who pitched well Tuesday in a 5-2 loss against the Washington Nationals, will remain in the starting rotation.

“He gives us a chance to win,” manager John Russell said. “That was a tough game for anybody to pitch in last night and Jeff did a nice job. He deserves the right to be in the rotation. He’s pitched in some very big games for us and he’s done what we’ve asked of him. He’s earned the opportunity to continue that for now.”

As long as Karstens stays in the rotation and rookie Brad Lincoln stays in the majors, Dana Eveland will be in the bullpen. When he traded for Eveland on June 1, GM Neal Huntington tabbed the lefty “a probable upgrade” in the rotation, but Eveland has made just one start.

»»» Infielder Bobby Crosby (stomach virus) rejoined the team today and will be available to pinch-hit. Russell said there’s a chance Ryan Doumit (concussion) also could be available tonight.

»»» Tuesday, righty Charlie Morton (shoulder fatigue) made his first rehab start for Triple-A Indianapolis. Morton worked 3 2/3 innings and allowed five runs (two earned) on six hits, walked two and struck out three against Pawtucket.

»»» High-A Bradenton put infielder Brock Holt (knee contusion) on the disabled list. Gift Ngoepe was moved to Bradenton.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (23-35) — 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Neil Walker 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Andy LaRoche 3b, 6. Lastings Milledge rf, 7. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8.Jason Jaramillo c, 9. Brad Lincoln (MLB debut) rhp

Nationals (28-31) 1. Cristian Guzman 2b, 2. Nyjer Morgan cf, 3. Ryan Zimmerman 3b, 4. Adam Dunn 1b, 5. Josh Willingham lf, 6. Roger Bernadina rf, 7. Ian Desmond ss, 8. Wil Nieves c, 9. John Lannan (2-3, 4.79) lhp

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Tabata, Lincoln arrive

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WASHINGTON — The Pirates on Tuesday got a close-up look at the buzz — and the impact — a talented rookie can have on a team.

Today, the Pirates will try to do the same thing.

After losing 5-2 against the Washington Nationals and pitching prodigy Stephen Strasburg, the Pirates called up two of their top prospects — outfielder Jose Tabata and right-hander Brad Lincoln.

Both players will be in the lineup Wednesday night against the Nationals.

After Tuesday’s game, first baseman Jeff Clement, a disappointing hitter on a low-wattage offense, was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. Reliever Jack Taschner was designated for assignment.

In 45 games, Clement hit .189 with five homers and nine RBI.

“Jeff needs to go play,” manager John Russell said. “He needs to get quality, everyday at-bats.”

At Indy, Tabata hit .308 with three homers, 18 RBI and 23 stolen bases.

Management hopes Tabata can boost an offense which ranks among the worst in the majors.

The Pirates’ bench is thin, too. Tuesday, they were without catcher Ryan Doumit (concussion) and infielder Bobby Crosby (stomach virus).

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Clement optioned; Tabata set for callup?

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WASHINGTON — After tonight’s 5-2 loss against the Washington Strasburgs, the Pirates made two roster moves and have two more — including the highly anticipated call-up of righty Brad Lincoln — to come on Wednesday.

First baseman Jeff Clement was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. Clement hit .189 with five homers and nine RBI in 45 games. “Jeff needs to go play,” manager John Russell said. “He needs to get quality, everyday at-bats.”

Lefty reliever Jack Taschner was designated for assignment. Taschner made the club as a non-roster invitee to spring training and went 1-0 with a 6.05 ERA in 17 outings. Taschner allowed 22 hits, walked eight and struck out 17 in 19 1/3 innings.

Lincoln is on his way here, and will make his major league debut Wednesday.

The other callup was not yet identified by management. It will be a position player. Remember, the Pirates’ bench already is short-handed by Ryan Doumit’s concussion and Bobby Crosby’s stomach virus. Neither player figures to be game-ready until this weekend.

So … Jose Tabata?

It could be. When I asked if Garrett Jones now becomes the everyday first baseman, Russell hedged, saying Jones and Crosby will play there. That would create an outfield opening.

Ryan Church could become an everyday player, but that’s not likely. That means the Pirates — who’ve scored three or fewer runs in 10 of their past 13 games — could go for an offensive pick-me-up by bringing up Tabata.

»»» With the Pirates up 2-1, the Nationals threatened to tie the game in the bottom of the fourth inning, but were turned away by left fielder Lastings Milledge.

With one out, Willingham went from first to third when Pudge Rodriguez rolled a single into right field. Roger Bernadina flew out to left, but Milledge’s one-hop throw to the plate was on line and in time to get Willingham.

“Just trying to keep us in the game,” Milledge said with a shrug. “We knew that with his stuff, (Stephen Strasburg) wasn’t going to give us a lot to do damage with.”

It was a fine throw by Milledge — and created a surprised buzz among Washington reporters who say Milledge underachieved during his season and a half with the Nats.

»»» He’s some reaction from Nats center fielder Nyjer Morgan — remember him? — about Strasburg’s 14-strikeout debut: “I could have put on my turf (shoes) tonight. It was electric. It’s nice saying we have something electric over here.”

Morgan did not have to track down a single fly ball. The Pirates hit four balls out of the infield in 24 at-bats against Strasburg. The Pirates made just one fly out in the game, Andrew McCutchen’s ball to right field in the eighth against reliever Tyler Clippard.

»»» The team store at Nationals Park, of course, is selling Stephen Strasburg T-shirts and such. But due to licensing rules, only items made by Majestic were for sale until the first pitch, which marked his official ascension from minor- to major-leaguer. After that, items from official MLB manufacturers were rushed out onto the shelves.

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Doumit out with concussion

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WASHINGTON — Catcher Ryan Doumit will his second straight game tonight and likely will be out the next two or three days due to what the team says are “concussion-like symptoms.” Doumit was hit by a foul tip Sunday.

“Caught me right in the face,” Doumit said. “It’s a cumulative thing. I’ve been hit in the face so many times, it’s ridiculous.”

Doumit lobbied hard to play last night. “It was a tough decision not to play him,” manager John Russell said. “But we’re thinking of his well-being and didn’t want to take a chance.”

With Doumit unavailable, Russell said the backups for catcher Jason Jaramillo will be Jeff Clement and Neil Walker.

»»» Infielder Bobby Crosby has a stomach virus, and did not travel with the team to Washington. It’s the same violent illness that put Ryan Church on the shelf last weekend. Russell said there’s a chance Crosby will rejoin the team Wednesday.

Church feels better today and will ;be available to pinch-hit, but still hasn’t recovered enough to be able to play a full nine innings. “I’ve still got to take it a little bit easy,” said Church, who took batting practice and did some light running before the game.

»»» The “mustache challenge” is over. Nearly all of the players who’d grown out their ‘staches in a good-natured show of team unity shaved them off before yesterday’s game. “I walked into the clubhouse and everybody had shaved,” said stubble-free third baseman Andy LaRoche. “I’m sad to see ‘em go.”

»»» Double-A Altoona put utilityman Jose de los Santos (strained left oblique) on the disabled list. Outfielder Anthony Norman was promoted from High-A Bradenton.

»»» Five members of Low-A West Virginia — catchers Ramon Cabrera and Aaron Baker, outfielder David Rubenstein, and left-hander Nathan Baker — were named to the South Atlantic League midseason all-star team.

»»» A Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition honoring Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente is on display at California University of Pennsylvania. “Beyond Baseball: The Life of Roberto Clemente” continues through Aug. 24 in the Manderino Gallery, which is the only Western Pennsylvania venue to host the exhibition. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

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Cubs-Pirates lineups

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== Delwyn Young, one day after hitting a pinch-hit two-run ninth-inning homer in Sunday’s 6-5 loss to the Giants, is batting third in today’s make-up game with the Chicago Cubs. It is only his second time this year batting in the No. 3 hole. Jason Jaramillo is starting at catcher for the Pirates, as left-hander Dana Eveland makes his first start since being acquired from the Blue Jays last week.
Lineups for today’s game:

Cubs (25-31) – 1. Ryan Theriot 2b, 2. Jeff Baker 3b, 3. Derrek Lee 1b, 4. Xavier Nady rf, 5. Marlon Byrd cf, 6. Alfonso Soriano lf, 7. Geovany Soto c, 8. Starlin Castro ss, 9. RHP Carlos Silva (7-0, 3.12)

Pirates (23-33) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Neil Walker 2b, 3. Delwyn Young rf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Lastings Milledge lf, 6. Bobby Crosby 3b, 7. Jason Jaramillo c 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. LHP Dana Eveland (0-0, 0.00).

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Lincoln might debut Wednesday

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The Pirates have not yet made it official, but it seems right-hander Brad Lincoln will make his major league debut Wednesday against the Nationals in Washington.

“He’s a candidate for that, absolutely,” GM Neal Huntington said today on his weekly radio show. “Our focus is to put Brad in a position where he’ll be successful.”

On today’s game notes, the Pirates have “TBA” listed in the pitcher’s spots for the games Wednesday and Thursday. Zach Duke normally would be in line to pitch Wednesday

Huntington denied Lincoln’s debut would be delayed so he won’t have to pitch against Nationals prodigy Stephen Strasburg, who’ll make his debut Tuesday.

“There never was a hesitation to run him out there against Strasburg,” Huntington said. “We’ve been aligning for a little bit now. I’m sure if you’d ask Brad, he’d love nothing more than to go head-to-head with Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday night.”

Lincoln was the Pirates’ first-round draft pick (fourth overall) in 2006. This season, he’s 6-2 with a 3.16 in 11 starts for Triple-A Indianapolis. After his last start, Lincoln said he’s eager to get to the majors: “I’ve been tasting it for the last month, month and a half.”

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Ohlendorf overdue; Morton on mend

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Ross Ohlendorf is overdue for a victory — he hasn’t gotten one since Aug. 18, 2009, a string of 11 winless starts.

The right-hander was solid in his last outing, holding the Cubs to one run on three hits in seven innings, but wound up with a no-decision. The Pirates have been shut out in two of his past three starts.

Ohlendorf has pitched seven-plus innings in two of his past three starts and in that stretch has lowered his ERA from 5.30 to 4.26. Last year, he worked seven-plus innings in eight of his 29 starts. In those games, Ohlendorf went 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA.

»»» In case you didn’t see the item tucked away at the bottom of today’s notebook, righty Charlie Morton was spotted yesterday on the bench with Triple-A Indianapolis. Pirates management did not officially reveal until this morning that Morton had been moved from Bradenton, Fla., where he (supposedly) is rehabbing a weary shoulder, to Indy.

Morton is expected to make a rehab start this week with Indy. Neither GM Neal Huntington nor manager John Russell has specifically described what type of rehab work — to repair both his shoulder and his bruised confidence — Morton is doing, nor have they established a timetable (if there is one) for Morton’s return to the Pirates’ starting rotation.

»»» Lineups for tonight’s game:

Giants (29-25) – 1. Andres Torres rf, 2. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Pablo Sandoval 3b, 4. Aubrey Huff lf, 5. Juan Uribe ss, 6. Benjie Molina c, 7. Buster Posey 1b, 8. Aaron Rowand cf, 9. Tim Lincecum (5-2, 3.14) rhp

Pirates (23-32) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Neil Walker 2b, 3. Ryan Doumit c, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Lastings Milledge lf, 6. Jeff Clement 1b, 7. Andy LaRoche 3b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Ross Ohlendorf (0-3, 4.26) rhp

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