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Defense does the job

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DENVER — Left-hander Zach Duke was dominant tonight against the Rox, but don’t discount the job done by the Pirates’ defense.

A fine, and somewhat controversial, defensive play in the bottom of the sixth inning prevented a Rockies rally.

Center fielder Andrew McCutchen made a slick, running catch in deep left-center field to end the fourth inning. The play stranded a runner on second and maintained the Pirates’ two-run lead.

“Andrew is very good out there,” manager John Russell said. “He covers a lot of ground. In this ballpark, that’s nice to have because it’s deep and the ball really carries.”

With one out, Troy Tulowitzki lined a hard shot to third base. Pedro Alvarez made a sprawling stop, quickly bounced to his feet and fired off balance to first base.

The throw pulled Garrett Jones off the bag, and he seemed to miss it when he reached back with his left foot. But on his second try he caught the edge of the bag an instant before Tulowitzki got there.

It was a bang-bang play, which caused Tulowitzki to protest and Rockies manager Jim Tracy to jog out to get an explanation.

“I got him,” Jones said. “I came off the bag a little bit, went back and got it. Then I think I came off again, and then I went back and got it again. But I got him the first time.”

It started with a great diving stab by Alvarez.

“Ah, yeah, a real nice play,” Jones said. “And a good throw. Strong. He’s been making some real tough plays over there.”

In the eighth, with the Pirates up by two runs, Ryan Spilborghs led off with a shot over the head of left fielder Jose Tabata. The ball caromed toward center field, and Tabata had to rapidly reverse course, stumble and stay upright and sprint to the ball.

By this time, Spilborghs had rounded second and was chugging for third.

“I was ready,” Alvarez said. “I don’t think I was surprised he was going for third. Jose got to it pretty quick — I didn’t think he was going to get to it that quickly — and did a good job of getting it in.”

Tabata’s throw went to Cedeno, who spun and made a no-look throw to Alvarez at third.

“I knew I had to make that one perfect,” Cedeno said. “I didn’t think. Just catch the ball and throw. If you want to play this game, you can’t be scared to make those kind of plays.”

Alvarez slapped the tag and got Spilborghs. It was a huge play, considering the Rockies had their Nos. 3 and 4 hitters coming up.

»»» Too bad my 10-year-old daughter isn’t here. Tulo’s into song when he comes to the plate is “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus … or is it Hannah Montana? Whatever.

»»» At Double-A Altoona, outfielder Gorkys Hernandez went on the disabled list with a broken right ring finger. Hernandez was injured Sunday when he was hit by a pitch.

»»» Second baseman Shelby Ford was sent down to High-A Bradenton. It’s hard to believe that during spring training 2009, there was some talk of Ford becoming the starting second baseman this season. But he struggled badly — again — last season and wound up being demoted from Triple- to Double-A. Now he’s in Bradenton … never to be heard from again, I think.

»»» Wil Ledezma has pitched at PNC Park three times, but only two of them came while he was in the major leagues. In 2006, Ledezma made two outings against the Pirates as a reliever for the Detroit Tigers. In 2004, he started a game for Erie, the Tigers’ Double-A club, against Altoona at PNC Park. Ledezma out-dueled Altoona righty Ian Snell, tossing a two-hitter in Erie’s 2-0 victory

»»» This year, Pirates prospects who play in the Arizona Fall League will join the Mesa Solar Sox. The Phillies, Angels, Mets and Cubs also will help fill out Mesa’s roster. Bryan Housand, the trainer for Double-A Altoona, will be Mesa’s trainer.

»»» Looks like some extra rest did right-hander Bryan Morris a lotta good. Morris, whose last start was skipped, was lights-out Tuesday for Double-A Altoona — five scoreless innings, two hits allowed, eight strikeouts. In his previous three starts this month, Morris went 0-2 with a 9.95 ERA.

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