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Lineup gets major facelift

HOUSTON — Jose Tabata glanced at the lineup card hanging in the clubhouse and stopped in his tracks. “What the …” Tabata wondered aloud.

Manager John Russell gave the lineup a major facelift, moving around everyone from the Nos. 2 to 7 spots in the order. Garrett Jones is hitting second, Pedro Alvarez is at cleanup, Neil Walker drops from third to fifth.

“Looks good, doesn’t it?” Russell said, smiling.

“The five guys (at the top) are still the five guys; they’re just in a little different order. Left-right, pretty much all the way through, with a couple switch-hitters in there. It gives us a little more punch a little bit higher, and also keeps the speed up top.”

Hitting coach Don Long, bench coach Jeff Bannister and Russell have been discussing the revamped lineup for the past week.

The Pirates scored in bunches the first few games after the All-Star break, but lately have struggled to string hits together. Russell hopes this puts more sizzle in the offense. “It makes (the opposition) think,” Russell said. “It’s a different look. It doesn’t look that easy to get through — the left-right, the speed and power. On paper, it makes a lot of sense.”

Is it a permanent look?

“We’ll see,” Russell said. “We kind of like it. Jones likes hitting in the 4 hole, but Pedro is starting to swing the bat pretty good. We’ll see how it plays out.”

Alvarez went 3 for 3 last night, his third career three-hit game. He’s hit safely in eight of his past nine games (13 for 32) and had at least one RBI in seven straight games from Aug. 4-11.

“He’s been more consistent,” Russell said. “He’s seeing the ball better. Last night, he was pretty aggressive but also stayed within himself. Eventually, I envision him hitting in the 3 or 4 hole. Will he stay there now? We’ll see how it goes.”

The revamped lineup created a happy buzz this afternoon in the clubhouse — a positive sign, considering the offense’s recent struggles.

Jeff Clement at first base and Jones in right field is not a permanent move. Russell said he wants to get Clement some at-bats so he doesn’t get stale on the bench.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (39-76) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Garrett Jones rf, 3. Jose Tabata lf, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. Neil Walker 2b, 6. Ryan Doumit c, 7. Jeff Clement 1b, 8. Argenis Diaz ss, 9. Paul Maholm (7-10, 4.90) lhp

Astros (49-65) – 1. Michael Bourn cf, Angel Sanchez ss, 3. Hunter Pence rf, 4. Carlos Lee 1b, 5. Jeff Keppinger 2b, 6. Jason Michaels lf, 7. Chris Johnson 3b, 8. Humberto Quintero c, 9. Bud Norris (4-7, 5.63) rhp

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