Cedeno back in lineup

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HOUSTON — Ronny Cedeno is back in the starting lineup … for the moment, at least. Cedeno, who’s missed six starts due to a sore shoulder, was penciled into the lineup last night, then was a late scratch.

»»» The Pirates assigned right-hander Brandon Cumpton to short-season A State College and released righties Sandobal Septimo and Teddy Fallon. Cumpton was a ninth-round draft pick this year out of Georgia Tech. Septimo was signed in 2007 as an undrafted free agent. Fallon, who was with State College but wasn’t officially added to the roster, was a 43rd-rounder last year.

»»» State College lefty Jhonathan Ramos threw one scoreless inning Tuesday in the New York Penn League all-star game. … Although State College righty Zack Von Rosenberg leads the NYPL in losses (six, in 12 starts), he has allowed just two runs over his past 20 innings.

»»» Today would’ve been Roberto Clemente’s 76th birthday.

»»» One highlight and one lowlight from Low-A West Virginia’s 4-1 loss last night against Asheville: the Power stole five bases, a season high, but they went 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Marlins (58-60) – 1. Hanley Ramirez ss, 2. Logan Morrison lf, 3. Gaby Sanchez 1b, 4. Dan Uggla 2b, 5. Mike Stanton rf, 6. Cody Ross cf, 7. Chad Tracy 3b, 8. Ronny Paulino c, 9. Josh Johnson (10-5, 2.27) rhp

Pirates (40-79) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Garrett Jones 1b, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. Ryan Doumit c, 6. Delwyn Young 2b, 7. Lastings Milledge rf, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Ross Ohlendorf (1-9, 3.95) rhp

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Russell says be patient with Doumit in right field

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Manager John Russell is preaching patience with Ryan Doumit at right field, where the now-backup catcher made his third start of the season and second in two days on Tuesday.

Doumit has misplayed a couple of balls, both times putting runners on base who would later score, but before last week Doumit hadn’t played right field since September 2009. Last night was just his 40th career start at the position.

“He’s working at it but it’s going to take some time for him to get a lot more comfortable,” Russell said. “He’s starting to move better, he’s coming in on some balls better. The one tonight he probably could have come in and got it, but he’s making progress. It’s one of those things that’s going to take a little time for him to be really comfortable out there.”

Last week in San Diego, his first start in right, Doumit let a shot from Miguel Tejada drop in front of him. Had he caught it, the inning would have ended with no runs scored and the Padres up just 1-0. Instead, the Padres scored three in an eventual 8-5 win.

Last night he played the ball off the bounce in the sixth inning – and heard some boos because of it – to put Wes Helms on first. Helms scored on a Ricky Nolasco double two batters later.

“It’s just not knowing, ‘Should I really go in, will the ball get by me,’ things like that that outfielders think about,” Russell said of Doumit’s biggest issue adjusting to right, where he’s getting some playing time now with Chris Snyder the regular catcher. “Again, once he’s out there and sees more reads and knows what he can really go get and what he shouldn’t go get it’ll better for him.”

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Still no word yet on picks

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With just over an hour until game time, there’s still no word yet on the Pirates signing top two picks Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie, and it would surprise nobody if it goes down to the 11:59 p.m. wire.

“I know they’ve worked very hard on it,” manager John Russell said in his pregame Q&A with the media earlier today. “There’ve been some positive reports that hopefully we can get it done. It would be a great thing for our organization to get these guys into the system. Signing deadline, there are always a few teams sitting out there probably waiting until midnight tonight and we’re one of them. I hope we get it done. We’re pretty optimistic about it but you never know until you get it done. But to have those guys in the system is going to be great.”

If, for some reason, the Pirates are unable to sign Taillon or Allie they will receive compensatory picks in the 2011 draft, but that seems — at this point — unlikely. Both players are expected to sign for bonuses over their respective MLB-recommended slots ($3.25 million for No. 2 overall Taillon and $684,000 for No. 52 overall Allie), and Taillon could set a new record for most bonus money paid by the Pirates. Third baseman Pedro Alvarez currently holds the record, at $6.355 million in 2008.

General manager Neal Huntington is at PNC Park today, where the Pirates begin a 10-game homestand.

Here are tonight’s lineups. For the Pirates:
McCutchen 8, Tabata 7, Walker 4, Jones 3, Alvarez 5, Doumit 9, Snyder 2, Diaz 6, McDonald 1

And the Marlins:
Ramirez ss , Morrison lf, Sanchez 1b, Uggla 2b, Stanton rf, Ross cf, Helms 3b, Hayes c, Volstad p

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GM (sort of) talks about draft picks

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HOUSTON — No matter how the question was phrased, GM Neal Huntington had the same answer — non-answer, actually — Sunday afternoon about the status of contract talks between the Pirates and top two draft picks Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie.

“We don’t want to get into confirming or denying every rumor out there,” Huntington said. “But we remain optimistic. We’ll talk about it after process ends.”

»»» On the odds both pitchers will sign before the 12:01 a.m. Tuesday deadline: “We feel good about our chances of coming to an agreement. The risk is always there that we won’t. With the top two picks, the alternative becomes same-slot picks next year. That’s not a bad alternative. It’s not ideal. It’s something we’re going to work very hard to avoid. But having the third pick in next year’s draft, given the college arms and bats out there, and getting the 53rd pick … it’s not the end of the world.”

»»» Will Huntington remain in town to continue talking with Randy and Alan Hendricks, the Houston-based agents for Allie and Taillon: “I will be leaving Houston tonight.”

»»» On whether Taillon will be offered a spot on the 40-man roster as an enticement to sign: “For high school players in general and for high school pitchers in particular, it’s only happened a handful of times and we feel there’s very strong reasons for that. Even adding Pedro (Alvarez) to the 40-man two years ago, you can look back and maybe there’s a player we lost on a waiver claim or maybe a player we had to take off the roster that we wouldn’t have had to if we didn’t put Pedro on the 40-man roster. So, there is the opportunity cost of the roster spot, from the club’s perspective. We understand why the player asks for it. There’s enough college pitchers who went on the 40-man, burned off their options and then were stuck in no-man’s land because they’re talented enough that the team doesn’t want to lose them on a waiver claim but yet they’re not ready to compete on the major league level. Essentially, they become a Rule 5 pick, where you’re just holding a player in defense and not because he deserves to be on your 25-man roster. We understand where the desire to get them comes from. But in the instance of a high school player in particular, it’s awfully tough. Because you’ve got four years to get them to the big leagues or you risk losing them on waivers after that. It’s worked in some cases, it hasn’t in others.”

»»» On this year’s draft class, in general: :Overall, we feel good. We’ll feel a lot better if we get the two big ones. There’s still a handful of guys we’re working through, outside of the top two. We feel good about the players we’ve added. We’re going to have some guys in the top 10 who we don’t sign. That’s the challenge of taking players who want more money than slot, who have good college commitments, who are going to be tough signs. You’re not going to sign them all. That’s where the guys who we sign in the teens or even in the 20s (rounds), who maybe we give more than slot (bonus money), becomes the equivalent of the lost fourth- or fifth-rounder. If we just wanted to make sure we signed everybody, we could just take easy-sign guys and not get the best talent. That’s the challenge.”

»»» On the definite non-signs: “We’ve had a handful of players this year that, due to the timing or a change of heart, have told us, ‘It’s not about the money. We’re going to college.’ That’s been unique for us this year. We had one or two cases in the last two years; we had it in a handful of cases this year.”

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Draft deadline looms

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HOUSTON — GM Neal Huntington and scouting director Greg Smith are here at Minute Maid Park, and I’ll be chatting with them later this afternoon. Tomorrow’s deadline to sign draft picks will be a topic, but I’m not expecting either exec to say much — MLB has urged clubs to hold off announcing signings until tomorrow.

Huntington is here talking with the Hendricks brothers, the agents who are advising first-round pick Jameson Taillon and second-rounder Stetson Allie. “We’re optimistic (of getting deals),” Huntington said.

Huntington said that, although they are represented by the same advisors, Allie and Taillon are not be offered as a package deal.

There’s a rumor making the rounds on the Internet that one of Allie’s relatives sent a text to someone, saying Allie had signed his contract with the Pirates. Truth? No one I’ve communicated with on the Pirates’ side indicated there’s anything to it … yet. So, we’ll see.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Pirates (39-77) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Garrett Jones 1b, 3. Jose Tabata lf, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. Neil Walker 2b, 6. Lastings Milledge rf, 7. Chris Snyder c, 8. Argenis Diaz ss, 9. Jeff Karstens (2-8, 4.39) rhp

Astros (50-65) – 1. Michael Bourn cf, 2. Angel Sanchez ss, 3. Hunter Pence rf, 4. Carlos Lee lf, 5. Jeff Keppinger 2b, 6. Brett Wallace 1b, 7. Chris Johnson 3b, 8. Jason Castro c, 9. J.A. Happ (2-1, 3.45) rhp

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Sues released after rules violation

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HOUSTON — Right-hander Jeff Sues has been released. Sues was on the suspended list at Double-A Altoona for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Sues, 27, was the Pirates’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2008 and was placed on the 40-man roster that offseason. Sues was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis near the end of the 2009 season, but spent most of this year at Altoona. He went 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 19 outings this season.

»»» Righty Jared Hughes, a fourth-round pick in 2006, recently lost his spot in Altoona’s starting rotation. “I think that the bullpen is probably where Jared ultimately ends up,” farm director Kyle Stark said. “The move to the pen seems to fit his personality and skillset better.”

Hughes was used exclusively as a starter in his first three years in the Pirates’ system. Last season, he pitched 10 games relief for Altoona to ease the strain on his sore shoulder. He’s made 25 appearances (20 starts) this season and is 12-7 with a 4.24 ERA.

»»» Right-hander Bryan Morris has logged a career-high 123 innings so far this year for High-A Bradenton and Altoona. He likely will be shut down before season’s end, but management is mulling raising his innings limit, which originally was around 140.

 “We’re still working through the innings for him,” Stark said. “We’re also factoring in pitches thrown, as opposed to just innings, and his improved delivery, which has led to less stress (on his arm and shoulder).”

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Lineup gets major facelift

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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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Tabata jinxed on Friday the 13th?

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HOUSTON — Jose Tabata went 0 for 4 for the second game in a row. It’s the first time this season he’s gone hitless in back-to-back games. Don’t be too quick to blame Tabata, though. Before the game, media relations guru Dan Hart nervously joked about whether he’d jinxed Tabata by putting the 0-fer item in his notes.

»»» Speaking of jinxes, the Astros had an umbrella giveaway tonight. During the seventh-inning stretch, the public address announcer asked fans to open their umbrellas and wave them. Many of them did just that … indoors (Minute Maid Park’s roof was closed) … on Friday the 13th. The only things missing were a black cat and broken mirrors.

»»» Not everyone was unlucky tonight. Andrew McCutchen snapped an 0-for-13 skid with a first-inning single off Brett Myers. Even during his hit drought, McCutchen found ways to be productive — he has reached base in nine of the past 10 games.

»»» Double-A Altoona outfielder Andrew Lambo singled in his first at-bat Friday, extending his hitting streak to nine games. Lambo has hit safely in 10 of 11 games since being traded to the Pirates on July 31.

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Shoulder injury benches Cedeno

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HOUSTON — Shortstop Ronny Cedeno is not in the lineup tonight and might miss the entire weekend series against the Astros due to a left shoulder injury.

“It feels really tight,” Cedeno said. “I won’t be ready (to play) for a couple days.”

This afternoon, Cedeno was examined by a doctor, who diagnosed inflammation in a shoulder tendon.

Because the injury is not to Cedeno’s throwing shoulder, fielding is not a big issue. However, he cannot swing a bat.

Cedeno said he first felt it a couple of days ago, but it didn’t feel too bad until he woke up this morning. He could not recall any specific incident which might have caused the injury.

Argenis Diaz will start at shortstop while Cedeno is out. Manager John Russell said Neil Walker would be Diaz’s emergency backup.

»»» Not to jinx Jose Tabata or anything, but … media relations guru Dan Hart points out today that Tabata has played 54 games in his big league career and is yet to go 0-for in back-to-back games.

Tabata went 0 for 4 yesterday, snapping his seven-game hitting streak. That was a bummer of a birthday present for Tabata, who turned 22.

The last player in the majors to go 54-plus games at the start of his career without consecutive 0-fors is Ichiro, who lasted until his 87th and 88th games in 2001. (Thanks to Danny and, of course, the stat wonks at Elias, for this info.)

»»» The Pirates signed their 11th-round draft pick, outfielder Daniel Grovatt. He was assigned to short-season A State College.

»»» Right-hander Travis Chick, who appeared in one game for Triple-A Indianapolis, was traded to the Texas Rangers organization for either a player to be named later or cash. Chick pitched in one game for Indy and gave up three runs on four hits in one inning. Before signing with the Pirates on July 27, Chick played for the Camden Riversharks of the independent Atlantic League.

»»» Reliever Daniel Moskos was sent back down to Double-A Altoona. The left-hander went 0-5 with a 10.38 ERA in 19 outings at Indianapolis. Earlier this season at Altoona, Moskos had a great run — going 2-1 with 17 saves and a 1.45 ERA — and held opponents to a .191 batting average. But at Indy, opposing batters were smacking the ball at a .351 clip against him.

Farm director Kyle Stark said Moskos is healthy: “Danny has a high-maintenance delivery that has got off track a bit and is partly tied to his mental approach. He has tried to do too much and has gotten out of sync. We’re confident he can get back on track in an environment where he’s already been successful.”

»»» Altoona put righty Ramon Aguero on the disabled list due to back tightness. Aguero, who is on the 40-man roster, is 2-4 with a 9.77 ERA and a 2.30 WHIP in 14 relief outings for Altoona.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (39-75) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Lastings Milledge rf, 7. Chris Snyder c, 8. Argenis Diaz ss, 9. Ross Ohlendorf (1-9, 4.23) rhp

Astros (48-65) – 1. Michael Bourn cf, Angel Sanchez ss, 3. Hunter Pence rf, 4. Carlos Lee lf, 5. Geoff Blum 2b, 6. Chris Johnson 3b, 7. Brett Wallace 1b, 8. Humberto Quintero c, 9. Brett Myers (8-7, 3.21) rhp

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Duke feels consistent, even with loss

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Zach Duke lost his second decision in a row, with a no-decision against Colorado on Aug. 6 in between, against the Padres today. But his numbers – six hits and two earned runs allowed in six innings – were better than the three earned runs and 10 hits surrendered in six innings to Colorado and the six runs, seven hits in five innings against St. Louis on Aug. 1.

Duke had to know going in that run support would probably be minimal the way the Padres pitch. Deservedly so, Duke felt decent about the outing even with the loss.

“I feel consistent, I feel pretty good,” Duke said. “It’s a loss, but I feel pretty good about the way I pitched.”

Duke is now 2-3 with the no-decision since coming off the disabled list during the All-Star break (left elbow flexor strain).

In another game note from today, Andrew McCutchen, who had a five-game hitting streak snapped on Tuesday, did not get a hit in the series, reaching base once on a walk and once after being hit by a pitch. His speed was definitely missed, but the Pirates’ leadoff man made contact several times only to have the Padres’ defense make the out.

“He hit the ball hard right at the third baseman, he hit the ball hard to right-center, he hit the ball hart at the shortstop,” Russell said. “Eventually he’ll find a hole.”

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