Duke, Maholm make a little team history

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Zach Duke is ready to make his 150th career start tonight and make a bit of Pirates history in the process. Paul Maholm had start No. 150 on Sunday, and they’ll be the first pair of teammates in the 124-year history of the team to reach the benchmark in the same year. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the last pair of MLB teammates to make their 150th start in the same season was Mark Buehrle and Jon Garland with the White Sox in 2005.

This is Duke’s 20th start of the season and he’s won two of his last three decisions.

On another note, Argenis Diaz will make his first career start tonight, playing at shortstop. The Pirates are hoping to avoid the second series sweep by the Padres this year, following losses on Tuesday and Wednesday at Petco Park and a sweep in late July at PNC Park.

Here are lineups:
For the Pirates —
McCutchen cf
Tabata lf
Walker 2b
Jones 1b
Alvarez 3b
Doumit c
Young rf
Diaz ss
Duke p

And the Padres —
J Hairston 2b
Tejada ss
Gonzalez 1b
Ludwick rf
Headley 3b
S Hairston lf
Denorfia cf
Hundley c
Garland p

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Hanrahan credits Kerrigan for turnaround

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This is the second time Joel Hanrahan has had his pitching coach yanked out from under him midway through a season.

The effect on Hanrahan wasn’t that great last season, when the Nationals changed coaches a couple of weeks before he was traded to the Pirates. This time, however, he felt the loss of coach Joe Kerrigan, who was fired this morning by manager John Russell.

“Joe is very smart, a very good pitching coach,” Hanrahan said. “He really turned me around last year. I had a (7.71) ERA when I got here. He helped me out and things took off from there.”

Hanny’s ERA over 33 games with the Pirates last year was 1.72. This year, he’s pitched very well for long stretches and has moved into the closer’s role. Hanrahan said Kerrigan was a big reason for his success — and it started minutes after Hanny walked into the Pirates’ clubhouse for the first time.

“Before I’d even put on a Pirates shirt or anything, I put my bag down and Joe said, ‘Come here.’ He took me in the video room, pulled up my stats and said, ‘This is your problem. Hitters are hitting .340 on fastballs away against you and .150 on fastballs in. You’re throwing to one side of the plate.’ He helped me with that philosophy and he made a mechanical adjustment — my hands were out and up, away from my body, and he brought them down to my belt, where they are now — and that helped.”

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Kerrigan, Varsho fired

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Pirates manager John Russell this morning fired bench coach Gary Varsho and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan.

“It was a very gut-wrenching decision,” Russell said. “There are some issues that I’ve been working through for quite some time that could not be resolved in a way which I felt was for the betterment of this team.

“I respect both men greatly. I lost two friends today, and that’s tough to deal with. But my main focus is this team, this organization. I felt moving forward this was the time to do this.”

Russell did not go into detail about the conflicts with Kerrigan and Varsho. Russell made the moves with the support of general manager Neal Huntington.

“JR felt strongly, and I agreed, that they were no longer the right fit for our staff,” Huntington said in a prepared statement.

Ray Searge, who had been the bullpen coach, was named interim pitching coach. Minor league field coordinator Jeff Bannister was named interim bench coach.

Searge took over his duties this morning. Bannister will join the team Monday in San Diego, where it will open a three-game series Tuesday against the Padres.

Neither Kerrigan nor Varsho was available for comment.

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Doumit back with Pirates

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Ryan Doumit was activated off the DL today and to make room for him on the roster, the Pirates sent catcher Erik Kratz back down to Triple-A Indianapolis.

Kratz was understandably disappointed packing up his things in the Pirates clubhouse, but understood he was the odd-man out with Chris Snyder, Doumit back and Jeff Clement — who is capable of filling in at catcher — going 3 for 6 with three RBI and two home runs off the bench since re-joining the Pirates on July 31. Kratz, who made his major-league debut July 17 at the age of 30, was 4-for-34 in nine games with one RBI and hadn’t played since Sunday.

Here are the lineups for tonight:
Pirates
McCutchen 8
Tabata 7
Walker 4
Jones 3
Alvarez 5
Milledge 9
Snyder 2
Cedeno 6
Ohlendorf 1

Rockies
Fowler 8
Helton 3
Gonzalez 7
Tulo 6
Hawpe 9
Stewart 5
Olivo 2
Barmes 4
De la rosa 1

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Thomas optioned, Park arrives

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The Pirates optioned lefty reliever Justin Thomas back to Triple-A Indianapolis in order to fit newly acquired righty Chan Ho Park on the active roster. Park arrived in Pittsburgh last night, and threw a bullpen session for pitching coach Joe Kerrigan after the game against the Rockies.

Also, right fielder/catcher Ryan Doumit (boy, it felt a little weird to type that) is expected to be activated off the disabled list tomorrow. Doumit will be playing the outfield tonight for Indy.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Rockies (56-52) – 1. Dexter Fowler cf, 2. Todd Helton 1b, 3. Carlos Gonzalez lf, 4. Troy Tulowitzki ss, 5. Melvin Mora 3b, 6.Ryan Spilborghs rf, 7. Chris Iannetta c, 8. Clint Barmes 2b, Jason Hammel (7-6, 4.37) rhp

Pirates (38-70) – 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. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Zach Duke (5-10, 5.36) lhp

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JR picks the Cards

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The race for the NL Central title is down to the Reds and Cardinals, two teams the Pirates have faced in the past week. Asked to predict the winner, Pirates manager John Russell went with St. Louis.

“Because of the experience,” Russell said. “They’ve got a lot of guys who’ve been there and who’ve been through it. They know what to expect. They’ve got two horses in their rotation who’ve been to the playoffs and know what those games are like.”

Russell rated the teams’ bullpens as even. When it comes to bats, he gave Cards sluggers Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday an edge over the Reds’ Joey Votto and Scott Rolen. “Those two (Pujols and Holliday) have consistently shown they can put up great numbers,” Russell said.

Even with Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright anchoring the St. Louis rotation, Russell said Cincy’s group could be the better of the two.

“The five guys they run out there are pretty good,” Russell said. “The potential downfall is the two young guys — (Mike) Leake and (Travis) Wood. As they get close, how those guys react when it’s time to make a push for a playoff spot.”

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McCutchen, Tabata due for more rest

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Because he’s been dinged up so much this season, should Andrew McCutchen get more time off than usual down the stretch?

“If you ask John Russell that, he’ll look at you like you’re crazy,” McCutchen told me.

In fact, I’d already asked JR. The manager said both McCutchen and rookie Jose Tabata, who will turn 22 a week from today, will be closely monitored in the final few weeks of the season and that both, likely will get more time off than usual.

“We don’t want to run them into the ground,” Russell said.

When Ryan Doumit is activated from the DL, he’ll give JR another outfield option. That way, Tabata and McCutchen can get more down time.

“We’ll see about that,” McCutchen said, grinning.

»»» Doumit is slated to play nine innings in right field tonight for Indy, as he continues his rehab assignment. He is eligible to come off the DL tomorrow.

»»» Shortstop Brian Bixler was demoted to Double-A Altoona. The Pirates traded Bixler to Cleveland last winter, then reacquired him July 12. He hit .171 with one RBI in 11 games with Triple-A Indianapolis.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Rockies (56-51) – 1. Seth Smith lf, 2. Clint Barmes 2b, 3. Carlos Gonzalez cf, 4. Troy Tulowitzki ss, 5. Jason Giambi 1b, 6. Miguel Olivo c, 7. Brad Hawpe rf, 8. Ian Stewart 3b, 9. Jeff Francis (4-3, 4.44) lhp

Pirates (37-70) – 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. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. James McDonald (0-1, 8.22) rhp

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Park, Resop added to bullpen mix

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The Pirates today claimed right-handers Chan Ho Park and Chris Resop. Both will pitch out of the bullpen, as the Pirates continue to seek the right mix of middle-inning help.

Resop will join the team in time for Thursday’s game against Colorado. To clear roster space, righty reliever Steven Jackson (0-1, 11.57 ERA) was designated for assignment.

First baseman Steve Pearce was transferred to the 60-day disabled list, which opened a spot for Park on the 40-man roster. When Park arrives in Pittsburgh on Friday, the Pirates must make another move to free up a spot on their active roster.

Park, 37, went 2-1 with a 5.60 ERA in 29 outings this year with the New York Yankees. His best season was in 2000, when he went 18-10 with a 3.27 ERA for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Last year, Park pitched in 45 games (seven starts) for the Philadelphia Phillies. He went 3-3 with a 4.43 ERA and notched 73 strikeouts in 83 1/3 innings.

“Park’s stuff (this year) has been the same as we saw when he was successful in 2009,” GM Neal Huntington said. “Aside from ERA, which is not a good indicator for relievers, his numbers have been sound.”

Resop made just one appearance this year for the Atlanta Braves and allowed five runs on five hits in two innings (22.50 ERA). He went on the disabled list June 16 with a strained oblique, then made four rehab starts with Triple-A Gwinnett.

Resop also has pitched for the Florida Marlins (2005-06) and Los Angeles Angels (2007). He played in Japan in 2008-09.

»»» Less than 16 hours after being hit in the neck by a pitch, Andrew McCutchen was stiff and sore, but back in the lineup. In the first inning, McCutchen drove a 3-1 fastball from Johnny Cueto over the left field wall.

“I told everybody I was fine today,” McCutchen said. “It was a good way to start it off.”

It was McCutchen’s ninth homer of the season and the fifth time in his career he’d led off a game by going deep.

»»» Struggling with his slider, Pirates starter Jeff Karstens (2-7) worked five innings and gave up three runs on nine hits in today’s 9-4 loss against the Reds. He walked two and struck out two.

“If I had to summarize it, I’d say damage control,” Karstens said. “Every inning, they were putting pressure on me and getting guys on. I didn’t have my best control or management of the game today, but we were able to minimize (the damage).”

The Reds tied it in the second inning with a two-out hit. Ben Francisco led off with a double to left and went to third on Lance Nix’s sacrifice. Ramon Hernandez fouled out, so Karstens needed only to retire the No. 8 hitter to get out of the inning unscathed. But Paul Janish stroked a ground-ball single to left field, scoring Francisco.

In the fourth, consecutive singles by Jonny Gomes, Francisco and Nix loaded the bases with none out. Hernandez’s sacrifice fly scored Heisey and moved Francisco to third, but McCutchen threw out Nix, who tried to move up to second.

With one out in the fifth, Chris Heisey singled and Joey Votto walked. After Gomes singled to load the bases, Francisco’s grounder drove in Heisey to make it 3-1.

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RHP Resop claimed off waivers

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The Pirates today claimed right-hander Chris Resop off waivers from the Atlanta Braves. Resop, 27, will join the team Thursday — the Pirates will have to make a corresponding roster move, perhaps DFA’ing reliever Steven Jackson — and will work out of the bullpen.

Resop went on the disabled list June 16 with a strained oblique, then made four rehab starts with Triple-A Gwinnett. He pitched in one game this year for the Braves and allowed five runs on five hits in two innings (22.50 ERA).

He’s also played for the Florida Marlins (2005-06) and Los Angeles Angels (2007). He spent part of 2008 and all of 2009 playing in Japan.

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McCutchen achey, back in action

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It’s been a rough month for Andrew McCutchen.

“I’ve never really been injured as much as I have during this season,” McCutchen said this morning, a few minutes after he came out of the trainer’s room.

Last night, McCutchen was beaned on the back of the neck by a 90 mph fastball. Over the past couple of weeks, he’s twice tweaked his right shoulder.

He’s in the lineup today, though, as usual.

“I feel all right,” he said. “Just a little tight this morning, but they worked it out. I’m good to go now.”

McCutchen did not lose consciousness when he was hit by Mike Leake’s pitch. X-rays were negative.

“I was awake the whole time,” he said. “The initial blow didn’t feel that bad. I was a sore after the fact. I wasn’t that stiff when I woke up today, so I was sure I could play. The trainers gave me the thumbs-up.”

»»» Jeff Clement was demoted to Indy on June 9, and he responded by hitting .305 with eight homers in 40 games. “The biggest adjustments I made down there were just my rhythm and timing,” he said. “It felt like I got too mechanical up here, especially toward the last two or three weeks. I was trying to do too many things instead of timing the ball.” Clement moves his bat less before swinging, and that’s also helped.

»»» Saturday, Clement homered in his first at-bat since being recalled, launching a fastball from Mitchell Boggs 418 feet over the center field wall. Clement has hit all six of his home runs this season on the road.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Reds (60-48) – 1. Brandon Phillips 2b, 2. Chris Heisey cf, 3. Joey Votto 1b, 4. Jonny Gomes lf, 5. Lance Nix rf, 6. Ben Francisco 3b, 7. Ramon Hernandez c, 8. Paul Janish ss, 9. Johnny Cueto (10-2, 3.32) rhp

Pirates (37-69) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Delwyn Young rf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Lastings Milledge rf, 7. Chris Snyder c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss,9. Jeff Karstens (2-6, 4.42) rhp

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