Pregame: Hart in the house

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Kevin Hart (bent over) was among the Pirates as they went through their pregame stretch today at Sun Life Stadium.
Kevin Hart (bent over) was among the Pirates as they went through their pregame stretch today at Sun Life Stadium.

MIAMI — Right-hander Kevin Hart, who’s on the 60-day disabled list recovering from shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, worked out this afternoon with the Pirates at Sun Life Stadium.

“In talking with Neal (Huntington, general manager), they want our staff to see him now,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Everybody else has looked at him down in Pirate City (in Bradenton, Fla.). It was a close ride (to Miami), so it made sense.”

Pitching coach Ray Searage and bullpen coach Euclides Rojas will evaluate Hart’s progress. Also, minor league pitching coordinator Jim Benedict, who’s been working closely with Hart in Brandenton, is in the house to pass along updates.

»»» Right-hander Casey Sadler, a 25th-round draft pick last year, was added to the roster at Low-A West Virginia. Zac Fuesser was sent down to short-season State College. Fuesser did not allow a run in two outings, including a four-inning spot start, with West Virginia.

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Pregame: Going the distance

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MIAMI — Kevin Correia and Charlie Morton threw complete games three days apart in Cincinnati. The last time the Pirates had more than one complete game in April was in 1992, when Zane Smith got a pair and Doug Drabek tossed one.

»»» Over the past three games, Chris Snyder has gone 5 for 11 with four RBI. Overall, Pirates catchers rank fourth in the NL with a collective .310 batting average. They trail San Diego (.373), Arizona (.367) and Atlanta (.339).

»»» Jose Ascanio (shoulder) tonight will begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indy.

»»» Crazy day for me so far. There was a big storm in Cincy this morning, so my flight was delayed a couple of hours. Then, as we were climbing like the Space Shuttle and trying to punch though the storm, lightning appeared to strike the airplane. I had a great view from my window seat — woke me up, I can tell ya that.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (7-8) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Lyle Overbay 1b, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Garrett Jones rf, 6. Ryan Doumit c, 7. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Paul Maholm lhp (0-2, 2.33)

Marlins (8-6) – 1. Coghlan cf, 2. Infante 2b, 3. Ramirez ss, 4. Sanchez, 5. Morrison lf, 6. Stanton rf, 7. Buck c, 8. Bonifacio 3b, 9. Josh Johnson rhp (2-0, 1.35)

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Diaz? Which Diaz?

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Matt Diaz ... right? Right.
Matt Diaz ... right? Right.

CINCINNATI — When Matt Diaz batted in the first inning tonight, the video scoreboard at Great American Ball Park showed a mugshot of John Bowker. Pirates media relations guy Dan Hart pointed out the error and a call was made to the folks who control the scoreboard. Problem solved, right?

Um … no.

When Diaz batted in the fifth inning, the photo was that of Diaz … Argenis Diaz, who isn’t even in the Pirates’ organization anymore. Another call was made, and finally the right photo went up on the scoreboard.

Rambo.
Rambo.

There’s a couple innings left, so I’m waiting to see the mugs of two other ex-Buccos — Mike “Rambo” Diaz (1986-88) and Robinzon Diaz (2008-09).

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Ohlendorf out; Alvarez benched

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CINCINNATI — I spoke a few hours ago with Ross Ohlendorf, who said it could be “about a month” before he’s able to rejoin the starting rotation. Then I talked with GM Neal Huntington, who wouldn’t speculate about any sort of timetable for the right-hander’s return.

“Hopefully, I’ll be back in about a month,” Ohlendorf said. “But it’s still too early to really know for sure.”

Said Huntington: “It’s more day to day.”

Ohlendorf hasn’t pitched since April 8, when he pulled himself out of a game against the Rockies after feeling discomfort near his shoulder blade. It’s the same spot and type of pain, he said, that kept him out of action for the final month last season.

I’m inclined to believe Ohlendorf’s expectation of spending another month on the disabled list. He’s limited to doing soft-toss, throwing every other day. (His next scheduled toss is Tuesday, when he’ll throw from 75 feet.) Once he gets stretched out to 120 feet, Ohlendorf can begin throwing bullpen sessions. After that, he’ll need a game or two in the minors.

The question is, if Ohlendorf is out until at least mid-May, what do the Pirates do in the meantime about a fifth starter? For that answer, you’ll have to plop down a coupla quarters and buy tomorrow’s Trib (or be a freeloader and read it online!)

»»» Manager Clint Hurdle said he benched slumping slugger Pedro Alvarez tonight because there’s a “disconnect” between what Alvarez is working on in batting practice and what he’s doing at the plate in games.

Hurdle didn’t want to divulge any details. Neither did Alvarez, who dodged reporters for more than an hour before the game until the clubhouse was closed.

A 5-for-24 tailspin has dropped Alvarez’s batting average to .193. He leads the National League with 20 strikeouts in 57 at-bats.

One person I talked to noted that Alvarez has a long swing, which can be good for generating power but also bad for making contact. He seems uncomfortable at the plate lately, as if he’s having trouble picking up the spin and speed of pitches. His timing seems off against fastballs, which can lead to more trouble against breaking balls.

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Pregame: Another spot start?

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CINCINNATI — Ross Ohlendorf will miss at least one more start while he’s on the disabled list. But given Jeff Karstens’ performance Sunday, will he get another chance for a spot start, or will the Pirates turn to one of their Plan Bs — Brad Lincoln or Brian Burres?

I asked manager Clint Hurdle about it after yesterday’s game, but Hurdle wasn’t willing to dance.

“After that game, I’ll pass on that one,” Hurdle said. “We’ll wait and see.”

Karstens lasted 4 1/3 innings (76 pitches/55 strikes). He frittered away a 4-0 first inning lead, and allowed five runs on eight hits.

Karstens insisted the problem in the fifth inning, when the Reds scored three times to take a 5-4 lead, was more about him not making pitches than him running out of gas. Hurdle also offered a kind assessment.

“It was his first start. He did the best he could in the situation he was in,” Hurdle said. “We were looking to take a good, hard look at 75 (pitches) and maybe we could get through five (innings) before he got to 75. Seventy-six was enough.”

Still, the Pirates might not be able to afford another potentially short outing from Karstens the next time around if the bullpen continues to be overworked.

“Back-to-back nights of 4 1/3 innings from your starting pitcher can cause you some challenges,” Hurdle said, referring to James McDonald’s brief outing Saturday. “We were able to adapt, improvise and overcome (Sunday) in a lot of different ways.”

The problem is, those challenges didn’t end yesterday. The Pirates’ bullpen might be shorthanded for tonight’s game against the Reds — Evan Meek and Chris Resop have pitched in back-to-back games, Jose Veras and Joel Hanrahan each went 1 2/3 innings yesterday.

Remember also that the Pirates don’t have another off day until April 25. So overworking the bullpen now could cause bigger headaches over the next six days.

Keeping Karstens in relief and calling up a starter from Triple-A Indy could strengthen the bullpen. It would end the charade of keeping Daniel McCutchen around as the long reliever. McCutchen pitched just two-thirds of an inning yesterday and was yanked for a pinch-hitter in the sixth.

»»» Pedro Alvarez, who went 2 for 11 with four strikeouts in the first three games of this series, has been benched tonight. Steve Pearce will start at third base. More on this after the pregame confab with Hurdle.

»»» Ronny Cedeno chose on his own Sunday to bunt with runners on first and third and none out in the eighth inning. Garrett Jones did not get a good break off third base and was out at the plate on a bang-bang play. Hurdle was no upset with Cedeno’s decision to bunt.

“We’ve talked a lot about when it’s appropriate and when it’s not,” Hurdle said. “That was a time when I thought it was a good chance for him to take.”

»»» Here’s a good note from Dan Hart, the hardest working media relations guy in the biz: The four starting pitchers in the Pirates’ minor league games Sunday combined to allow just two earned runs in 26 innings of work. Burres fanned eight batters in seven scoreless innings. Aaron Pribanic allowed an unearned run in six innings for Double-A Altoona. High-A Bradenton’s Kyle McPherson gave up two runs in seven innings. At Low-A West Virginia, Colton Cain mastered Augusta (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) by tossing six shutout innings.

»»» The Pirates already have won six games on the road against NL Central foes. Last year, they did not reach that mark until June 28.

»»» Since the beginning of last season, Andrew McCutchen has hit 12 homers in the leadoff spot. That ranks him fourth among NL batters in that span behind Rickie Weeks (32), Andres Torres (14) and Shane Victorino (13). McCutchen has hit seven career game-opening homers.

»»» If the Pirates beat the Reds tonight, it will be the first time since 2002 they’ve won their first three road series of a season.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (7-8) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Matt Diaz rf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Steve Pearce 3b, 6. Lyle Overbay 1b, 7. Chris Snyder c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Kevin Correia rhp (2-1, 2.70)

Reds (9-6) – 1. Drew Stubbs cf, 2. Edgar Renteria ss, 3. Joey Votto 1b, 4. Scott Rolen 3b, 5. Jonny Gomes lf, 6. Jay Bruce rf, 7. Miguel Cairo 2b, 8. Ryan Hanigan c, 9. Travis Wood lhp (1-1, 3.86)

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Pregame: Karstens on the mound

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This has nothing to do with baseball, but I felt compelled to post it anyway. It's an attraction for kids at The Levee, a collection of shops and restaurants in nearby Newport, Ky.
This has nothing to do with baseball, but I felt compelled to post it anyway. It's an attraction for kids at The Levee, a collection of shops and restaurants in nearby Newport, Ky.

CINCINNATI — Right-hander Jeff Karstens should be good for at least 70 pitches in his spot start this afternoon against the Reds.

“We’ll see what he can give us, how efficient he can be with the number of pitches he’s got.” manager Clint Hurdle said this morning. “I don’t want to put a number on it. Can he get to 100? I think that’d be a stretch. Can he throw more than 70? I believe so.”

Karstens threw 67 pitches in 3 1/3 innings April 8 when he replaced injured starter Ross Ohlendorf (upper back). Karstens hasn’t pitched in a game since, but he has thrown two bullpen sessions.

»»» Garrett Jones went 4 for 6, including a homer and two RBI, in his past two games. He went 5 for 29 over the first 10 games. In eight games on the road, Jones is batting .360 (9 for 25).

Hurdle spent about 20 minutes the other day talking with Jones about the path of the bat through the hitting zone. Hurdle suggested that Jones vary his practice swings, simulating how he’d attack balls up in the zone, low and away, up and in, and so on.

“Don’t take the same, repetitive swing — one that you’re not going to take during a game,” Hurdle said. “He’s shown the ability to hit and to hit for power. Guys get locked up from time to time, for whatever reason. Usually, there’s just too much noise going on upstairs (in their heads). Garrett seems to keep it simple. Hopefully, we’ve been able to simplify some things for him. He’s shown some traction — in this series, especially — for the first time all season. He’s gotten better and there’s been some swing consistency.”

»»» Yesterday’s game was the first this season in which Jose Tabata did not reach base.

»»» Pirates pitchers served up one home run in the first six games. Over the past eight, they’ve allowed 10 homers.

Lineups for today’s game:

Pirates (6-8) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Lyle Overbay 1b, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Garrett Jones rf, 7. Chris Snyder c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Jeff Karstens rhp (1-0, 0.00)

Reds (9-5) – 1. Drew Stubbs cf, 2. Miguel Cairo 2b, 3. Joey Votto 1b, 4. Scott Rolen 3b, 5. Jonny Gomes lf, 6. Jay Bruce rf, 7. Ramon Hernandez c, 8. Paul Janish ss, 9. Edinson Volquez rhp (2-0, 5.82)

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Pregame: Tabata en fuego

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CINCINNATI — Jose Tabata woke up this morning ranked fifth in the NL with a .475 on-base percentage and is tied for second — second! — with seven stolen bases. Dude can just flat-out play.

That’s why manager Clint Hurdle had no qualms about putting Tabata into the No. 2 spot in the batting order. “I don’t think there’s any argument about the job Tabata has done at the top,” Hurdle said. “I’m confident Tabata’s going to do that kind of job in the second hole.”

Tabata also did a great job in left field on a night when the weather conditions were especially challenging. It drizzled on and off throughout the game. And, starting around the fourth inning, a howling wind blew off the Ohio River and wreaked havoc with fly balls.

“Oh, wow,” Tabata said. “When I saw the ball, I said, ‘Oh, oh, oh! I was a little nervous. (Charlie) Morton was pitching so good, I wanted to catch every ball for him.”

»»» Hurdle said the storm last night reminded him of the often blustery conditions at old Candlestick Park in San Francisco: “With that much debris on the field, the wind, the rain — coming sideways, all over the place, you don’t know where it’s coming from, it’s going left, right and sometimes I think it was going back up — it was challenging conditions, to say the least.”

»»» The Reds pushed righty Edinson Volquez back a day to Sunday due to neck stiffness. Right-hander Mike Leake will start today.

»»» Since the 2010 All-Star break, Neil Walker ranks third in the NL with 65 RBI. He trails Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki (75) and Carlos Gonzalez (67).

»»» Morton’s complete-game win last night came in the 13th game of the season. Last year, it took 91 games before the Pirates got their first (and only) complete game from a starting pitcher. Paul Maholm beat Houston on July 18.

Lineups:

Pirates (6-7) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Lyle Overbay 1b, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Ryan Doumit c, 7. Garrett Jones rf, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. James McDonald rhp (0-0, 5.56)

Reds (8-5) – 1. Drew Stubbs cf, 2. Miguel Cairo 2b, 3. Joey Votto 1b, 4. Jonny Gomes lf, 5. Jay Bruce rf, 6. Juan Francisco 3b, 7. Ramon Hernandez c, 8. Paul Janish ss, 9. Mike Leake rhp (1-0, 6.75)

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Pregame: Beimel in, Olson out

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CINCINNATI — The Pirates this afternoon swapped left-handed relievers — Garrett Olson is out, Joe Beimel is in.

Olson was designated for assignment this afternoon to clear roster space for Beimel, who’s activated from the disabled list. Beimel has been out since the middle of spring training due to soreness in his forearm and elbow, and was on a rehab stint with Triple-A Indy. Olson made four relief outings (4 1/3 innings) and went 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA. He allowed two hits and three walks and got four strikeouts.

Olson was whacked even though Mike Crotta and Daniel McCutchen have options remaining. The Pirates still have just one lefty in their bullpen.

»»» According to the weather folks here in Cincy, there’s a good chance tonight’s game will be rain-delayed, if not washed out entirely.

»»» Later this afternoon, I plan to ask manager Clint Hurdle today how he reacts to losing skids — Does he shake up the lineup? Get more rah-rah in the clubhouse? Keep things static and try to wait it out? I guess today’s revamped lineup (see below) gives me at least part of the answer. More on this later …

»»» The Pirates and Phillies are the only two relief corps that have not allowed a home run so far this season.

»»» Lyle Overbay has a .409 career batting average against the Reds. He has hit safely in 13 of 15 games at Great American Ball Park (.419 BA with five doubles, four homers and 15 RBI in 62 at-bats).

Lineups for today’s game:

Pirates (5-7) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Lyle Overbay 1b, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Garrett Jones rf, 7. Chris Snyder c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Charlie Morton (1-0, 2.08)

Reds (8-4) – TBA. Bronson Arroyo (2-0, 2.08)

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Post-game: How to solve the offensive woes?

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Clint Hurdle, welcome to the Pirates.

Hate to say it, but others already are after watching the last two games. They just smacked of what everyone around here has been seeing for all too long.

But change is a process, and now we get to see what Hurdle can do to get these guys out of their slump. It isn’t like they were routinely scoring in double-digits the first 10 games, winning 5-4, 4-3, 3-1. But at least they were winning. That’s now something they haven’t done in four straight games and only once in the six-game homestand (it would have been seven games if not for Tuesday’s rain-out) that started last Thursday.

They are going on the road, and they had success in their season-opening road series at Chicago and St. Louis, so there is that. And Hurdle had the pitchers out on the field today practicing the same bunt play that Kevin Correia misplayed the night before, so he’s not one to let problems fester.

Here’s what Hurdle had to say about the at-bats and what they may need to do:

“There’s that fine line of getting a good strike, of swinging at what you’re looking for. Whether we’re being too selective, I’d have to look at some more tape from tonight. You try to simplify when things aren’t going well. Maybe we need to start dividing the plate in halves, just look away and stay away, look in and stay there instead of trying to hit everything.

“I think sometimes you fall into those sequences where you’re trying to hit everything. Randy Wolf had a pretty good fastball, threw a couple 3-2 changeups to (Neil) Walker the second time he put the barrel on, threw the cutter, threw the curveball. You just have to give up on something, eliminate something and zone in. Whether it be up or down or in and out, we have to simplify things. I believe that we’re trying to hit all the pitches. We’re trying to hit too many pitches, too much of the plate.”

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Pre-game: Alvarez getting the night off

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Clint Hurdle is giving Pedro Alvarez the night off tonight but had him out doing early hitting work. The Pirates third baseman is a notoriously slow starter, but in 11 games this year he’s hitting just .200 with just one extra-base hit, a double, and he’s gone eight games without an RBI.

Hurdle wouldn’t say whether it was something with Alvarez’s swing that they were working on, but he did outline what he needs to do at the plate.

“What I’d like him to do is go up there and be reactionary,” Hurdle said. “He hasn’t gotten off to the start that he would like or we would like but it’s still early and I’m just trying to get him to focus on a couple absolutes at the plate. See the ball, number one, get a good pitch to hit, number two, know that he can attack the ball anywhere in the strike zone, it doesn’t need to be in a teacup. And just hit it hard where it’s pitched. I can tell you that.”

Alvarez said he was just going out and working on improving.

“It doesn’t change from yesterday and won’t change tomorrow,” he said. “But I’m just refocusing on little adjustments I need to make. Just overall, mechanically, mentally, whatever needs to be done.”

Steve Pearce will get the start at third base. He made his first career appearance at the hot corner in a major league game on Saturday.

Here are the lineups:

For the Pirates: Tabata 7, Walker 4, McCutchen 8, Diaz 9, Pearce 5, Overbay 3, Snyder 2, Cedeno 6, Maholm 1

For the Brewers: Weeks 4, Gomez 8, Braun 7, Fielder 3, McGehee 5, Betancourt 6, Almonte 9, Lucroy 2, Wolf 1

The other big note, of course, is that catcher Chris Snyder is off the disabled list and making the start tonight. Snyder, who was slowed by lower back stiffness in spring training, went 8 for 20 with two doubles, a home run, eight RBI and six runs scored in six rehab games with Single-A Bradenton and said his endurance is good.

“I caught five or so games down there and built up the innings every time and ended up with back-to-back nine innings,” Snyder said. “I think mid-season you catch back-to-back games you’re going to be tired the next day no matter what. And I was tired but the back was fine so if that was the case, I was happy with it. I don’t mind being tired. But as of right now the endurance was built up and I’m ready to go.”

One last interesting matchup note going into tonight’s game: Prince Fielder is a career .071 batter against left-hander Paul Maholm, with a 3 for 42 record in 46 plate appearances and no hits for extra bases. Furthermore, Fielder faced Maholm 10 times last year and didn’t have a hit. He struck out three times and walked once, going 0 for 9.

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