Pregame: Alvarez rests quad

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Pedro Alvarez tweaked his right quadriceps Sunday in the game against the Brewers and it’s continued to bother him the past few days. He is not in the lineup today. “Just taking precautionary measures,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez collected three RBI Wednesday, smacking a three-run homer off Bronson Arroyo. He played yesterday and went 0 for 2 with a pair of walks.

tigers»»» It’s interleague play. Yipee.

The Pirates were swept by the Tigers last year at Comerica Park. The Pirates won two of three in 2009 at PNC Park. Overall, the Tigers lead the interleague series, 14-10.

Four of five least-attended interleague games at PNC Park were against the Tigers. The smallest crowd was 11,760 for the Tigers-Bucs on June 30, 1998, followed by 12,479 to see Tigers-Bucs on June 5, 2000.

»»» The Pirates play 15 of their next 22 games at PNC Park. Only the Twins and Giants (15 apiece) have played fewer home games than the Pirates (18 entering tonight). Over the past 10 home games, Pirates pitchers have a 2.47 ERA and have held opponents to two earned runs or fewer seven times. Neil Walker has hit safely in nine of his past 10 games on the North Shore. Overall, Walker is batting .323 (20 for 62) in 17 games at PNC Park.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Tigers (22-21) – 1. Austin Jackson cf, 2. Scott Sizemore 2b, 3. Brennan Boesch rf, 4. Miguel Cabrera 1b, 5. Victor Martinez c, 6. Andy Dirks lf, 7. Donny Kelly 3b, 8. Ramon Santiago ss, 9. Brad Penny rhp (4-3, 4.11)

Pirates (20-23) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Lyle Overbay 1b, 6. Ryan Doumit c, 7. Brandon Wood 3b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Jeff Karstens rhp (2-2, 3.62)

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Sanchez muzzled

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The sun was shining on the Washington Monument at 5 p.m. today.
The sun was shining on the Washington Monument at 5 p.m. today.

WASHINGTON — It never rained here today. Not a drop. When I walked out of Nationals Park at 3:30 p.m., which was 2 1/2 hours after the game was supposed to begin, it was sunny. The grounds crew hadn’t even bothered to put the tarp on the field.

Why postpone the game? Maybe Nats management realized there wouldn’t be but a few thousand fans at the game and decided to cuts it losses. By making up the game in July — on a weekend — when the Pirates return, there’ll be more money to be made. I’m just saying …

»»» Here’s some sad news: I just talked with catcher Tony Sanchez, who was riding a bus in Akron, Ohio — where it actually rained today, causing a legit rainout — with the Double-A Altoona Curve. Sanchez had a three-word message for his fans: “Twitter is done.”

Sanchez has shut down his Twitter account. His final week, sent around 3:30 p.m. today: “see ya twitter. thanks to the fans for their support and continued support. Pittsburgh is the only goal and twitter is standing in my way.”

Sanchez declined to talk on the record about why he won’t be tweeting, other than to say, ‘It was a personal decision.”

But know this: Sanchez got in trouble — and rightly so — recently after a tweet that was critical of the umpires. He later tweeted an apology. The Pirates have become ultra-sensitive to any information leaks (no matter how insignificant) and any possible situations that might somehow, some way at some time in somebody’s eyes reflect poorly on the organization.

It sure looks like the Pirates put a muzzle on Sanchez.

I’ve asked GM Neal Huntington for an official response, including a confirmation or denial of the club’s role.

»»» Starter Bryan Morris (oblique) was activated from the DL at Double-A Altoona. Reliever Chris Leroux was promoted to Triple-A Indy.

»»» The Pirates have had four games postponed due to rotten weather (or, as happened to day, unfavorable weather predictions). The last time they had as many as four games ppd. was 2004, when there were 11 rainouts.

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Pregame: Another washout

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The view from the press box at Nationals Park shows storm clouds over the Capitol dome.
The view from the press box at Nationals Park shows storm clouds over the Capitol dome.

WASHINGTON — As I was riding to Nationals Park this morning, the cab driver asked me why I was going there. “You know, there’s no ballgame today,” he said. Huh?

Turns out the Nationals banged the game about 9:30 a.m. because of a large, nasty line of thunderstorms that are expected to stick around all day.

“To show up at the park and already know the game is cancelled is kind of weird,” said right-hander Charlie Morton.

Morton, who was supposed to start today, will instead pitch tomorrow against the Reds. His previous start Friday against the Dodgers was rained out after two innings.

“He’s thrown his sides, he’s stayed in rhythm as much as you can control and he’ll pitch tomorrow,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Don’t make any more of it than what it is.”

As I type this, it is 1:13 p.m. — eight minutes after the game was scheduled to start — and not a drop of rain has fallen.

The makeup date has not yet been announced. It’s a good bet the Pirates and Nats will play a doubleheader July 2 at Nationals Park.

»»» The one plus to the rainout is it gives the overworked bullpen some time to regroup. “We were getting a little itchy out there,” Hurdle said. “We had a couple guys yesterday that we wanted to stay away from.”

»»» Right-hander Daniel McCutchen is now a short reliever, replacing slumping righty Chris Resop. McCutchen’s first outing in his new role came Sunday, when he worked a scoreless eighth inning against the Brewers.

“I’ve been locating my pitches well and I’ve had multiple pitches working,” McCutchen said. “I’m pretty confident right now.” McCutchen has allowed one earned run in 17 innings.

»»» Evan Meek (shoulder) is scheduled to pitch an inning tonight for Triple-A Indianapolis. It will be the second appearance of his rehab assignment. “We’ll evaluate how he feels,” Hurdle said. “We want to be smart. We’ve kind of got training wheels on (Dan) Moskos, bringing him along slowly, and (Jose) Ascanio coming back. Throwing back-to-back days is something (Ascanio) has only done once this season and he wasn’t healthy when he did it, so it wasn’t very good. We’ll take it one step at a time, see how Meek throws today and how he feels after that.”

»»» Monday, the Pirates had 10 hits but scored just two runs. They were 2 for 12 with RISP, and failed to score in four innings with a runner at second base. “Our production has been pretty consistent, but we need more,” Hurdle said. “We still have to answer the bell with runners in scoring position. That’s been the theme for six weeks. Look for a spot, look for a zone. Don’t change lanes every pitch. Look for one thing in one spot, and if it’s not there, make an adjustment with two strikes. Hit with confidence. Hit with bad intentions.

»»» Righty Philip Irwin gave up one unearned run Monday while tossing five innings for High-A Bradenton. Irwin, a 21st-round pick in 2009, has a 0.82 and a .158 batting average against through five starts.

»»» The Pirates have allowed nine homers in their past four games. That has accounted for 13 of the 26 runs scored by opponents in that stretch.

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Pregame: Cedeno surging

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WASHINGTON — Is Ronny Cedeno making a rebound? It’s sure looked that way over the past couple of weeks. Cedeno has reached base safely in 13 of his past 15 games, with 14 hits in 45 at-bats (.311).

More importantly, Cedeno has seven hits in his past 12 at-bats (.583) with runners in scoring position. He started the year 1 for 11 with RISP.

»»» Neil Walker has a career .378 batting average against the Nats.

»»» Right-hander Kevin Hart threw some live batting practice on the field earlier this afternooon.

»»» Howzabout Daniel McCutchen? His 0.53 ERA ranks fourth among all relievers in the majors.

»»» Pedro Alvarez and Lyle Overbay are not in the lineup tonight, presumably because lefty John Lannan pitches for the Nats. I’ll update that, if necessary, after we chat with manager Clint Hurdle.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (18-22) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Matt Diaz rf, 5. Steve Pearce 1b, 6. Brandon Wood 3b, 7. Chris Snyder c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Paul Maholm lhp (1-5, 3.60)

Nationals (19-21) – TBA 9. John Lannan rhp (2-4, 4.79)

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Pregame: Get outta town

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MILWAUKEE — Final day in Milwaukee, a.k.a. the Land That Spring Forgot. It’s rainy and 45 degrees with wind gusts up to 40 mph today — good thing Miller Park has a roof, eh?

sausageAfter today, the Pirates won’t see the Brewers again until Aug. 22-24 at PNC Park. A most welcome respite. The Pirates have won every series this season against NL Central foes, except for the two sets against the Brewers.

Manager Clint Hurdle was asked if his club needs to start beating the Brewers the same way the Pirates of the late 1980s needed to knock off the Mets to way to becoming contenders. Hurdle’s answer was brief: “I understand where it’s a watermark for some. The volume of games that we’ve been underneath these guys gets your attention. That’s part of it. There’s a lot more parts of it than just that.”

»»» Today, Kevin Correia could become the first Pirates pitcher to reach six wins by May 15 since 1990, when Neal Heaton was 6-0 on May 12 and Doug Drabek was 6-1 on May 11.

»»» Closer Joel Hanrahan almost certainly will pitch today, even if the game is a blowout. Hanny’s last outing was Monday, when he faced five batters against the Dodgers. “The fourth day (off) is a give-and-take day. Day five, he needs to get in,” Hurdle said. “So if it’s a close game, we’ll look for an opportunity to double late. He could pitch the eighth and maybe we can get another inning out of him. We’ll see. It’s touch and feel.”

»»» Lyle Overbay is four hits shy of 1,000. Last night, he whacked his 125th career homer, a titantic shot to right field in the eighth inning off Mike McClendon.

»»» Back in January, I wrote that the Pirates had essentially signed lefty Scott Olsen to a tryout contract — relatively low-cost, loaded with incentives, club option for next year. Looks like he flunked the tryout.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (18-21) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Lyle Overbay 1b, 6. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 7. Chris Snyder c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Kevin Correia rhp (5-3, 3.25)

Brewers (18-21) – 1. Rickie Weeks 2b, 2. Carlos Gomez cf, 3. Ryan Braun lf, 4. Prince Fielder 1b, 5. Casey McGehee 3b, 6. Corey Hart rf, 7. Yuniesky Betancourt ss, 8. Jonathan Lucroy c, 9. Zach Greinke rhp (1-1, 5.40)

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Pregame: Scouting Hultzen

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University of Virginia photo
University of Virginia photo

MILWAUKEE — GM Neal Huntington was at the University of Virginia last night, scouting Wahoos pitcher Danny Hultzen. The lefty is 9-2 with a 1.42 ERA. In 82 2/3 innings, he has allowed 56 hits and 13 walks and has racked up 121 strikeouts.

Last night, Hultzen gave up five runs (three earned) in the first inning of a 6-2 loss against Miami. Hultzen was sharp after that, though, aIlowing just two hits over the next six inning. It was his fourth loss in 81 career starts at UVa.

A team source told me “don’t read too deeply” into Huntington’s presence at Hultzen’s start, an indication Rice infielder Anthony Rendon and UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole remain at the top of the Pirates’ wish list.

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»»» Lyle Overbay has 163 hits at Miller Park, which ranks him 12th all-time.

»»» Matt Diaz has hit safely in four of his past six games, going 6 for 17 (.353). After going .208 in April, he’s batting .316 (6 for 19) in May.

»»» Four of the Pirates’ five series losses came after they dropped the opening game. The only time they came back to win a series after losing the first game was last week against the Astros.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (18-20) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Matt Diaz rf, 6. Lyle Overbay 1b, 7. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Jeff Karstens rhp (2-1, 3.62)

Brewers (17-21) – 1. Rickie Weeks 2b, 2. Craig Counsell ss, 3. Ryan Braun lf, 4. Prince Fielder 1b, 5. Casey McGehee 3b, 6. Mark Kotsay rf, 7. Mitchell Boggs cf, 8. Jonathan Lucroy c, 9. Chris Narveson lhp (1-3, 4.38)

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Pregame: Meek goes to Indy

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MILWAUKEE — Righty reliever Evan Meek threw a 35-pitch bullpen session this afternoon and Saturday will go to Triple-A Indianapolis to begin a rehab assignment.

Meek has been on the disabled list since April 27 due to shoulder pain. He’s eligible to come off the disabled list now, and likely will not need more than a couple of outings at Indy before rejoining the Pirates.

»»» Ross Ohlendorf (shoulder) today threw on flat ground. He was shut down over the past three days after having discomfort after throwing live batting practice.

»»» The Pirates have won four of their past six road games. Overall, they are 11-8 on the road. Last season, they won their 11th road game on June 30 and their 12th on July 27.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (18-19) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Lyle Overbay 1b, 7. Chris Snyder c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. James McDonald (2-2, 5.64)

Brewers (16-21) – 1. Rickie Weeks 2b, 2. Carlos Gomez cf, 3. Ryan Braun lf, 4. Prince Fielder 1b, 5. Casey McGehee 3b, 6. Corey Hart rf, 7. Yuniesky Betancourt ss, 8. Jonathan Lucroy c, 9. Yovani Gallardo (3-2, 5.11)

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Pregame: Crotta on DL, Ascanio activated

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Right-hander Mike Crotta was the feel-good story of the Pirates’ spring training camp, a rookie who seemingly came out of nowhere to win a spot on the team. He made his big league debut in the third game of the season, and tossed a perfect inning at Wrigley Field.

However, Crotta’s story soured over the past couple of weeks. Wednesday, the Pirates put the slumping reliever on the disabled list with elbow inflammation. His spot on the roster will be filled by righty Jose Ascanio, who was activated off the DL.

Crotta’s outing Tuesday was brutal — he faced four batters, all of whom reached base via three singles and a walk, and did not get an out. He was charged with four runs, shooting his ERA up to 9.28. He’s allowed at least one hit in each of his past 11 outings.

“He hasn’t been able to repeat his delivery as much as he’d like,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “There’s been a little drift. He’s been spraying the ball a little bit. He hasn’t been able to go to his secondary pitch with much success at all, and that’s problematic.”

Once his elbow is sound again, it’s likely Crotta will be demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis. Hurdle said Crotta, 26, needs more seasoning and more frequent work.

“At this point in his career, you’d like to feed him more consistent outings so he could continue to develop,” Hurdle said. “But that’s not always (possible) here.”

»»» Ascanio, 26, made a slower-than-expected recovery from shoulder surgery on Oct. 2, 2009. He pitched in just two games that year for the Pirates after being acquired in a trade from the Chicago Cubs.

Ascanio pitched a total of three innings last year in rehab stints with the Gulf Coast League team and High-A Bradenton. He went 2-1 with one save and a 0.96 ERA in 16 games with Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League.

»»» Jose Tabata has been benched tonight, so Xavier Paul will start in left field against the Dodgers. Tabata’s hamstring, which troubled him a week ago, is healthy. His bat, however, is not. Although Tabata has reached base safely in the past four games, he is just 2 for 16 over his past five games.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Dodgers (17-20) – 1. Jamey Carroll ss, 2. Ivan DeJesus 2b, 3. Andre Ethier rf, 4. Matt Kemp cf, 5. Juan Uribe 3b, 6. Rod Barajas c, 7. Jerry Sands lf, 8. Russell Mitchell 1b, 9. Hiroki Kuroda rhp (3-3, 3.69)

Pirates (18-18) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Matt Diaz rf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Steve Pearce 1b, 6. Ryan Doumit c, 7. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Paul Maholm lhp (1-4, 3.68)

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Pregame: Hanny gets save No. 11

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Joel Hanrahan last night picked up his 11th save and stayed perfect in save opportunities this season. Mariano Rivera and Huston Street lead the majors with 12 saves apiece.

Hanny has not allowed a run in his past seven outings, a span of seven innings. He’s been charged with an earned in run just two of his 18 appearances.

»»» The Pirates will meet with Kiski Area High School freshman Vinny Ribar in the dugout during pregame batting practice. Ribar is recovering after being struck in the head by a line drive before one of Kiski Area’s games.

»»» Joe Beimel has made 91 outings at PNC Park, which puts him eighth on the all-time list. He’s right behind Brian Meadows (91) and Mike Gonzalez (94).

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Dodgers (16-20) – 1. Jamey Carroll ss, 2. Aaron Miles 2b, 3. Andre Ethier rf, 4. Matt Kemp cf, 5. Juan Uribe 3b, 6. James Loney 1b, 7. Rod Barajas c, 8. Jerry Sands lf, 9. Ted Lilly lhp (2-3, 4.93)

Pirates (18-17) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Matt Diaz rf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Steve Pearce 1b, 6. Ryan Doumit c, 7. Brandon Wood 3b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Kevin Correia rhp (5-2, 2.91)

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Pregame: Powerful pitching

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A lot of the Pirates’ recent run of success, which has boosted them to a .500 record, is due to the starting rotation. Over the past seven games, the starters are 4-0 with a 2.79 ERA.

Over the past 13 games, Pirates pitching (including the bullpen) has a 2.64 ERA. That’s fourth-best in the majors behind the Giants (2.21), Braves (2.23) and Indians (2.53). In that span, the Pirates’ team ERA has dropped from 4.21 to 3.61.

»»» Ryan Doumit has 50 career homers as a catcher. Only Jason Kendall (66) and Tony Pena (63) hit more long balls as a catcher for the Pirates.

Sunday marked the fourth time since the start of last season that Doumit had hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning or later. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only three major leaguers — Nelson Cruz, Paul Konerko and Carlos Lee (five apiece) — have hit more of those kinds of homers in that same time period.

»»» The Pirates have homered in a season-high four straight games and in five of their past six. They are 11-7 when homering at least once in a game.

»»» The Pirates have won their past two season series against the Dodgers at PNC Park.

»»» The Pirates have not won three games in a row since Sept. 17-22, 2010, when they reeled off five straight against the D’backs and Cards.

»»» With Pedro Alvarez back in action tonight after recovering from a sore quadriceps, it will mark the first time since April 30 — and only the fifth time in 17 games — that manager Clint Hurdle has run out his usual starters at shortstop, third base and left field all in the same game. Jose Tabata returned Friday from an injury and Ronny Cedeno has been in and out of the lineup.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Dodgers (16-19) – 1. Jamey Carroll ss, 2. Aaron Miles 2b, 3. Andre Ethier rf, 4. Matt Kemp cf, 5. Juan Uribe 3b, 6. James Loney 1b, 7. Jerry Sands lf, 8. Rod Barajas c, 9. Chad Billingsley rhp (2-1, 3.92)

Pirates (17-17) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Lyle Overbay 1b, 6. Ryan Doumit c, 7. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Jeff Karstens rhp (2-1, 4.05)

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