Pregame: Deep thoughts

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Garrett Jones is all smiles after plunking a game-winning homer in the Allegheny River on Tuesday. (AP photo)
Garrett Jones is all smiles after plunking a game-winning homer in the Allegheny River on Tuesday. (AP photo)

The tale of the tape on Garrett Jones’ game-winning homer last night: the ball traveled 440 feet, bouncing off the wall on the upper walkway and landing in the Allegheny River. It was the 30th splash-blast (all but one on the bounce) and the third time Jones did it. He also got the ball wet on July 17, 2009 and April 5, 2010.

»»» The Pirates have homered five times in the past two games and have gone deep at least once in each of the poast five games at PNC Park. They’ve hit 35 homers at home this season.

»»» Catcher Chris Snyder will take a glove and a bat with him on the next road trip and will resume baseball activities for the first time since having lower back surgery. Snyder will start slow, with some dry swings, but said it’s possible he could be hitting of a tee by the end of the three-city trip.

Lineups for today’s game:

Cardinals (65-58) – 1. Rafael Furcal ss, 2. Allen Craig rf, 3. Albert Pujols 1b, 4. Matt Holliday lf, 5. David Freese 3b, 6. Yadier Molina c, 7. Ryan Theriot 2b, 8. Jon Jay cf, 9. Kyle Lohse rhp (10-7, 3.37)

Pirates (58-63) – 1. Jose Tabata rf, 2. Garrett Jones 1b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Neil Walker 2b, 6. Ryan Ludwick lf, 7. Brandon Wood 3b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8. 9. James McDonald rhp (7-6, 4.24)

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Pre-game: Alvarez goes back to Triple-A

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A year ago today, third baseman Pedro Alvarez was exactly two months into his first stint in the big leagues and was beginning to light it up.

He had an RBI in seven straight games (11 total) from Aug. 4 through Aug. 11, the longest streak by a Pittsburgh rookie since Frank Coleman in 1944 (eight games) and the longest by a Pirates player since Jason Bay in 2005 (seven in a row).

But that was nothing compared to what he did in September, batting .467 during an 11-game hitting streak from Sept. 21 through the 27th. He was named the National League Player of the Week for the 20th through the 27th after hitting .417 (10-for-24) with three home runs and 13 RBI in six games and was then voted NL Rookie of the Month for September.

Today, Alvarez was optioned back to Triple-A Indianapolis for the second time this season. The first was on July 9 after he came off the disabled list with a quadriceps injury. This time was to make room on the active roster for outfielder Jose Tabata, who came off the DL.

“Pedro’s a big part of our future,” general manager Neal Huntington said today. “We brought him up – and we acknowledged it before – maybe ideally before he was ready, but we felt like it was a very different scenario from rushing a prospect from Double-A because he’s your best available option. In Pedro’s case he’s had success up here last August, last September. We felt like we had a chance to get him going in Triple-A, he wasn’t quite where we wanted him to be, we thought it was a worthwhile risk and it didn’t happen. Didn’t work. … Pedro’s not the first guy who’s had to go back to the minor leagues and he won’t be the last. Catch a breath, make some adjustments. Pedro’s still a big part of our future and we’re still excited about where he is. He just hit a little bump in the road.”

Alvarez was hitting .208 with two home runs and 10 RBI in 36 games when he went to Indy the first time. After performing well there, he was back in the majors on July 24 but hit just 12-for-69 in 20 games with two doubles, one home run, five RBI, four walks and 25 strikeouts.

The plan for now, Huntington said, is to keep Alvarez in Indianapolis through the end of their season on Sept. 5. They’ll see where he’s at then in terms of September call-ups, and also will discuss whether playing winter ball will be an option.

One thing Huntington re-emphasized was that Alvarez’s struggles this year are not from lack of interest or caring.

“We expect he’s going to go down and do everything he needs to do,” Huntington said. “He cares; he wants to be a great player. He wants to be the Hall of Fame-caliber third baseman that everyone thinks he had a chance to be coming out or Vanderbilt, or be a cornerstone-type player. He wants to be great. Sometimes he puts too much pressure on himself and gets away from what allows him to be successful and tries to do too much. We just have to get him to settle back in and be what he can be.”

Here are tonight’s lineups:
Pirates — Tabata 7, Paul 9, McCutchen 8, Doumit 2, Walker 4, Jones 3, Cedeno 6, Harrison 5, Karstens 1
Cardinals — Jay 8, Furcal 6, Pujols 3, Holliday 7, Berkman 9, Freese 5, Schumaker 4, Laird 2, Carpenter 1

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Pregame: Mental block?

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Sausages win at Miller Park. Why can't the Pirates?
Sausages win at Miller Park. Why can't the Pirates?

MILWAUKEE — The Pirates have lost 11 straight games at Miller Park and 35 of their past 38 games here, going back to 2007. They are winless this season against the Brewers, regardless of the venue.

“We’re seven games in and we’re 0-7,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I also was on a team in Colorado that was challenged playing in this ballpark. I do think at time you can go to a mental side that is not productive. I’ve been on teams in situations where people really need a quick surge, they need huge, tangible evidence that something’s going to happen to reverse (a slump) instead of just staying the course, meeting the demands of the game, playing through the adversity and scoring one more run than the other team. Maybe there’s a little bit of that in play here now, with some of the guys who’ve been here a while. I can sense some of the collateral damage (but) I don’t feel it to the point where the first thing they’re thinking is, ‘Oh, God, how are we going to lose today?’ I thought there was a huge sense that we were going to tie that game last night in the ninth inning.”

»»» Charlie Morton began this season owning 11 major league victories. He goes into today’s game win nine wins this season. Kevin Correia already has a dozen victories and Jeff Karstens will go for No. 10 on Tuesday against the Cardinals. The Pirates have not had three 10-game winners since 2003.

»»» Right-hander Tim Alderson will make his first start today for Double-A Altoona. In 38 relief outings this year, Alderson went 0-3 with a 3.71 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. Due to issues with his control and velocity, Alderson’s prospect status eroded to almost nothing over the past two years.

Lineups for today’s game:

Pirates (56-62) – 1. Xavier Paul rf, 2. Garrett Jones 1b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Ryan Ludwick lf, 6. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. 7. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8. Michael McKenry c, 9. Charlie Morton rhp (9-6, 3.56)

Brewers (69-51) – 1. Felipe Lopez 3b, 2. Nyjer Morgan cf, 3. Ryan Bruan lf, 4. Prince Fielder 1b, 5. Mark Kotsay rf, 6. Yuniesky Betancourt ss, 7. Craig Counsell 2b, 8. Matt Lucroy c, 9. Shaun Marcum rhp (10-3, 3.62)

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Pregame: Ohlendorf optioned to Indy

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MILWAUKEE — Ross Ohlendorf was activated from the disabled list today and, as expected, was immediately optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. The Pirates could use him as a spot starter in the Aug. 22 doubleheader against the Brewers at PNC Park. That will come during a stretch 21 games over 20 consecutive days. (It includes the Sept. 1 rainout makeup game against the Dodgers at PNC Park.)

»»» To make room for Ohlendorf on the 40-man roster, right-hander Tim Wood was designated for assignment. Wood was signed March 31 after being cut by the Nationals. In 13 games with the Pirates, he went 0-3 with a 5.63 ERA and a 2.00 WHIP.

»»» Chase d’Arnaud (broken finger) and Alex Presley (nerve problem in hand) were moved to Indy for the next phase of their injury rehab assignments.

»»» State College outfielder Wes Freeman was added to the NL squad roster for the short-season A New York-Penn League all-star game.

»»» Derrek Lee still is bothered by soreness in his hand and is not able to start today.

Lineups for today’s game:

Pirates (56-60) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Xavier Paul rf, 3. Garrett Jones 1b, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Ryan Ludwick lf, 6. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. 7. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8. Michael McKenry c, 9. Paul Maholm lhp (6-12, 3.54)

Brewers (67-51) – 1. Corey Hart rf, 2. Jerry Hairston Jr. cf, 3. Ryan Bruan lf, 4. Prince Fielder 1b, 5. Casey McGehee 3b, 6. Yuniesky Betancourt ss, 7. Josh Wilson 2b, 8. Matt Lucroy c, 9. Zach Greinke (10-4, 4.21)

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Pregame: Lefties, Lee, Crotta and Hart

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ATTpark

SAN FRANCISCO — The Pirates today face a left-handed starter for the second game in a row. They are 18-14 against southpaws, even though many of their batting stats against them are a bit inferior than against righties.

vs.                 Avg.      OBP       OPS       BAbip

RHP            .246       .312       .672       .300

LHP            .240       .307       .664       .296

So, win the wins against lefties? “We have, I think, just a minor offensive edge against left-handed pitching than against right-handed pitching,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Neither one of them, are where we could be or should be or where we’ll end up. We’ve had success against left-handers. I really can’t put my finger on it other than we’ve played clean games and we’ve found ways to execute and score runners when they’re on. It seems like we just fundamentally perform better against left-handed pitchers.”

Perhaps some of that magic is fading. The Pirates have lost their past four games against lefties, including last night’s 6-0 setback against Madison Bumgarner.

»»» Derrek Lee was scratched from the lineup today due to a flare-up of left hand soreness.

»»» Pitcher Mike Crotta was released. The move was made to clear a 40-man roster spot when Lee and Ryan Ludwick arrived via trades. If Crotta clears waviers, the Pirates hope to re-sign him.

»»» Right-hander Kevin Hart yesterday had yet another surgery. Dr. James Andrews ‘scoped Hart’s shoulder and, according to a team release, was “pleased with the procedure.” Hart is expected to be — stop me if you’ve heard this before — ready for the start of spring training.

Lineups for today’s game:

Pirates (55-60) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Steve Pearce 3b, 3. Garrett Jones 1b, 4. Ryan Ludwick lf, 5. Matt Diaz rf, 6. Brandon Wood 2b, 7. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8. Michael McKenry c, 9. Jeff Karstens rhp (8-6, 3.05)

Giants (64-53) – 1. Andres Torres cf, 2. Jeff Keppinger 2b, 3. Pablo Sandoval 3b, 4. Aubrey Huff 1b, 5. Cody Ross rf, 6. Orlando Cabrera ss, 7. Aaron Rowand lf, 8. Elie Whiteside c, 9. Jonathan Sanchez lhp (4-6, 3.10)

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Pregame: Bring out the Dead

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SAN FRANCISCO — There was a sense of workmanlike satisfaction with a job well done late Monday night (early this morning for those of y’nz back home) when the Pirates snapped their 10-game losing skid by blanking the Giants, 5-0. But there was no excessive celebrations, no champagne and (thankfully!) no Wilson Phillips blasting on the clubhouse stereo system.

Ryan Ludwick didn’t attach any special significance to beating the defending World Series champs on their home turf: “I’ll take a win anywhere to break a (losing) streak. When I was traded to San Diego last year, we went through a 10-game skid, too. It’s tough, but there’s still a lot of time left in the season. The Giants are a good team. To get a win after (going 0-7 against) two teams (the Cubs and Padres) that weren’t doing as well, to come back and show confidence in ourselves, that’s big.”

»»» Even in a relatively easy victory, the Pirates were not perfect. “There were a couple things that raised our eyebrows, especially in that ninth inning,” manager Clint Hurdle said. Andrew McCutchen began the ninth with a double. Garrett Jones singled. Neil Walker then grounded into an unusual 4-6-2 double play — Jones was forced out at second and McCutchen, who hesitated before breaking, was thrown out at the plate. Walker then was caught stealing, an easy out at second base. Inning over, bases empty, no runs.

»»» Lyle Overbay cleared outright release waivers and is a free agent.

»»» Righty Ross Ohlendorf will make what likely will be his final rehab start tonight for Triple-A Indianapolis — but it might not be his last start for Indy this year. There are no openings in the Pirates’ rotation; Indy lists TBA for its pitcher Sunday, which would be Ohlendorf’s next turn. Ohlendorf has minor league options left and could be send to Indy once he comes off the disabled list. If that happens, Ohlendorf would probably stay there until rosters are expanded on Sept. 1.

deadgiants»»» Tonight is Grateful Dead Night at AT&T Park. Members of the band and relatives of the late Jerry Garcia will sing the National Anthem and throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

»»» Double-A Altoona infielder Greg Picart hit a solo homer last night, his first since early in the 2009 season, when he with Low-A West Virginia. It was a solo shot in the seventh inning that sparked the Curve to a 3-2 win. Picart, a righty hitter, went deep against Trenton’s Pat Vindette, a switch-pitcher. Picart, a 25th-round draft pick in 2003, owns 11 homers over eight seasons in the minors.

Lineups for today’s game:

Pirates (55-59) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Garrett Jones 1rf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Derrek Lee 1b, 5. Ryan Ludwick lf, 6. Ryan Doumit c, 7. Brandon Wood 3b, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. James McDonald rhp (7-5, 4.23)

Giants (63-53) – 1. Andres Torres cf, 2. Jeff Keppinger 2b, 3. Pablo Sandoval 3b, 4. Aubrey Huff 1b, 5. Nate Schierholtz rf, 6. Orlando Cabrera ss, 7. Cody Ross lf, 8. Chris Stewart c, 9. Madison Bumgarner lhp (6-11, 3.71)

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Pregame: Goin’ streaking

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SAN FRANCISCO — The Pirates ride a 10-game losing streak into tonight’s game, their longest skid since dropping 12 games in a row from June 6-18, 2010. This is the fourth season out of the past six that the Pirates have had a double-digit losing streak. Although they never had a winning record from 1993-2005, they also never lost more than nine consecutive games in any of those seasons.

»»» This is the Pirates’ 10th road trip of the year. They have won the opening game in eight of the previous nine road swings.

»»» Brandon Wood is starting tonight at shortstop, as Ronny Cedeno has been benched for the second game in a row. Wood has hit safely in six of his past seven games (8 for 19, .421) and has homered twice in his past five games. Since the All-Star break, Wood is batting .311 (14 for 45) with two doubles, three homers and eight RBI.

Lineups for today’s game:

Pirates (54-59) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Garrett Jones 1rf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Derrek Lee 1b, 5. Ryan Ludwick lf, 6. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 7. Brandon Wood ss, 8. Michael McKenry c 9. Charlie Morton rhp (8-6, 3.80)

Giants (63-52) – 1. Andres Torres cf, 2. Jeff Keppinger 2b, 3. Pablo Sandoval 3b, 4. Aubrey Huff 1b, 5. Nate Schierholtz rf, 6. Orlando Cabrera ss, 7. Aaron Rowand lf, 8. Eli Whiteside c, 9. Ryan Vogelsong rhp (9-1, 2.19)

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Pregame: Rough stretch

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A week ago, I said during a radio interview that if the Pirates fell out of contention in the NL Central, I didn’t expect it to be a sudden, stock market crash-type event. I figured it probably would be a gradual fade over a span of weeks.

My bad. The past 10 games have been a nightmare — a 1-9 record, a 4.78 ERA and a .230 team batting average — that have seen the Pirates go from first to third (barely) in the division.

»»» Jose Tabata (strained quad) is on his way to the airport and tomorrow will resume his rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis.

»»» Derrek Lee (hand) is not in the lineup again tonight. He’ll test his hand during batting practice to determine whether he’ll be available as a pinch-hitter tonight.

»»» The Pirates’ Venezuelan Summer League team clinched a playoff berth for the sixth straight year. The defending VSL champs will begin the first round of the postseason on Monday.

»»» Double-A Altoona outfielder Starling Marte is riding a 12-game hitting streak. His .312 batting average is sixth-best in the Eastern League. … Outfielder John Bowker was named Indianapolis’ player of the month. He hit .316 with seven homers and 20 RBI in July. Indy has gone 50-23 since Bowker joined the team on May 8. “He creates that presence in the middle of the lineup,” Indy manager Dean Treanor said. “It changes the whole complexion of our lineup.”

Lineups for today’s game:

Padres (48-64) – 1. Cameron Maybin cf, 2. Jason Bartlett ss, 3. Chase Headley 3b, 4. Jesus Guzman 1b, 5. Orlando Hudson 2b, 6. Will Venable rf, 7. Kyle Blanks lf, 8. Luis Martinez c, 9. Aaron Harang rhp (9-3, 3.76)

Pirates (54-55) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Garrett Jones 1b, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Ryan Ludwick lf, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Ryan Doumit c, 7. Xavier Paul rf, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Jeff Karstens rhp (8-5, 2.49)

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Pregame: 43 or bust

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Closer Joel Hanrahan is on track for 43 saves, which would be the most by a Pirates closer since Jose Mesa notched 43 in 2004. But if Hanny’s gonna get there, he’s going to need some help from his teammates — like, a few more save opportunities.

Since his first (and only) blown save on July 17, Hanrahan has begun another save streak and is up to 30 saves this season. Trouble is, he’s only been called upon four times to shut the door in the past 16 games. At that rate, he’ll get only 13 more save chances this season.

Hanrahan has made nine straight scoreless outings (9.2 ip) and has been scored upon just once in his last 21 games. He has a 1.00 ERA in 27 appearances at PNC Park, where he is 15 for 15 in save chances.

»»» Neil Walker leads the National League with 77 double plays turned this season. He’s got a ways to go to catch HOFer Bill Mazeroski, though. Maz led the league in DPs a record eight times.

Lineups for today’s game:

Cubs (46-65) – 1. Starlin Castro ss, 2. Darwin Barney 2b, 3. Aramis Ramirez 3b, 4. Carlos Pena 1b, 5. Marlon Byrd cf, 6. Blake DeWitt lf, 7. Geovany Soto c, 8. Tyler Colvin rf, 9. Rodrigo Lopez rhp (2-3, 4.40)

Pirates (54-55) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Garrett Jones rf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Derrek Lee 1b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Ryan Ludwick lf, 7. Ryan Doumit c, 8. Brandon Wood ss, 9. James McDonald rhp (7-5, 4.17)

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Pregame: Doumit back, but not in action

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PHILADELPHIA — Catcher Ryan Doumit is back and tonight will be behind the plate for the first time since May 29. He was activated off the disabled list this afternoon and Eric Fryer was optioned back to Triple-A Indy. Michael McKenry will start at catcher tonight against the Cubs.

Doumit was injured in the second inning of a game at Wrigley Field in a collision with Carlos Pena. Doumit hurt his left ankle — in an email on May 31, the Pirates described it as a “non-displaced fracture” of the ankle; today, the team said he’d been out with a “sprained” ankle. Whatever.

In 13 rehab games — five with High-A Bradenton and eight with Indy — Doumit hit .200 (8 for 40) with four RBI. Defensively, Doumit went 2 for 13 against base-stealers. He was 0 for 11 until Tuesday, when he was credited with nabbing two runners.

»»» If they lose tonight, the Pirates (54-54) will slip below .500 for the first time since June 21. They were seven games over (51-44) on July 19.

»»» The game Monday at San Francisco will be carried regionally by MLB Network. That broadcast will be blacked out in Pittsburgh, so folks in this area can watch the game on Root Sports, as usual. Tomorrow’s home game against the Cubs also will be on MLB Network (subject to blackout).

»»» Neil Walker has hit safely in each of the 20 games in his career against the Cubs, going 32 for 77 (.416) with 11 doubles, one triple, four homers and 17 RBI.

»»» Last night, reliever Joe Beimel made his 100th outing at PNC Park. Only five other pitchers have done so — John Grabow (197), Salomon Torres (188), Matt Capps (154), Scott Sauerbeck (108) and Damaso Marte (103).

Lineups for today’s game:

Cubs (45-65) — 1. Starlin Castro ss, 2. Darwin Barney 2b, 3. Aramis Ramirez 3b, 4. Carlos Pena 1b, 5. Marlon Byrd cf, 6. Geovany Soto c, 7. Alfonso Soriano lf, 8. Tyler Colvin rf, 9. Matt Garza rhp (4-8, 3.99)

Pirates (54-54) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Garrett Jones rf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Derrek Lee 1b, 5. Ryan Ludwick lf, 6. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 7. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8. Michael McKenry c, 9. Charlie Morton rhp (8-6, 4.04)

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