Slumping Alvarez benched


MILWAUKEE — Pedro Alvarez, batting .194 after going hitless in his past four games, has been benched. The Pirates are off Monday, a travel day to Cincy, so Alvarez will get at least 48 hours of down time. Manager Clint Hurdle said he hasn’t yet decided whether Alvarez will be back in the lineup Tuesday against the Reds. “Maybe it’s (for) a day, maybe it’s two,” Hurdle said. “It’s a mental break. Get a little cage work. Back off and clear the deck.”

Before posting the lineup this morning in the clubhouse, Hurdle called Alvarez into his office for a closed-door talk. Afterword, Alvarez declined to speak with reporters.

In 24 games since moving into the cleanup spot, Alvarez is batting .140 (12 for 86) with one homer, nine RBI and a .449 OPS. However, the Pirates are 15-9 when he bats fourth and 13-3 when he drives in at least one run. “We’ve talked about hitting fourth (and) he really doesn’t think that’s much different,” Hurdle said. “They have pitched him a little differently, as any team would against a cleanup hitter. But he’s also had numerous pitches to hit that he’s not hit. That’s what I’m more concerned about than anything else — helping him to find his way back when he gets pitches to hit in the strike zone, squaring them up like he did in late April and early May.”

In the past, Alvarez has reacted to his slumps by practically setting up camp in the batting cage and taking endless swings. This time, Hurdle told him to back away from the physical workout. “He has really ramped it down,” Hurdle said. “The over-working part of Pedro, that guy is gone. That guy was in play all last year and for a lot of spring training. He really was able to honestly self-evaluate. Watch a pitcher who’s not throwing well and see how many times he throws the ball or shadow throws the ball or does something in the outfield with his delivery. It’s absolutely maddening. Hitters are the same way. It’s anxiety. I’ve been through that and I’ve done it. To help him through that, I told him to just unplug. I said, don’t swing a bat today unless I need you late. It’s not like he’s going to forget how to swing.”

»»» On a roll: James McDonald goes into today’s gave having not allowed a run in his past 13 innings pitched. That’s a season-high by a Pirate and seven innings shy of his personal best, set in September 2010. The longest active streak in the majors belongs to Johan “No-hitter” Santana (18.0 innings).

»»» Three’s company: Andrew McCutchen has 60 hits while batting third in the lineup. Among NL players, only Carlos Gonzalez of the Rox (66 hits) has more. Overall this year, the Pirates’ No. 3 hitter has produced a .328 batting average, which ranks third in the league behind the Giants (.393) and Dodgers (.357).

Game 53: Pirates @ Brewers, 1:10 p.m. ET

Pirates (26-26): 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Neil Walker 2b , 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones rf, 5. Matt Hague 1b, 6. Casey McGehee 3b, 7. Rod Barajas c, 8. Clint Barmes ss, 9. James McDonald rhp (4-2, 2.20)

Brewers (24-29): 1. Norichika Aoki lf, 2, Nyjer Morgan cf, 3. Corey Hart rf, 4. Taylor Green 3b, 5. Rickie Weeks 2b, 6. Cody Ransom ss, 7. Brooks Conrad 2b, 8. Martin Maldanodo c, 9. Mike Fiers rhp (1-0, 1.29)