Karstens has MRI exam

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RHP Jeff Karstens (shoulder), who left his rehab start last night with Triple-A Indy due to tightness in his right groin, is having an MRI exam today. Karstens threw 63 pitches in 4 1/3 innings and allowed two runs on three hits. I’ll have more information later, if the Pirates choose to reveal any.

»»» Manager Clint Hurdle said he expected everyone in the bullpen will be available tonight against the Royals. The Pirates used six relievers yesterday in the 10-inning victory against the Reds, but Jared Hughes is the only one who’s worked the past two nights. “He’s gone three before,” Hurdle said. “I’ll use him (tonight) if it makes sense.”

»»» Last night was the Pirates’ 15th come-from-behind win. The only teams in the majors with more are the Marlins (21), Yankees (16) and Rays (16). Will the comeback have any emotional or tangible carryover? “Watch us play tonight and see where it goes,” Hurdle said. “I’ve seen it spark something and I’ve seen the next night go like, ‘How come we can’t do that again?’ A lot will have to do with (Erik) Bedard’s outing. But I know we felt good walking out of (Great American Ball Park). We’re looking forward to this weekend at home.”

»»» Indy C Kris Watts was traded to the Nationals organization for cash. Also, Indy activated reliever Dan Moskos from the DL.

Game 57: Royals @ Pirates, 7:05 p.m. ET

Royals (24-31): 1. Alex Gordon lf, 2. Yuniesky Betancourt 2b, 3. Billy Butler 1b, 4. Mike Moustakas 3b, 5. Jeff Francoeur cf, 6. Eric Hosmer rf, 7. Alicedes Escobar ss, 8. Humberto Quintero c, 9. Luke Hochevar rhp (3-6, 6.63)

Pirates (29-27): 1. Alex Presley lf, 2. Neil Walker 2b , 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Pedro Alvarz 3b, 6. Jose Tabata rf, 7. Rod Barajas c, 8. Clint Barmes ss, 9. Erik Bedard lhp (3-6, 3.72)

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Slumping Alvarez benched

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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)

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Right time to get hot

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MILWAUKEE — The Pirates picked the right time to get hot. They are 6-1 so far in the midst of a 12-game stretch against NL Central Division foes. Last night, they banged out 13 hits, tying their season high (April 17 v. D’backs and May 3 v. Cards). If they win tonight and the Cards lose again, then Pirates will wake up tomorrow in second place in the division.

»»» Rehab: Last night, RHP Jeff Karstens (shoulder) made his third rehab start, his second with Triple-A Indy. He threw 82 pitches in five innings against Syracuse and allowed six runs (two earned) on six hits and one walk, and struck out six.

»»» Yoo-hoo, Leroux: Reliever Chris Leroux (pectoral) was scheduled to pitch today in an extrended spring training game in Florida. No word yet on how that went. I’ll keep ya posted.

»»» Cerveceros Day: The Brewers and Pirates today will wear special jerseys that celebrate Hispanic culture. The Brewers will wear gold jerseys with “Cerveceros” on the front, while the Pirates’ uni tops will say “Piratas.”

»»» The Hit Collector, indeed: Matt Hague has hit safely in all seven games in which he’s played since being recalled from Triple-A Indy. He has two game-winning RBI, one Wednesday v. the Reds and another a week ago when he was HBP by Cubs’ former closer (since demoted to the minors) Rafael Dolis.

Game 52: Pirates @ Brewers, 7:10 p.m. ET

Pirates (26-25): 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Garrett Jones rf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. Neil Walker 2b, 6. Matt Hague 1b, 7. Clint Barmes ss, 8. Michael McKenry c, 9. Erik Bedard lhp (3-5, 3.12)

Brewers (23-29): 1. Carlos Gomez cf, 2. Norichika Aoki lf, 3. Corey Hart rf, 4. Aramis Ramirez 3b, 5. Rickie Weeks 2b, 6. Cody Ransom ss, 7. Brooks Conrad 2b, 8. Martin Maldanodo c, 9. Shaun Marcum rhp (3-3, 3.63)

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Morton goes on DL

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MILWAUKEE — Just when it seemed the Pirates were about to be forced into a difficult roster move, another uncannily well-timed injury has struck. Gustavo Nunez, Daniel McCutchen, Chris Leroux and now … RHP Charlie Morton today went on the 15-day disabled list due to what the team says is elbow inflammation. According to a team release, it sounds like Morton could be out a while: “Morton will be in rest mode until the inflammation resolves. Once the inflammation resolves, Charlie will progress through a throwing program and bullpen work before the next step in his progression is determined.”

Morton said the elbow has been bothering him since May 12, when he tossed six innings and picked up the win against the Astros. “Some days it’s no good, some days it’s OK. Before my last start was the best it’s felt in about three weeks, but the rain delay didn’t help the situation.” After his last outing, in which he was yanked after giving up four runs in four innings, Morton was asked specifically about his health. His response: “I feel good. I feel fine.”

Reliever Juan Cruz was activated off the restricted list and took Morton’s spot on the active roster. Morton has struggled this season, raising questions about how much longer the Pirates could afford to keep him in the rotation. Also, RHP Jeff Karstens (shoulder) appears to be nearly ready to come off the DL. Morton’s absence would make it easy for Karstens to slip back into the rotation. Karstens is slated to pitch tonight for Triple-A Indianapolis. He was supposed to pitch last night, but the game was delayed by rain. Manager Clint Hurdle said RHP Brad Lincoln will make a spot start Tuesday against the Reds.

»»» House of horrors: Since the start of the 2007 season, the Pirates are 4-38 at Miller Park. They won one game in 2007, back-to-back games in 2010 and on Sept. 26, 2011. From 2001 to 2006, the Pirates were 24-24 in Milwaukee.

»»» Blackout: Saturday’s game will NOT be televised in the Pittsburgh area, due to MLB restrictions. The game falls within the exclusive window for national broadcasts.

Game 51: Pirates @ Brewers, 8:05 p.m. ET

Pirates (25-25): 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Josh Harrison rf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. Neil Walker 2b, 6. Matt Hague 1b, 7. Rod Barajas c, 8. Jordy Mercer ss, 9. Kevin Correia rhp (1-5, 4.30)

Brewers (23-28): 1. Corey Hart rf, 2. Nyjer Morgan cf, 3. Ryan Braun lf, 4. Aramis Ramirez 3b, 5. George Kottaras c, 6. Brooks Conrad 2b, 7. Taylor Green 1n, 8. Cody Ransom ss, 9. Randy Wolf lhp (2-5, 5.73)

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