All posts by Rob Biertempfel

Game 89: Nova ready for some rest

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Story by Rob Biertempfel

CHICAGO — RHP Ivan Nova will begin the second half of the season at the back end of the rotation, which means he will get lots of rest before his next start on July 18 against the Brewers. “I’ve worked a lot,” Nova said. “But I work out enough that I feel great. I feel tremendous. We’re going to take a little break now, but when we get back I’ll be ready to get going.”

>>> Some leftovers from last night: It was Nova’s first career start at Wrigley Field and his first road win since May 25 at Atlanta. … Josh Bell notched his third career three-hit game. … Gregory Polanco has six homers v the Cubs, his most against any team. … The Pirates are 4-1 at Wrigley Field this year and 6-5 overall v the Cubs. … David Freese and Francisco Cervelli were plunked by Jake Arrieta. (Josh Harrison was not, but probably only because he did not play). That gave the Pirates 48 HBP this season, including five in their past five games, and nudged them ahead of the Cubs for the MLB lead..

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 4, Cubs 2: Bell bumps up his average, Polanco crushes a homer

Notebook: In which Hurdle stays mum, Bastardo departs and all the starters get a breather

>>> Sunday, Pirates at Cubs, 1:10 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root and TBS. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates (41-47): Josh Harrison 7, Fran Cervelli 2, Andrew McCutchen 8, David Freese 5, Josh Bell 3, Jose Osuna 9, Jordy Mercer 6, Max Moroff 4, RHP Jameson Taillon (5-2, 2.73)

Cubs (43-44): Jon Jay 8, Kris Bryant 5, Anthony Rizzo 3, Ian Happ 4, Kyle Schwarber 7, Willson Contreras 2, Jason Heyward 9, Addison Russell 6, LHP Jon Lester (5-5, 3.94)

Gamecast: Taillon is riding a career-best streak of 15.1 scoreless innings streak. It is the the third-longest active streak in the majors behind Red Sox RHP Joe Kelly (21.1 IP) and Mets LHP Steven Matz (17.0 IP). … Going into Saturday’s game, Josh Bell’s 33 extra-base hits are the most by a Pirates rookie prior to the All-Star break. The runner-up is Dale Long (29 in 1955). Bell’s 43 RBI were four shy of tying Warren Morris (1999) and Bill Brubaker (1936) for the most by a Pirates rookie before the break. … In his last start on Tuesday, Lester scuffled against the Rays. He needed 100 pitches to get through five innings and allowed five runs on nine hits (eight of them coming on ground balls) and a walk.

>>> Monday-Thursday: All-Star break

>>> Friday, Cardinals at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Cardinals: TBA Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (7-7, 4.43)

>>> Saturday, Cardinals at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Cardinals: TBA Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (3-6, 5.03)

>>> Sunday, Cardinals at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Cardinals: TBA Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (3-4, 4.80)

>>> Monday, Brewers at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Brewers: TBA Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon ()

>>> Tuesday, Cardinals at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Brewers: TBA Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (9-6, 3.21)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 88: A team of imperfect fits

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Story by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

BellFirstBase2CHICAGO — The Pirates are a team of imperfect fits, a team that operates almost as much on hope as it does on cutting-edge analytics and physical training.

I got to thinking about that over coffee this morning as I read an email from Trib reader Jim Lersch: “One story not being told is the disappointment that is Josh Bell. At the plate, he is the second coming of Pedro Alvarez. In the field, he is the second coming of Jon Lester. I mean, he cannot even throw the ball. Watch the way he tosses the ball in the infield or back to the pitcher. The throw yesterday to first (base) on the bunt is a prime example of what I am concerned about. It seems like very few people want to present a balanced view of his performance. I hope that you will consider my thoughts.”

Bell is an imperfect fit at first base. He grew up as an outfielder and that’s where his game instincts were honed. He got his first game action at first base  during the Arizona Fall League in 2014. He played there for a year and a half in the minors before being called up to Pittsburgh. The big leagues are an unforgiving venue for a learn-as-you-go approach, which made Bell’s situation both interesting and dicey, as Travis Sawchik blogged last October.

For all the work Bell has put in, there are times when he still looks like an outfielder stationed just 90 feet from the plate. His instincts sometimes tell him to throw like an outfielder — overhand and hard. I remember watching him during spring training in 2016 doing a drill where he did nothing but make flip tosses to a pitcher covering first base for about 20 minutes straight.

As I wrote a few days ago, Bell has made progress but still has plenty of room to grow. Management is hoping he will someday click and become consistently league average (or maybe a slosh better) defensively at first base. There is training and positioning and research involved, but there is some hoping going on, too. In the meantime, Bell is an imperfect fit — just like Andrew McCutchen in center, Josh Harrison at second/third/left, David Freese at third every day, Tony Watson as a closer (before the plug was pulled on that scenario), the all righty rotation, and so on.

>>> UPDATE 2:57 PM CT – LHP Antonio Bastardo has been designated for assignment. Close the door on that Neil Walker trade and try to forget it. INF Phil Gosselin is on his way here from Triple-A Indy.

>>> Happy 30th birthday, Josh Harrison. Here’s hoping you can celebrate by not getting plunked again today.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Cubs 6, Pirates 1: The first three innings had everything but a streaker (cue the Ray Stevens song from the ’70s  …)

Notebook: In which Bell prepares to mark his one-year anniversary, Hurdle calls for a surge (which no buying at the trade deadline) and Osuna comes up throwing.

From the AJC, some good news about former Pirates super-utilityman Sean Rodriguez

>>> Saturday, Pirates at Cubs, 7:15 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: Adam Frazier 4, John Jaso 7, Andrew McCutchen 8, Josh Bell 3, David Freese 5, Gregory Polanco 9, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Ivan Nova (8-6, 3.24)

Cubs: Ben Zobrist 4, Kris Bryant 5, Anthony Rizzo 3, Ian Happ 8, Kyle Schwarber 7, Willson Contreras 2, Jason Heyward 9, Javier Bayez 6, RHP Jake Arrieta (8-6, 4.33)

Gamecast: The Pirates are at the outset of a 10-game stretch against NL Central foes. Coming out of the All-Star break next week, the Pirates will host the Cardinals and Brewers. … Nova is 1-0 with a 2.92 ERA in two career starts vs. the Cubs. The righty has won seven of his past 11 decisions, but on Monday dropped a 4-0 decision vs. the Phillies in which he allowed four runs in 6.0 IP.

>>> Sunday, Pirates at Cubs, 1:10 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root and TBS. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (5-2, 2.73) Cubs: LHP Jon Lester (5-5, 3.94)

>>> Monday-Thursday: All-Star break

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 87: Time for a surge

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Story by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Getty Images

CHICAGO — The Pirates need a surge. Going into this afternoon’s game vs. the Cubs at Wrigley Field, the Pirates are 40-46, seven games behind the first-place Brewers (!!) and 1 1/2 games ahead of the last-place Reds.

Over their past 25 games, the Pirates are 14-11. Going back to May 13, they are 26-23. That’s not going to get it done. Do the Pirates have a big run in them? Manager Clint Hurdle thinks so — and he seems to indicate the Pirates don’t need to be buyers at the trade deadline to make it happen.

“I’ve felt it since day one,” Hurdle told me this morning. “We’ve got to keep showing up, keep playing and work to get better and more consistent. There’s been opportunities in games for us to tip them our way, but we didn’t do it. However, we’re in the fight in a lot of games. We still have the opportunity for internal improvements. (Gregory) Polanco had a big night for us last night. (Josh) Bell has been a run producer and there is still more there. (Andrew) McCutchen getting hot, how timely has that been? Our offense has more to give. The bullpen has been inconsistent. We’ve had some challenges with the starting pitching. We have the group of men, I really believe, to compete in this division.”

In 11 days, Starling Marte will come back from his 80-game PED suspension.  “It has every opportunity to help us, but he’s got to come back and play,” Hurdle said. “We’ll see where that can take us.”

>>> UPDATE 12:22 PM CT – Reliever A.J. Schugel has been recalled and catcher Elias Diaz was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

PolancoPointGettyPirates 6, Phillies 3: McCutchen, Bell and Polanco. McCutchen, Bell and Polanco. McCutchen, Bell and Polanco.

Notebook: In which the Pirates sleep fast, Frazier sits and some folks wanna retire 21.

>>> To avoid being overworked, Juan Nicasio will  not be available out of the pen today. Yesterday, he got his first save with the Pirates.

>>> Friday, Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates (40-46): Adam Frazier 4, Josh Harrison 5, Andrew McCutchen 8, Josh Bell 3, John Jaso 7, Gregory Polanco 9, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Trevor Williams (3-3, 4.67)

Cubs (42-43): Ben Zobrist 4, Kris Bryant 5, Anthony Rizzo 3, Ian Happ 8, Kyle Schwarber 7, Jason Heyward 9, Victor Caratini 2, Addison Russell 6, RHP Eddie Butler (4-3, 4.18)

>>> Saturday, Pirates at Cubs, 7:15 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (8-6, 3.24) Cubs: RHP Jake Arrieta (8-6, 4.33)

>>> Sunday, Pirates at Cubs, 1:10 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root and TBS. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (5-2, 2.73) Cubs: LHP Jon Lester (5-5, 3.94)

>>> Monday-Thursday: All-Star break

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 83: Well, somebody’s gotta go …

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Story by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

NovaSmile2017The Pirates’ rep(s) for the All-Star Game will be revealed at 7 o’clock tonight on ESPN. I could see the Pirates getting one player on the team, plus a candidate for the “final vote” sweepstakes and perhaps a pitcher (such as Ivan Nova) named as a replacement for someone who suddenly comes up with a nagging injury and cannot pitch in the ASG.

>>> UPDATE 11:23 AM – Two items from manager Clint Hurdle‘s morning media scrum: 1. When Starling Marte rejoins the team on July 18 after serving his 80-game suspension, he will do so as a left fielder. “That’s where he needs to fit in,” Hurdle said. Andrew McCutchen has reclaimed the everyday job in center. 2. There will be discussions about the possibility of playing Francisco Cervelli (concussion) somewhere other than catcher (at least once in a while) after he comes off the DL.  “He wants to ignite from behind the plate,” Hurdle said, adding that Cervelli is athletic enough to play another spot at times. Over the past few days, Cervelli has worked at shortstop with infield coach Joey Cora.

>>> Example No. 5,249,499,401 of how the Pirates don’t get it: The Pirates gave local media about 14 hours’ notice late last night that Marte will hold a press conference in Bradenton, Fla., this morning before he begins a rehab assignment. Root Sports, an official partner of the Pirates, will broadcast a (sanitized?) interview before today’s game v. the Giants.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links

Giants 2, Pirates 1: Kuhl did his job. The bats, not so much.

Notebook: Brault and Drew Hutch and Marte and Cutch and Rogers and lots of empty seats.

>>> Sunday, Giants at Pirates, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Giants (32-51): Denard Span 8, Joe Panik 4, Hunter Pence 9, Buster Posey 2, Brandon Belt 3, Brandon Crawford 6, Jae-Gyun Hwang 5, Austin Slater 7, RHP Jeff Samardzija (3-9, 4.63)

Pirates (37-44): Adam Frazier 4, Jose Osuna 9, John Jaso 7, Josh Bell 3, Gregory Polanco 8, Jordy Mercer 6, Max Moroff 5 Chris Stewart 2, RHP Trevor Williams (3-3, 4.82)

Gamecast: Samardzija’s nine losses are tied for second-most in the majors. … In his last outing, Samardzija gave up two runs on six hits in 6.1 IP vs. the Rockies. He is 4-4 with a 2.90 ERA in 23 career outings (12 starts) vs. the Pirates. … C Buster Posey is one of two major leaguers to post a batting average of .325 or better (minimum 25 PA) in each month this season. … Josh Bell is the fourth Pirates switch-hitter to hit 15-plus homers in a season. The others are Bobby Bonilla (five times), Neil Walker (three times) and Ryan Doumit (once). … Williams has never faced the Giants.

>>> Monday, Pirates at Phillies, 7:05 p.m., Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (8-5, 3.08) Phillies: RHP Aaron Nola (5-5, 4.13)

>>> Tuesday, Pirates at Phillies, 4:05 p.m., Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia. TV: ESPN/Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (4-2, 2.97) Phillies: RHP Mark Leiter Jr. (1-0, 4.20)

>>> Wednesday, Pirates at Phillies, 7:05 p.m., Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (6-7, 4.51) Phillies: RHP Ben Lively (1-3, 3.72)

>>> Thursday, Pirates at Phillies, 6:05 p.m., Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (2-6, 5.26) Phillies: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (5-5, 4.48)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 81: June surge didn’t surprise McCutchen

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Story by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

CutchLimpOn May 17, a few hours before the Pirates played the Nationals, I chatted for a bit with Andrew McCutchen about his batting slump. He was batting .206 with a .670 OPS  and seemed in danger of having his season spiral out of control. However, McCutchen gave no indication of panic.

“I’m going to keep working until I do better,” McCutchen said that afternoon. “And when I do better and people say, ‘Why are you doing better?’ I’m going to say it’s because I expected to do better. That’s it, plain and simple. I’m not going to say it’s because I hit BP earlier before the game and something clicked … No. It’ll be because I expected it. I expected to do better. I know I’m going to get out of this. And when I do, I’m going to have the same attitude — no panic.”

McCutchen wasn’t just throwing out cliches. That night against the Nats, McCutchen went 2 for 4 with two RBI. From there, things got even better. In June, McCutchen batted .411 with a 1.193 OPS. He reached base in slightly more than half his plate appearances over the course of an entire month. 

When it came time this morning to cast by ballot for NL player of the month, it was an easy choice. I fully expect that, when the winner is announced tomorrow, we’ll see that dozens of other voters around the league made the same decision as I did.

>>> The Giants recalled RHP Chris Stratton from Triple-A Sacramento and optioned RHP Dan Slania. This is the second time Stratton has been recalled this season.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Giants 13, Pirates 5: The less said, the better.

Notebook: In which Cervelli works out, McCutchen makes a big announcement and Freese sits again

>>> Saturday, Giants at Pirates, 4:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Giants (31-51): Denard Span 8, Joe Panik 4, Hunter Pence 9, Buster Posey 2, Brandon Belt 3, Brandon Crawford 6, Ryder Jones 5, Austin Slater 7, LHP Matt Moore (3-8, 6.04)

Pirates (37-43): Josh Harrison 4, Jose Osuna 7, Andrew McCutchen 8, David Freese 5, Josh Bell 3, Elias Diaz 2, Gregory Polanco 9, Max Moroff 6, RHP Chad Kuhl (2-6, 5.58)

>>> Sunday, Giants at Pirates, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Giants: RHP Jeff Samardzija (3-9, 4.63) Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (3-3, 4.82)

>>> Monday, Pirates at Phillies, 7:05 p.m., Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (8-5, 3.08) Phillies: TBA

>>> Tuesday, Pirates at Phillies, 4:05 p.m., Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia. TV: ESPN/Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (4-2, 2.97) Phillies: TBA

>>> Wednesday, Pirates at Phillies, 7:05 p.m., Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Gerrit Coe (6-7, 4.51) Phillies: TBA

>>> Thursday, Pirates at Phillies, 6:05 p.m., Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl Phillies: TBA

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 76: Mercer powers up

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Story and video by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Getty Images

After slugging two-run homer, Jordy Mercer is greeted at the plate by Andrew McCutchen
After slugging two-run homer, Jordy Mercer is greeted at the plate by Andrew McCutchen.

ST. LOUIS — Jordy Mercer took some good-natured ribbing from his teammates about his postgame workout habits on Saturday. Whatever routine Mercer is using, it’s working. He smacked his seventh homer — a two-run shot in the fourth off Lance Lynn — and collected three RBI in the 7-3 rout of the Cardinals.

In April, Mercer hit just .220 with a .609 OPS. He got two homers and nine RBI over the first 24 games of the season. Over his past 30 games, Mercer is batting .360 with eight doubles, three triples, five homers and 17 RBI. He has the third-best batting average among NL shortstops.

“With Jordy … I mean, same old freakin’ story, guys,” pitcher Gerrit Cole said. “Jordy and April don’t agree with each other. That’s fine. Jordy’s one of the more stalwart shortstops in the league. He’s going to put quality at-bats together and hit .270-.280 with 10 pops every year. It’s always great to have a player like that on your side.”

Mercer’s .793 OPS is on track to be a career best. He’s only five shy of matching his career high for home runs, set in 2014, his first season as the everyday shortstop. Where does that power come from? “For me, being tall and long, if I can get some extension and some flex in the barrel, the ball tends to jump a little bit more,” Mercer said. “That’s what every hitter wants to do, get extended. But, for me, it definitely helps my power.”

>>> Keep an eye on LHP Steven Brault at Triple-A Indianapolis. Through his first 20 starts with Indy, the Indians went 4-16. The team has won eight of his past nine starts. Brault went 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA in five starts in May, and this month is 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA over five starts. Yesterday, Brault tossed seven innings in the first game of a doubleheader vs. Louisville and gave up two runs on seven hits, walked three and stuck out five. He also delivered an RBI double.

>>> UPDATE 4:49 PM CT – Gregory Polanco was benched today after going 0 for 9 in this series. He sat out Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee, then went 2 for 4, including a homer, on Thursday. “He’s looked a little disconnected at the plate,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “There’s been a lot of barrel in and out of the zone and a lot of head (movement) in and out of the zone. I want him to clean his slate. We’ll see if we can get him ignited.”

>>> UPDATE 4:53PM CT – Top prospect OF Austin Meadows (torn hamstring) got a platelet-rich plasma injection last week when he was examined by team doctors in Pittsburgh. Meadows is expected to be out two to four weeks. That means Meadows might not be ready for an immediate callup if Andrew McCutchen is traded at the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

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Pirates 7, Cardinals 3: Gerrit Cole puts his foot down, squarely on the Cardinals’ throats

Notebook: In which John Jaso offers advice about concussions to Francisco Cervelli

>>> Sunday, Pirates at Cardinals, 8:05 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: ESPN. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates (34-40): Adam Frazier 7, Josh Harrison 4, John Jaso 9, David Freese 5, Josh Bell 3, Andrew McCutchen 8, Jordy Mercer 6, Elias Diaz 2, RHP Chad Kuhl (2-6, 5.46)

Cardinals (33-39): Matt Carpenter 3, Tommy Pham 8, Steven Piscotty 9, Randal Grichuk 7,  Yadier Molina 2, Aledmys Diaz 6, Paul De Jong 4, Greg Garcia 5, RHP Mike Leake (5-6, 3.03)

Gamecast: Friday’s game was the fourth time in his past six outings in which Cardinals closer Seung Hwan Oh had allowed a run. His four losses are his most in any MLB season and tie his most in any season in Japan or Korea. … Aledmys Diaz leads the majors with 18 infield hits. … Kuhl is 0-2 with a 4.85 ERA in three career starts vs. the Cardinals. … Leake is riding a team-worst four-game losing streak, which is one shy of his career worst (April 10, 2012 to May 11, 2012). … Leake has won nine of his past 11 decisions vs. the Pirates, going back to September 2012.

>>> Monday: Off

>>> Tuesday, Rays at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Rays: RHP Alex Cobb (6-5, 4.05) Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (3-3, 5.09)

>>> Wednesday, Rays at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Rays: LHP Blake Snell (0-4, 4.71) Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (7-5, 3.06)

>>> Thursday, Rays at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Rays: RHP Chris Archer (6-4, 3.97) Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (3-2, 3.33)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 75: Polanco flashes skills in right field

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Story and video by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Getty Images

PolancoCatchGettyST. LOUIS — I wondered briefly if Gregory Polanco was injured when he failed to run out a ground ball in the sixth inning last night. He hit a bouncer to the right side and third baseman Jedd Gyorko, who was shifted, snagged the ball and threw to pitcher Adam Wainwright, who was covering first.

Any doubts I had about whether Polanco’s legs were healthy were erased over the next three innings. In the bottom of the sixth, the Cardinals had Stephen Piscotty on the move from first base with one out when Jose Martinez hit a blooper to shallow left. Polanco ran in, dove to catch the ball inches off the grass and tumbled hard. Polanco then got up and threw to first base to double off Piscotty.

It was the Polanco’s second outfield assist of the season and his first as a right fielder. He also made superb running catches in the seventh and eighth innings. “Look at the plays Polanco made out in right field,” manager Clint Hurdle gushed after the game. “We were talking 10 days ago about him not making plays, and he lays out for three balls tonight.”

>>> UPDATE 4:22 PM CT — Polanco said he got a poor break out of the batter’s box because the pitch jammed him inside and he tried to veer out of the way. Hurdle offered a similar assessment, but did not excuse Polanco for the execution and said Polanco was made aware of that.

>>> Josh Lindblom was activated off the disabled list and sent outright to Triple-A Indy. The righty reliever had been out since May 20 with left side discomfort.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links

Some postgame video of Jameson Taillon, with clubhouse hijinks amid the background noise:

Pirates 4, Cardinals 3: Dude, that’s a pretty clutch homer.

Notebook: In which the division stinks, Stewie says he can be the man, and more draft picks take the money and sign.

>>> Saturday, Pirates at Cardinals, 7:15 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Fox. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates (34-40): Adam Frazier 7, Josh Harrison 4, Gregory Polanco 9, David Freese 5, Josh Bell 3, Andrew McCutchen 8, Jordy Mercer 6, Chris Stewart 2, RHP Gerrit Cole (5-6, 4.28)

Cardinals (33-39): Matt Carpenter 3, Dexter Fowler 8, Tommy Pham 7, Jedd Gyorko 5, Jose Martinez 9, Paul DeJong 6, Greg Garcia 4, Eric Fryer 2, RHP Lance Lynn (5-4, 3.33)

Gamecast: Since the All-Star Game was first played in 1933, Josh Bell’s 13 hour runs (through Thursday) are the second-most by a Pirates rookie in the first half of the season. Ralph Kiner hit 15 before the break in 1946. … In 17 games vs. the Cardinals, his hometown team, David Freese hit .333 (19 for 57) overall and .358 (19 for 53) in his 13 starts. … In 11 career starts vs. the Cardinals, Cole is 5-4 with a 2.84 ERA. He’s 2-4 with a 3.11 ERA in six starts at Busch Stadium.

>>> Sunday, Pirates at Cardinals, 8:05 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: ESPN. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (2-6, 5.46) Cardinals: RHP Mike Leake (5-6, 3.03)

>>> Monday: Off

>>> Tuesday, Rays at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Rays: RHP Alex Cobb (6-5, 4.05) Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (3-3, 5.09)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 74: Cervelli’s latest injury merits extra caution

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Story by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

cervelliHBPST. LOUIS — There’s a reason the Pirates are being uber cautious with catcher Francisco Cervelli, who yesterday went back on the seven-day concussion DL. Actually, there are a couple dozen reasons:

2017: June 22, concussion, 7-day DL; June 7, concussion, 7-day DL; June 2, sinus, missed 2 games; April 30, 2017, foot, missed 4 games.

2016: Sept 7, thumb, missed 1 game; Aug. 11, wrist, missed 1 game; Aug. 2, concussion protocol, missed 2 games; June 11, broken hamate, 15-day DL.

2015: Aug. 26, foot, missed 4 games; June 2, foot, missed 3 games; Sept. 18, leg, missed 1 game; Aug. 25, feet, missed 1 game; July 20, wrist, missed 2 games; May 19, concussion protocol, exited game.

2014: Sept. 2, migraine headaches, missed 14 games; April 14, 2014, hamstring strain, 60-day DL.

2013: July 4, broken finger, sore elbow, 60-day DL; April 26, broken hand 60-day DL; Jan. 7, 2013, whiplash.

2011: Sept. 9, concussion, 15-day DL, missed rest of season;  March 2, broken foot, 15-day DL.

2010: April 1, hamstring strain, missed 9 games; March 6, head injury, missed several spring games.

2009: November, concussion, missed one month.

2008: March 8, broken hand, missed six weeks.

Catchers take a beating. It’s part of their job. However, Cervelli has at least eight reported incidents of head trauma. “I think you (media) guys are all well-versed in the uncertainties of head injuries, specifically concussions in sports,” head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk said. “There are a lot of contributory factors with concussions. Dizziness, fogginess — those are all symptoms that are real. They’re all symptoms that our doctors are examining and will constantly monitor with any athlete who has a head injury.  The doctors in Milwaukee were very accommodating in helping us work though this process. Most importantly, Francisco is back in Pittsburgh getting examined by the doctors who know his health history and who know him the best.”

>>> Second-round pick RHP Steven Jennings signed for a $1.9 million bonus. The team also signed RHP Jake Webb (19th round), C Manny Bejerano (30th), RHP Hector Quinones (32nd round) and RHP Ryan Valdes (33rd round).

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links

Brewers 4, Pirates 2: Ivan Nova was a bit out of sorts.

Notebook: Cervelli goes back on the DL, but the three-headed catcher monster lives on.

>>> Friday, Pirates at Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates (33-40): Adam Frazier 7, Josh Harrison 4, Gregory Polanco 9, David Freese 5, Josh Bell 3, Andrew McCutchen 8, Jordy Mercer 6, Chris Stewart 2, RHP Jameson Taillon (3-2, 3.38)

Cardinals (33-38): Matt Carpenter 3, Tommy Pham 8, Stephen Piscotty 9, Jed Gyorko 5, Yadier Molina 2, Jose Martinez 7, Aledmys Diaz 6, Paul DeJong 4, RHP Adam Wainwright (7-5, 5.75)

Gamecast: Taillon is coming off arguably his worst start of the season. On Sunday, he gave up four runs on eight hits in five innings vs. the Cubs. … Taillon is 2-1 with a 2.63 ERA in four road starts this year. … Andrew McCutchen has hit .298 (17 for 57) — nine of those hits went for extra bases, including two home runs — with eight RBI and an .866 OPS vs. Wainwright. … Wainwright is coming off one of the worst starts of his career. On Saturday, he surrendered nine runs in 1.2 innings vs. the Orioles. Three of the seven hits he allowed were home runs. He had allowed just five homers over his first 13 starts this year.

>>> Saturday, Pirates at Cardinals, 7:15 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Fox. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (5-6, 4.28) Cardinals: RHP Lance Lynn (5-4, 3.33)

>>> Sunday, Pirates at Cardinals, 8:05 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: ESPN. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (2-6, 5.46) Cardinals: RHP Mike Leake (5-6, 3.03)

>>> Monday: Off

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 73: Kilroy was here

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Story by Rob Biertempfel

MrRobotoMILWAUKEE — The 3-2 pitch was low and well outside the zone, so Josh Bell dropped his bat and took a step toward first base. He stopped, dumbfounded, when he heard umpire Jerry Layne call strike three. It one was one of several inexplicable calls by Layne in the eighth inning last night that went against the Pirates. Gregory Polanco also was a victim of errant calls.

“I don’t think we liked them,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “You (reporters) get a much better look that we do. We don’t have a TV monitor in the dugout. You get some guys who watch the game from time to time, and come down … That’s part of the game that we all kind of enjoy, at least having an umpire back there. I’m not saying it’s time to make a switch and put a bot back there. Sometimes, they go your way. Sometimes, they don’t. But I think there were three calls that were pretty close that maybe could have switched our way and they didn’t.”

At this point, you could say I’m just looking for an excuse to post an ‘80s pop rock video. And to that I would say … well, yeah.

Hurdle’s guarded comments were as close as anyone in the Pirates’ clubhouse was going to come to calling out Layne (on the record, at least). Nobody wanted to risk a fine or create ill will with the umpires. Then again, maybe they didn’t need to say anything and instead just let this tweet by Chris Mack do the talking:

Or, we all could shut up and let yinz do the talking:

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Brewers 4, Pirates 3: Nice job by Trevor Williams. Not so much by the bats.

Notebook: In which Cervelli is mysteriously ill, Meadows is injured and everybody gets plunked a lot.

>>> UPDATE 11:08 AM CT – Francisco Cervelli has been placed on the seven-day DL with post-concussive symptoms. Jacob Stallings is on his way here from Triple-A Indianapolis. Head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk said Cervelli has “returned to Pittsburgh to be evaluated by our medical experts for both the post-concussive symptoms and his post-viral symptoms. … We all felt is was in the best interest of Francisco, both short and long term, to to allow him to play and make sure his overall well-being is our first and utmost concern.”

>>> UPDATE 12:41 PM CT – Manager Clint Hurdle said Elias Diaz and Chris Stewart will share starts while Cervelli is out. “I don’t think it’s important to designate a starter,” Hurdle said. “Both guys are going to catch and be used appropriately.”

Hurdle insisted Stallings’ call-up is not an indication Chris Stewart is not fully game-ready. “There are thoughts that you go get another bat,” Hurdle said. “The best bat we have right now is probably Diaz when he’s not catching, so we looked at it from that standpoint. This way, we have in-game moves we can make. We’re not going to be out of catchers are two, so we can be flexible with Diaz when he’s not starting.”

>>> Thursday, Pirates at Brewers, 2:10 p.m., Miller Park, Milwaukee. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates (33-39): John Jaso 7, Josh Harrison 5, Gregory Polanco 9, Josh Bell 3, Elias Diaz 2, Andrew McCutchen 8, Max Moroff 4, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Ivan Nova (7-4, 2.91)

Brewers (39-35): Eric Sogard 4, Eric Thames 3, Domingo Santana 9, Travis Shaw 5, Hernan Perez 7, Jeff Bandy 2, Keon Broxton 8, Orlando Arcia 6, RHP Chase Anderson (5-2, 2.92)

Gamecast: On the 94th and final pitch of his last outing, Nova struck out John Jay with a 97 mph fastball. “I had not seen 97 mph from Nova in all the starts he’s made for us,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Now that we know he has that card, I’m going to ask him, ‘Where’s it been?’ ” … Even with the extra zip on his fastball, Nova’s strikeout rate (5.1 per nine innings pitched) is the lowest of his career. … Anderson has produced eight quality starts among his 15 appearances this season. The Brewers are 7-7 when he pitches. … In eight career starts vs. the Pirates, Anderson is 3-2 with a 3.43 ERA. … Corey Knebel ranks first among MLB relievers with 64 strikeouts. He has at least one strikeout in each of his 37 outings this season. That’s tied with Aroldis Chapman (2014) for the longest streak exclusively by a reliever to begin a season in the modern era (since 1900).

>>> Friday, Pirates at Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (3-2, 3.38) Cardinals: RHP Adam Wainwright (7-5, 5.75)

>>> Saturday, Pirates at Cardinals, 7:15 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Fox. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (5-6, 4.28) Cardinals: RHP Lance Lynn (5-4, 3.33)

>>> Sunday, Pirates at Cardinals, 8:05 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: ESPN. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (2-6, 5.46) Cardinals: RHP Mike Leake (5-6, 3.03)

>>> Monday: Off

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 72: Hutchison, Glasnow rolling up Ks

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Story by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

Don't look now, but Drew Hutchison is on a bit of a roll at Indy.
Don’t look now, but Drew Hutchison is on a bit of a roll at Indy.

MILWAUKEE — The news out of Miller Park the past two nights certainly was good for Pirates fans. There also were some noteworthy doings in Indianapolis. On Monday, Drew Hutchison — yes, that Drew Hutchison — racked up 10 strikeouts against Toledo. Last night, Tyler Glasnow — yes, that Tyler Glasnow — one-upped Hutch with an 11-strikeout performamce.

It’s the fourth time since the start of the 2005 season that Indy has had back-to-back starters collect 10 or more strikeouts. The others: June 16-17, 2007, Shane Youman and John Wasdin; June 27-28, 2009, Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell (who struck out 17 in 7.0 IP); April 26-27, 2016, Glasnow and Steven Brault.

Hutchison and Brault have been pitching well lately. Glasnow remains too good for Triple-A batters (although his success in the majors has been spotty). After another uneven performance last night by Chad Kuhl — who struggled after being handed a 6-0 lead, and needed 98 pitches merely to make it through five innings — you have to wonder if another change is due for the Pirates’ starting rotation.

>>> Here is a (way too long) time-lapse video showing recent improvements to BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field, where the Pirates will play host to the Cardinals on Aug. 20 in the MLB Little League Classic:

>>> UPDATE 4:36 PM CT -- Manager Clint Hurdle said he’s not sure yet if Francisco Cervelli, who was scratched yesterday due to flu-like symptoms, will be available off the bench tonight. Chris Stewart is making a planned start, which will be his first since coming off the DL.

Elias Diaz has done the Futures Game thing and the Indy thing. The next step is a regular spot on the active roster.
Elias Diaz has done the Futures Game thing and the Indy thing. The next step is a regular spot on the active roster.

The Pirates continue to carry three catchers, something Hurdle had hoped would go away at the end of this series against the Brewers. Now, it appears Cervelli, Stewart and Elias Diaz will be on the roster when the Pirates open a three-game set on Friday against the Cardinals. “A three-man catching rotation is challenging,” Hurdle said. “It doesn’t happen very often. It takes a unique three to make it happen. In our case, with Cervelli’s health, there really is no other option for us to go.”

When Cervelli is finally healthy (or at least as healthy as he’s going to be in-season), the Pirates will either cut ties with Stewart or send Diaz back to Indy. “Diaz is a guy you want catching four times a week,” Hurdle said. “That’s my thought and the thoughts within our organization. It would be very difficult to continue to have him up here if he’s not catching multiple times a week.”

>>> After Stewart strained his hamstring legging out a triple, Hurdle vowed that Stewie would never be allowed to try to another three-bagger. I asked what happens tonight if Stewart drops a hit into the outfield corner and the ball rattles around a bit. “I’ve got … that ‘invisible fence’ company? I’ve worked with them on a couple of concepts. I’d slip a sensor into his pocket and would buzz to get his attention,” Hurdle said with a smile.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 7, Brewers 3: Kuhl wasn’t great, but he was good enough.

Notebook: In which J-Hay is plunked time and again, Mercer flashes his moves and a bunch of newbies sign contracts

>>> Wednesday, Pirates at Brewers, 8:10 p.m., Miller Park, Milwaukee. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates (33-38): Adam Frazier 7, Josh Harrison 4, John Jaso 9, David Freese 5, Josh Bell 3, Andrew McCutchen 8, Jordy Mercer 6, Chris Stewart 2, RHP Trevor Williams (3-3, 5.16)

Brewers (38-35):  Eric Sogard 4, Domingo Santana 9, Jesus Aguilar 3, Travis Shaw 5, Hernan Perez 7, Manny Pina 2, Keon Broxton 8, Orlando Arcia 6, RHP Junior Guerra (1-1, 2.84)

Gamecast: Williams has made one career appearance vs. the Brewers. On Sept. 22, 2016, he gave up one run in 2.2 innings of relief at Miller Park. … Williams has allowed just one home run over his past six starts. … Guerra is holding opponents to a .191 batting average. The Brewers are 2-4 when he pitches this year. … In four career games (three starts) vs. the Pirates, Guerra is 1-0 with a 1.42 ERA. … Brewers 3B Travis Shaw went into Tuesday’s game without making an error over his previous 40 games (94 chances). He made an error in three straight games from April 23 to 26. 

>>> Thursday, Pirates at Brewers, 2:10 p.m., Miller Park, Milwaukee. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (7-4, 2.91) Brewers: RHP Chase Anderson (5-2, 2.92)

>>> Friday, Pirates at Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (3-2, 3.38) Cardinals: RHP Adam Wainwright (7-5, 5.75)

>>> Saturday, Pirates at Cardinals, 7:15 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Fox. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (5-6, 4.28) Cardinals: RHP Lance Lynn (5-4, 3.33)

>>> Sunday, Pirates at Cardinals, 8:05 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: ESPN. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (2-6, 5.46) Cardinals: RHP Mike Leake (5-6, 3.03)

>>> Monday: Off

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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