All posts by Rob Biertempfel

Game 18: Hurdle says “Nothing’s up” with Cervelli

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

CervelliSwing2017In last night’s 11-5 loss to the Yankees, Francisco Cervelli was replaced by Chris Stewart to start the ninth inning. Hurdle was asked if that was just a way to get Cervelli off his feet in a blowout loss. “No, I think something was going on,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I’m not quite sure what right now.”

Hearing that, everyone’s antenna went up. After the game, athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk said Cervelli’s chronically sore foot is fine — it was not the reason the catcher was benched, nor was it the cause of his lack of hustle on a grounder in the eighth inning.

Cervelli seemed fine this morning in the clubhouse and walked without a limp into the trainer’s room. During his pregame presser, Hurdle brushed aside this situation. “Nothing’s up,” Hurdle said. “I think it was more game fatigue than anything else. They double-checked today.” Cervelli is not in Sunday’s lineup vs the Yanks.

>>> To avoid overworking his pen, Hurdle will try to stay away from using either Juan Nicasio or Felipe Rivero today.

Bastardo2017>>> I spoke with Antonio Bastardo this morning about his recent struggles. The lefty said his health is not an issue. “I’m healthy,” Bastardo. “My arm is not responding well to the strain on my arm. I don’t know. I can’t describe it. When I go to release the ball, I don’t feel like my arm is (extending) the way it should.” I’ll have more on this in my notebook in Monday’s Trib (which will be on newsstands tomorrow morning and online tonight).

>>> Hurdle said Alen Hanson’s “best option” defensively is second base, but the manager does not view Hanson as a legit late-game defensive replacement at this point. Hurdle implied management doesn’t have much confidence in Hanson at shortstop (due to poor performance there in the minors) and is not fully ready — strong arm, but too inconsistent — to play outfield in the majors.

“He’s worked very hard to get better,” Hurdle said. “I believe he’ll be a guy you see get some reps in the infield as we move into May. He’s working hard every day in the outfield and infield. I’m looking for that opportunity to get him more involved in our whole game plan.”

>>> Speaking of the outfield …

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Yankees 11, Pirates 5: Blunders, miscues, errors and outright poor play. But, at least the first four or five innings were fun to watch.

Notebook: In which Bastardo returns (and scuffles again), Osuna swaps digits and Watson keeps on keepin’ on

From Pittsburgh native Randy Miller at NJ.com, a chat with Ivan Nova on the differences between playing for the Pirates and the Yankees

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

Yankees (11-6): Brett Gardner 7, Chase Headley 5, Starlin Castro 4, Jacoby Ellsbury 8, Aaron Judge 9, Greg Bird 3, Ronald Torreyes 6, Kyle Higashioka 2, LHP Jordan Montgomery (1-0, 4.22)

Pirates (7-10): Jordy Mercer 6, Josh Harrison 5, Andrew McCutchen 8, Gregory Polanco 7, David Freese 3, Jose Osuna 9, Phil Gosselin 4, Chris Stewart 2, RHP Ivan Nova (1-2, 2.25)

Gamecast: In interleague play, the Yankees rank first in walks and stolen bases, second in OBP (.342), third in runs scored and sixth in home runs. … Yankees pitchers have one hit in their past 55 at-bats in interleague games since May 20, 2014. … Montgomery, 24, has made just two starts in the majors. He’ll be working on five days’ rest after beating the White Sox on Monday. The lefty went six innings and gave up three runs on seven hits, walked two and struck out four. Going into this season, Montgomery was ranked the Yankees’ No. 13 prospect by MLBPipeline.com. …. This will be Nova’s first career start vs. the Yankees, for whom he pitched from 2010 to 2016.

>>> Monday: Cubs at Pirates, 7:05 p.m, PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Cubs: LHP Brett Anderson (1-0, 4.40) Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-1, 2.60)

>>> Tuesday: Cubs at Pirates, 7:05 p.m, PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Cubs: RHP Kyle Hendricks (1-1, 6.19) Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (1-2, 4.70)

>>> Wednesday: Cubs at Pirates, 7:05 p.m, PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Cubs: LHP Jon Lester (0-0, 2.66) Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 7.94 ERA)

>>> Thursday: Off

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

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Game 17: Bastardo’s exile might soon be over

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

BastardoST2017Reliever Antonio Bastardo has not pitched in a game since April 12, when he gave up four runs on two hits in two-thirds of an innings against the Reds. In four innings. he has served up eight hits, including three home runs, and five walks. He has a 20.25 ERA and a 3.25 WHIP. The left-hander and pitching coach Ray Searage have been working — through video work, in bullpen sessions, on flat ground — to correct Bastardo’s release point.

“We see something that’s correctable,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Obviously, the frequency (of homers) is alarming because it’s something we haven’t seen. He has frustrations because he understands the importance of every role out there connects to another role. When he’s not able to finish innings or do his job, it puts the work on other men to pick up more.”

Bastardo has always had a tendency to pitch up in the zone. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a home-run machine. Hurdle doesn’t mind the fastballs up. “I have no problem with that,” Hurdle said. “More often than not, when he tries to pitch down in the zone is when these mistakes have come. We’ve continued to remind him of the fact that based on spin rate, he’s a guy who pitches better up in the zone. We continue to reinforce his strengths to him.”

A few days ago, Bastardo had an extended bullpen session and showed some signs of progress. This morning, Hurdle said “it’s been long enough” between outings and indicated Bastado will soon get in a game, even if it’s not a blowout either way.

>>> Jose Osuna changed his uniform number for 64 (which he wore during spring training and in the first three games of his career) to 36. “I used that number when I was young,” Osuna said. “I (asked for it) before, but they just gave it to me today.”

Watson>>> With 410 career appearances in a Pirates uniform, Tony Watson has tied right-hander Dave Giusti for seventh place on the club’s all-time list. Among lefties, Watson ranks second behind Wilbur Cooper, who pitched in 469 games for the Pirates from  1912 to 1924. Elroy Face tops the chart with 802 appearances.

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 6, Yankees 3: With iffy defense behind him, Glasnow fell one out shy of notching his first big league victory

Gorman: Marte’s suspension puts Pirates in a tough spot

Notebook: Osuna makes first big league start in right field

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

Yankees (10-6): Jacoby Ellsbury 8, Aaron Hicks 7, Chase Headley 5, Starlin Castro 4, Aaron Judge 9, Greg Bird 3, Austin Romine 2, Ronald Torreyes 6, RHP Michael Pineda (2-1, 3.44)

Pirates (7-9): Adam Frazier 4, Josh Bell 3, Andrew McCutchen 8, Gregory Polanco 7, David Freese 5, John Jaso 9, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Jameson Taillon (1-0, 0.90)

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

Yankees: LHP Jordan Montgomery (1-0, 4.22) Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (1-2, 2.25)

>>> Monday: Cubs at Pirates, 7:05 p.m, PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Cubs: LHP Brett Anderson (1-0, 4.40) Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-1, xxx)

>>> Tuesday: Cubs at Pirates, 7:05 p.m, PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Cubs: RHP Kyle Hendricks (1-1, 6.19) Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (1-2, 4.70)

>>> Wednesday: Cubs at Pirates, 7:05 p.m, PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Cubs: LHP Jon Lester (0-0, 2.66) Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 7.94 ERA)

>>> Thursday: Off

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

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Game 15: Band of brothers? Yes and no.

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

MarteHandST. LOUIS — There was no finger-pointing in the Pirates’ clubhouse on Tuesday after the news broke that Starling Marte was suspended 80 games for using steroids. The harshest (if you can call it that) comment came from Andrew McCutchen, who noted: “When you make a mistake, you’ve got to pay for it.” Almost immediately, McCutchen tried to walk it back by adding: “All you can do is try to be his support. He has our support. He has my support.”

Gerrit Cole: “We love the guy. He’s our teammate. People make mistakes. We don’t know everything that’s gone into it. I haven’t walked in his shoes before. We’ll try to reserve judgement, because he’s our brother.”

Gregory Polanco: “It’s something that I didn’t imagine. It’s something that’s heartbreaking. You see your brother going through this and see his face. That’s not easy for me.”

Josh Harrison: “It’s something he’s got to deal with on his own. But if he ever wants to reach out, he knows he’s not exiled. People make mistakes. Anytime you hear about something like this, whether it’s a teammate or not, it’s always a shock. Our job is not to be consumed with it. Our job is to go out and play. It’s tougher on him than it is on us. That’s what we’ve got to realize.”

Within minutes of MLB announcing Marte’s suspension, team president Frank Coonelly sent out an email saying the Pirates “look forward to getting Starling back after the All-Star break.” So, hey, all is forgiven on Day 1 of the suspension.

Am I missing something here? Marte was the club’s No. 2 hitter, its best defensive player, its center fielder and de facto team captain. He got busted for using an old-school anabolic steroid — putting the entire season in jeopardy — and nobody on the team is publicly miffed? Interesting.

There’s this image perpetuated by players and management that the fellas in the clubhouse are a band of brothers, like Easy Company getting each other’s backs and they pick off the Nazis in war-torn Europe. That’s not quite the case. Yes, the players spend practically every day together from mid-February to October (or November, if things are going well). But, in the big picture, they’re all mercenaries — each with his own agent (and in some cases PR handler), each trying to get the biggest and best contract possible. Some guys cheat to do that. Those that don’t can’t be blamed for feeling some resentment, even if they don’t discuss is publicly.

Big League Stew on Yahoo! Sports got this comment from the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo:

>>>UPDATE 11:19 AM CTJordy Mercer was walking with a noticeable limp this morning after fouling a ball off his left foot during last night’s game. He’s in the lineup today, but could be a candidate for an early exit if the game gets out of hand one way or another.

>>> Minor matters: Joey Terdoslavich, who filled Jose Osuna‘s roster spot with Triple-A Indianapolis, went 2 for 5, including a double, last night vs. Durham. He became the third Indy player this season to collect three RBI in a game (also Austin Meadows on April 14 and Max Moroff on April 7).

>>> You want links? Here’s one for ya:

Cardinals 2, Pirates 1: McCutchen looked like a kid again in CF, but the offense seemed stiff and cranky

>>> Wednesday: Pirates at Cardinals, 1:45 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Josh Harrison 4, Josh Bell 3, Andrew McCutchen 8, Gregory Polanco 7, David Freese 5, John Jaso 9, Jordy Mercer 6, Chris Stewart 2, RHP Gerrit Cole (1-1, 5.29)

Cardinals: Dexter Fowler 8, Greg Garcia 6, Matt Carpenter 3, Stephen Piscotty 9, Jose Martinez 7, Yadier Molina 2, Jedd Gyorko 5, Kolten Wong 4, RHP Michael Wacha (1-1, 3.00)

>>> Thursday: Off

>>> Friday: Yankees at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Yankees: LHP CC Sabathia (2-0, 1.47) Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 12.15)

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

Yankees: RHP Michael Pineda (2-1, 3.44) Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (1-0, 0.90)

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

Yankees: LHP Jordan Montgomery (1-0, 4.22) Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (1-2, 2.25)

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

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Breaking: Starling Marte suspended for PED violation

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

marte2ST. LOUIS — Pirates center fielder Starling Marte on Tuesday was suspended for 80 games after he tested positive for tested positive for Nandrolone, a performance-enhancing anabolic steroid. The suspension is without pay and is effective immediately. He also is not eligible to participate in the postseason.

When you make a mistake, you’ve got to pay for it,” outfielder Andrew McCutchen said. “He has some things that he’s going to have to battle. He has our support. Guys make mistakes, but the last thing I need to be doing is distancing myself from him. I’m just trying to be a good friend before I am a teammate and let him know that through it all I’m here for him.”

The Pirates called up first baseman/outfielder Jose Osuna from Triple-A Indianapolis. McCutchen, who moved to right field at the start of this season, will replace Marte as the everyday center fielder.

Marte has known for at least several days that he flunked the drug test administered during spring training. General manager Neal Huntington said Marte had exhausted the appeal process.

During his suspension, Marte is allowed to work out at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., and the team’s academy in the Dominican Republic. He also may participate in extended spring training. For the last 15 days of his suspension, Marte will be sent on a rehab assignment with a minor league affiliate.

Marte met privately with his teammates before Tuesday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals. He left Busch Stadium without speaking to reporters, although he did issue a statement via an email from the Players’ Association.

“I have been informed that I have tested positive in one of the tests that are regularly done in my job,” Marte said. “In this very difficult moment I apologize to my family, the Pittsburgh Pirates, my teammates, my fans, and baseball in general. Neglect and lack of knowledge have led me to this mistake with the high price to pay of being away from the field that I enjoy and love so much.

“With much embarrassment and helplessness, I ask for forgiveness for unintentionally disrespecting so many people who have trusted in my work and have supported me so much. I promise to learn the lesson that this ordeal has left me. God bless you.”

Nandrolone is used medically to treat anemia caused by kidney problems. Effects include muscle growth and increased red blood cell production, but it also may cause tumors or bloody cysts in the liver and spleen.

Over six seasons in the majors, Marte, 28, has a .288 batting average and a .789 OPS. This year, he is batting .241 with a .659 OPS, two home runs and stolen two bases.

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

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Game 14: Hurdle makes the right call

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

HurdleSmileST. LOUIS — The Pirates were down by one run in the seventh inning when Ivan Nova’s turn in the batting order came around. With two outs and nobody on, it was an easy call for manager Clint Hurdle to let Nova bat instead of using Gregory Polanco as a pinch-hitter.

“It’s a baseball call when your starting pitcher has thrown 52 pitches,” Hurdle said. “If I bring in (Polanco) there’s a chance (reliever Brett) Cecil is going to match up left on left, and that’s not a good way for me to bow out to Nova. He’s been a guy who’s taken care of us, so I wanted to give him an opportunity to pitch and (also) try to get a better matchup (later) for Polanco.”

Nova appreciated Hurdle’s gesture. “That was a huge thing he did for me, the confidence,” Nova said. “You understand the situation. Personally, I don’t want to come out of the game. But, if the situation means we have to use a pinch-hitter, that’s fine. He gave me the confidence to go back out and I give him thanks for that.”

It all ended up working out well … sort of. Nova tossed a gem, allowing just two runs in eight innings and tossing just 78 pitches. Polanco pinch-hit in the ninth and smacked an RBI double off closer Seung Hwan Oh. However, the Pirates lost to the Cardinals, 2-1.

>>> Earlier today, I chatted with Buster Olney about Andrew McCutchen’s bounceback potential, Gerrit Cole‘s ace potential and Jung Ho Kang‘s coming to America potential:

>>> Root Sports will televise Game 4 of the Penguins-Blue Jackets playoff series tonight. MLB Network will broadcast the Pirates game in the Pittsburgh market.

>>> Did you know that Nova has thrown more complete games (four) since Aug. 23, 2016 than any other big league pitcher who is not named Chris Sale?  Or that Nova’s four complete games in that span are more than any single Pirates pitcher since 2009? Or that — and this one blew me away — since joining the Pirates on Aug. 1, 2016, Nova has tossed more compete games (four) than he has issued walks (three)?

>>> From the … inquisitive? warped? industrious? … mind of team PR guru Jim Trdinich comes this nugget: So far this season, the Pirates are 0-7 against teams whose uniforms predominantly feature the color Red (Red Sox, Reds, Cardinals). The Pirates are 6-0 against teams that wear blue (Braves, Cubs).

>>> I’ll just say this: everyone in the park wears red, they applaud when a batter gets the runner over, they appreciate their history (David Freese probably gets standing ovations when he stops at a gas station here) and nobody leaves to beat the traffic with one out in the ninth inning.

>>> High-A Bradenton OF Kevin Krause was named the Florida State League player of the week. A ninth-round pick in 2014, Krause hit .333 with a double, two triples, three home runs, and six RBI during the season-opening stretch.

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Cardinals 2, Pirates 1:  Nova was really good. Lance Lynn was a skosh better

Notebook: In which Polanco swings, Kang gets a date, Kuhl takes a walk and Barbato arrives

>>> Tuesday: Pirates at Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: MLB Network. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Adam Frazier 9, Josh Harrison 4, Andrew McCutchen 8, Gregory Polanco 7, David Freese 5, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Bell 3, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Chad Kuhl (1-0, 2.38)

Cardinals: Dexter Fowler 8, Aledmys Diaz 6, Stephen Piscotty 9, Randal Grichuk 7, Yadier Molina 2, Jose Martinez 3, Greg Garcia 5, Kolten Wong 4, RHP Mike Leake (1-0, 0.60)

>>> Wednesday: Pirates at Cardinals, 1:45 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (1-1, 5.29) Cardinals: RHP Michael Wacha (1-1, 3.00)

>>> Thursday: Off

>>> Friday: Yankees at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Yankees: LHP CC Sabathia (2-0, 1.47) Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 12.15)

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

Yankees: TBA Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (1-0, 0.90)

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

Yankees: TBA Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (1-2, 2.25)

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

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Game 13: Many moving parts to lineup

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

FrazierST2017SSST. LOUIS — The lineup has a lot of moving parts, which makes manager Clint Hurdle happy. “That’s what makes our lineup and our roster very interesting and flexible,” he said. “Even during a game, we can make some switches and move people around if need be.”

Hurdle had to do a little shuffling again today, as LF Gregory Polanco will miss his third straight game with a sore right groin. Adam Frazier is in left. David Freese goes back to third (he started yesterday’s game at first), Josh Harrison is at second (he was at third yesterday) and Josh Bell is at first base.

It’s not like Hurdle pulls names and positions out of a hat. “We’ve prioritized what their best positions are, as we see them,” Hurdle said. “With each guy who plays multiple positions, there’s one position where he plays more comfortable and with more confidence than the others. It actually makes sense to us. It might not to anybody else.”

>>> UPDATE 1:55 p.m. — The Pirates acquired RHP Johnny Barbato from the Yankees for cash or a PTBNL. He was placed on the 40-man roster and optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. The Pirates sill have one open roster spot.

Barbato, 24, made one outing for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before being designed for assignment. He was on the Yankees’ opening day roster last year and made 13 relief appearances — and put a 7.62 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP. Over 13 innings, he struck out 15 and walked five.

After being drafted by the Padres in the sixth round in 2010, Barbato was traded to the Yankees in December 2014 for Shawn Kelley.

>>> UPDATE 3:11 p.m. –  Polanco was panting and dripping sweat after a workout a little while ago, but he had good news: he’s been cleared to play.  “We tested (the groin) outside,” Polanco said. “Nothing’s bothering me, so I’m healthy. Hopefully, I’ll be in the lineup again soon.” Polanco said he felt his groin tighten on Friday after he went first to third base on David Freese’s sixth-inning single. Polanco has reached base in six straight games.

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 6, Cubs 1: A hostile crowd, bases loaded and Kris Bryant at the plate? Good times, says Jameson Taillon.

Notebook: In which Glasnow sticks around, the bullpens move and Nicasio finds redemption.

>>> Monday: Pirates at Cardinals, 7:05 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Root/ESPN. Radio: 93.7 FM

UPDATE 4:38 p.m. – The Cardinals have scratched Matt Carpenter due to a finger injury sustained last night while fielding a ground ball.

Pirates: Adam Frazier 7, Starling Marte 8, Andrew McCutchen 9, David Freese 5, Josh Bell 3, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Harrison 4, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Ivan Nova (1-1, 2.25)

Cardinals: Dexter Fowler 8, Aledmys Diaz 6, Matt Carpenter 3, Stephen Piscotty 9, Randal Grichuck 7, Jose Martinez 3, Greg Garcia 5, Eric Fryer 2, Kolten Wong 4, RHP Lance Lynn (0-1, 5.23)

Gamecast: Nova has never faced the Cardinals. …  Cardinals SS Aledmys Diaz has a career batting average of .365 during the month of April. He ranks third in the majors over the past two seasons (minimum 100 AB) behind Zack Cozart (.400) and Daniel Murphy (.385). … Lynn missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. … With 774 career strikeouts, Lynn is five shy of tying Bill Sherdel (1918-1930, 1932) for 14th on the Cardinals’ all-time list. … Lynn has pitched in 19 games (17 starts) vs. the Pirates, his most games and starts against any opponent.

>>> Tuesday: Pirates at Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: MLB Network. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-0, 2.38) Cardinals: RHP Mike Leake (1-0, 0.60)

>>> Wednesday: Pirates at Cardinals, 1:45 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (1-1, 5.29) Cardinals: RHP Michael Wacha (1-1, 3.00)

>>> Thursday: Off

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

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Game 12: Offense could use a smiley face emoji

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by The Associated Press

CutchHighFiveCHICAGO — Andrew McCutchen was sending a text when I walked up to him in the clubhouse after yesterday’s 8-7 victory against the Cubs. He said he was trying to find the right emoji to use. Which one did he settle upon? “I’d rather not say,” McCutchen said with a grin. “A lot of different ones.”

EmojiSmileIt was a big win and, as often happens at Wrigley Field, it was a signature moment for McCutchen. He fought back from an 0-2 count to smack a go-ahead, three-run, two-out home run in the seventh inning.

The Pirates are 5-6 and are still trying to find their stride. Winning the first two games of this series against the defending World Series champs is a good start. The pitching remains a bit unsettled — the bullpen has been overworked (again) and the rotation has produced in fits and starts. To get by for now, the Pirates need to produce at the plate like the did early last season. McCutchen, who’s hitting .250 with a .707 OPS, could use a jolt, too. Will yesterday’s homer be a spring board?

“I don’t know,” McCutchen said. “It gets me where I am right now. I don’t think too much into it. You’re going to have ups and downs. I’m battling right now, getting my hits here and there. It’s only a matter of time before I get real hot.”

And the rest of the team? “I don’t know if anyone’s ever looked at the track record in April for the Pirates, but it’s not always that good,” McCutchen said. “I don’t know what’s behind it. It’s April. We play in Pittsburgh. It’s kind of cold sometimes.”

On Saturday, it was 81 degrees with a 24 mph wind blowing out to center field. That’s gotta help an offense, right? “It’s a different ballgame, definitely,” McCutchen said. “We were able to throw it out there. We had some good at-bats and it paid off.”

>>> UPDATE: 11:28 a.m. — Trevor Williams gave up social media for Lent. Now that it’s Easter, he’s back on Twitter, starting with this hot take:

>>> UPDATE 12:22 p.m. – Tyler Glasnow took baby steps forward on Saturday in his five-inning outing against the Chicago Cubs. That’s enough for him to keep his spot in the starting rotation.

“He has to earn it here,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We can’t just give it to him if the results aren’t cooperating and he’s not giving us the innings we need and it’s starting to complicate things. He knows that.

“However, I’m a firm believer, as I believe everybody else is, that the greatest opportunity for growth is for him to pitch at this level and meet the challenges of the game at this level — and to understand the consequences of not being able to do the things you need to do at this level. You feel a lot more here than you do at Triple-A. There are games in the minors that nobody knows about. You don’t care. Up here, there’s a different care.”

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 8, Cubs 7: Cutch’s homer was the sexy part, but Glasnow’s baby steps also were important.

Notebook: In which Mercer sits (for a bit), Polanco limps and Rivero slides to the right.

>>> Sunday’s game: Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Jordy Mercer 6, Starling Marte 8, Andrew McCutchen 9, David Freese 3, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Harrison 5, Phil Gosselin 4, Adam Frazier 7, RHP Jameson Taillon (0-0, 1.38)

Cubs: Kyle Schwarber 7, Kris Bryant 5, Anthony Rizzo 3, Ben Zobrist 9, Addison Russell 6, Jason Heyward 8, Willson Contreras 2, LHP Jon Lester (0-0, 1.64), Javy Baez 4

Gamecast: Lester is one of the game’s more durable starters, having strung together nine seasons of at least 30 starts and 190 innings pitched. Although he doesn’t yet have a win, Lester gave up just one earned run and struck out seven in each of his first two starts. … David Freese is 5 for 14 (.357) with an .828 OPS vs. Lester. Andrew McCutchen has a .174 career average vs. Lester, although one of his four hits was a home run. … Jordy Mercer has reached base in eight straight games and in nine of his 10 starts this season.

>>> UPDATE 11:31 a.m.Gregory Polanco (right groin discomfort) is out of the lineup for the second day in a row. “I believe he needs another day to rest,” Hurdle said during his pregame media scrum. “We’ll find out if he can be a player off the bench today. That’s the best I can give you right now.”

>>> UPDATE 11:34 a.m. — I asked Hurdle if the bullpen is where it needs to be, health-wise and stuff-wise. “Not stuff-wise. Close,” Hurdle said. “I think we’ve got some guys who are sharpening, for sure. Healthy-wise, it was big for us to get five (innings) out of Glas yesterday. That’s why we let him hit in the fourth, to let him empty his pockets with the pitches and push through the fifth. There was some growth. (Antonio) Bastardo needs work; we’ve got to sharpen him up. I thought (Juan) Nicasio was better. We’ve got to be mindful of mixing pitches and pitching to our strengths and not just to our power. I thought (Daniel) Hudson‘s secondary pitches were better yesterday. (Tony) Watson is getting sharper as we go along. I like the work (Wade) LeBlanc has been able to do and I like the work Williams is showing, even though they both got dinged. I think they’re going to provide us just what we need in support, long if needed and being able to pick up an inning from time to time. Trevor had more gas in the tank yesterday, but I’m a big believer i getting guys in (late-inning) situations who’ve been in those situations.”

Nicasio was the goat on Thursday against the Red Sox (0.2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 2 BB). Hurdle did not hesitate to put the righty on the mound in the seventh inning yesterday with a two-run lead. ” I wanted to give Nicasio a shot to get some redemption. I’m a big believer in that. When those guys hiccup, you get them back in there and show the belief you have in them and let their teammates rally around them.”

>>> Monday’s game: Pirates at Cardinals, 7:05 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (1-1, 2.25) Cardinals: RHP Lance Lynn (0-1, 5.23)

>>> Tuesday’s game: Pirates at Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: MLB Network. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-0, 2.38) Cardinals: RHP Mike Leake (1-0, 0.60)

>>> Wednesday’s game: Pirates at Cardinals, 1:45 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (1-1, 5.29) Cardinals: RHP Michael Wacha (1-1, 3.00)

>>> Thursday: Off

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

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Game 11: Rivero makes move for the better

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by The Associated Press

RiveroCubsGameCHICAGO — When Felipe Rivero’s fastball is on, it is a 100 mph, razor-edged scythe that cuts down batters. When it’s not, stuff like what happened in the eighth inning yesterday happens. “He’s got electric stuff,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “There isn’t anybody who he can’t get out. Unfortunately, he dug himself a pretty big hole. It came down to still making pitches against good hitters.”

Rivero went into the inning with a two-run lead, but ratcheted up the drama level several notches by letting the Cubs load the bases. Kris Bryant walked. Anthony Rizzo was hit on the butt by a fastball. After that, Rivero moved from the center of the rubber to the third base side during his setup. That seemed to help him better harness his fastball. “It was a little tough from the beginning, with my delivery,” he said. “When I moved, that’s when it got a little bit better.”

Ben Zobrist battled Rivero through a 10-pitch at-bat. With his fastball still in doubt, Rivero tossed three straight changeups, which Zobrist fouled off. “I was trying to settle in with the changeup and get control of my fastball,” Rivero said. “When I saw he was waiting on (the changeup), that’s when I came with the fastball.” Zobrist went down swinging at a 95.3 mph four-seamer.

With two outs, Jason Heyward legged out an infield single. First baseman John Jaso stepped in front of second baseman Josh Harrison to snag the ball, but Hayward beat the toss to Rivero at the bag with a headfirst slide. Hurdle said he’d have to watch video of the play before assessing blame, but added, “It’s a play where you’d like to think you can get an out when the ball is hit that softly. We weren’t able to get one. We complicated it.”

With the bases loaded, Rivero fired a 98.7 mph fastball to pinch-hitter Willson Contreras, who hit a grounder to third baseman David Freese to snuff the threat.

>>> Harrison did his best to be a spark plug in his his first game in the leadoff spot. He went 2 for 4 — his second multi-hit game of the season — with a stolen base, although he did not score a run. In the second inning, Kyle Hendricks picked Harrison off first base after a leadoff single. In the fifth, Harrison shot a two-out single up the middle, but was stranded at second base when Starling Marte struck out.

>>> There’s still time to vote in my quickie, totally unscientific, for entertainment purposes only Twitter poll …

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 4, Cubs 2: Freese kept getting on base, Cole hung tough and the relievers came up big

Notebook: In which Glasnow tweaks his delivery, J-Hay leads off and PNC Park gets set to host the Nits and ‘Eers

>>> Saturday’s game: Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

UPDATE 11:20 A.M. — Gregory Polanco was scratched due to what the team says is right groin discomfort. His status is day to day. According to the team, Polanco noticed the discomfort during yesterday’s game, but not on any specific play. … Also, Hurdle confirmed Cervelli was sick yesterday and was seen by the training staff before the game. Hurdle offered no further details.

UPDATE 12:17 P.M. – The Pirates changed their lineup again, putting Hanson at 2B instead of LF.

Pirates: Adam Frazier 6, Starling Marte 8, Andrew McCutchen 9, Gregory Polanco 7, David Freese 5, Josh Bell 3, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Harrison 7, Alen Hanson 4, RHP Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 27.00)

Cubs:  Kyle Schwarber 7, Kris Bryant 5, Anthony Rizzo 3, Ben Zobrist 9, Addison Russell 6, Jason Heyward 8, Willson Contreras 2, RHP Jake Arrieta (2-0, 2.08), Javy Baez 4

Gamecast: Entering this series, Cubs leadoff batter Kyle Schwarber was averaging 4.69 pitches per plate appearance, the most among qualified NL batters and third in the majors. … Since joining the Cubs in July 2013, Arrieta is 17-9 with a 2.18 ERA in 32 day game starts at Wrigley Field. … Over his career, Arrieta is 9-3 with a 2.96 ERA vs. the Pirates. However, the Pirates have hit at a .329 clip with three home runs over their past three games against Arrieta.

>>> Sunday’s game: Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (0-0, 1.38) vs. Cubs: LHP Jon Lester (0-0, 1.64)

>>> Monday’s game: Pirates at Cardinals, 7:05 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (1-1, 2.25) vs. Cardinals: RHP Lance Lynn (0-1, 5.23)

>>> Tuesday’s game: Pirates at Cardinals, 8:15 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: MLB Network. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-0, 2.38) vs. Cardinals: RHP Mike Leake (1-0, 0.60)

>>> Wednesday’s game: Pirates at Cardinals, 1:45 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (1-1, 5.29) vs. Cardinals: RHP Michael Wacha (1-1, 3.00)

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Game 10: McCutchen powers up

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photos by Christopher Horner

CutchAtBatCHICAGO — Around the All-Star break last year, I was scrolling through the list of Pirates all-time home run leaders and was a bit surprised to see Andrew McCutchen’s name among the top 10. I’ve always viewed McCutchen as an all-around standout rather than a pure slugger, but there he was last year, just a couple of dingers behind No. 5 Dave Parker.

I wrote a story about McCutchen’s “sneaky” power on July 18, when he was one behind the Cobra. McCutchen matched Parker nine days later. He hit nine more that season to end the year with 175 home runs. Yesterday, he got his first of 2017 — a two-run shot to left-center field in the first inning. McCutchen is the first Pirate to homer at Fenway Park against an AL team since Jimmy Sebring hit one off Cy Young in the first game of the 1903 World Series.

That home run was historic for another reason: it was No. 176 and moved McCutchen into a tie with Barry Bonds for fourth place in franchise history. McCutchen probably will go yard a few more times this season, but he almost certainly will climb no higher than fourth on the all-time list. He’ll never catch Hall-of-Famers Willie Stargell (475 home runs) and Ralph Kiner (301). Could he get even with Roberto Clemente (240)? Maybe … if McCutchen gets a few more years in Pittsburgh. That would mean a contract extension and we all know the chances of that happening are about nil.

>>> The Penguins will knock the Pirates off Root on Tuesday, but you can still watch black-and-gold baseball on TV that night. MLB Network will televise the 8:15 p.m. Pirates-Cardinals game in the Pittsburgh area. Root will carry the Penguins-Blue Jackets game at 7:30 p.m.

>>> You want links? I’ve got one for ya:

Red Sox 4, Pirates 3:  Chad Kuhl’s solid outing (6.1 IP, 5 hits, 1 run, 6 strikeouts) was wasted by the bullpen.

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

Pirates: Josh Harrison 4, Starling Marte 8, Andrew McCutchen 8, Gregory Polanco 7, David Freese 5, John Jaso 3, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Gerrit Cole (0-1, 6.55)

Cubs: Kyle Schwarber 7, Kris Bryant 5, Anthony Rizzo 3, Ben Zobrist 9, Addison Russell 6, Jason Heyward 8, Miguel Montero 2, RHP Kyle Hendricks (1-0, 6.00), Javy Baez 4.

Gamecatst: Cole has twice as many victories at Wrigley Field (six) as in any other road venue. For comparison’s sake, Cole has just two road wins against all three other NL Central rivals combined. … Hendricks last season went 3-0 with an 0.47 ERA (one run in 19 innings) in three starts against the Pirates.

>>> Saturday’s game: Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 27.00)

Cubs:  RHP Jake Arrieta (2-0, 2.08)

>>> Sunday’s game: Pirates at Cubs, 2:20 p.m., Wrigley Field, Chicago. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (0-0, 1.38)

Cubs: LHP Jon Lester (0-0, 1.64)

>>> Monday’s game: Pirates at Cardinals, 7:05 p.m., Busch Stadium, St. Louis. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (1-1, 2.25)

Cardinals: RHP Lance Lynn (0-1, 5.23)

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

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Game 6: Marte uses all his tools

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

IceBucketAfter yesterday’s dramatic win against the Braves, Gerrit Cole had some high praise for walkoff home run hero Starling Marte: “He’s probably, truly the only five-tool player I’ve ever played with.”

Power wasn’t one of those tools last season, though. Marte went deep just nine times. He hit 19 homers in 2015. It wasn’t that Marte got off to a slow start last season, either — he hit three home runs by April 26.

Manager Clint Hurdle has repeatedly said he believes there is more juice in Marte’s bat. Will it show up this summer? “I don’t know,” Marte said through translator Mike Gonzalez. “We’ll see. I don’t try to hit home runs. I just try to put the ball in play, steal a base. Sometimes, I get a good swing and the ball goes.”

>>> About four hours before tonight’s game, Alen Hanson and Phil Gosselin took grounders at third and second base. Joey Cora looked on as Hurdle swung the fungo bat. The workout enabled Josh Bell to get in more reps snagging throws at first base. Two birds, one stone.

>>> According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Reds’ 8-0 win vs. the Cardinals was their second-largest shutout in St. Louis in the last 100 years. The Reds blanked the Cards,10-0, at Busch Stadium on Aug. 28, 2013.

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 6, Braves 5: Marte’s homer won it, but don’t overlook David Freese’s DP-busting slide in the ninth inning.

Notebook: In which Stewie makes his first start of the season and Glasnow awaits his turn.

>>> Monday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds (4-2): Billy Hamilton 8, Jose Peraza 6, Joey Votto 3, Adam Duvall 7, Eugenio Suarez 5, Scott Schebler 9, Zack Cozart 6, Scooter Gennett 4, Tucker Barnhart 2, LHP Brandon Finnegan (1-0, 0.00)

Pirates (3-2): Jordy Mercer 6, Starling Marte 8, Andrew McCutchen 9, Gregory Polanco 7, David Freese 5, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Bell 3, Adam Frazier 5, RHP Tyler Glasnow (2017 debut)

Gamecast: Finnegan won’t turn 24 until Friday but already is in his third season in the majors. On Wednesday vs. the Phillies, he became the first Reds pitcher to throw at least seven shutout innings while allowing no more than one hit in his first start of a season since Jerry Arrigo in 1967… Three of Glasnow’s seven outings with the Pirates last season came against the Reds. At Great American Ball Park, he tossed three scoreless innings of relief Sept. 18 and one hitless inning Sept. 16. At PNC Park, he gave up two runs on five hits in three innings Sept. 11.

UPDATE: 3:59 P.M.Josh Harrison is not in the lineup today, but will be available off the bench, per Hurdle. Harrison was struck by a pitch on his right calf in the eighth inning last night. He stayed in the game for the rest of that inning and limped as he made his way around the bases to score the Pirates’ third run, then was benched in the ninth. “It tightened up dramatically (during the game), but he felt better this morning,” Hurdle said. Harrison said he was fortunate to be hit on the right (back) leg. “If it had hit me on the left leg, it would have gotten a lot more bone,” Harrison said.

UPDATE: 6:24 P.M. — Zack Cozart was scratched due to a sore wrist. The new Reds lineup is above.

>>> Tuesday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: RHP Rookie Davis (0-0, 12.00)

Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (0-0, 0.00)

>>> Wednesday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: None (due to conflict with Penguins playoff game). Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: LHP Amir Garrett (1-0, 0.00)

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (1-0, 0.00)

>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 2:05 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-0, 3.60)

Red Sox: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (0-1, 7.20)

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

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