Game 45: Rainy night(s) in Georgia

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Story by Rob Biertempfel

ATLANTA — According to my phone’s weather app, we could be singing this song during the entire four-game series this week between the Pirates and Braves. Ladies and gentlemen, Brook Benton:

BillHinchman>>> Those of you who tuned into the Stanley Cup beat down yesterday afternoon might have missed the Pirates’ series-clinching win vs. the Phillies. David Freese took one for the team, driving in the game’s only run by getting hit with the bases loaded in the sixth inning. Per the wonks at Elias, it was the first time the Pirates won 1-0 on a HBP since May 31, 1915, when Bill Hinchman was plunked by the Cubs’ Jimmy Lavender.

>>> Jameson Taillon, who’s on the mend after having surgery for testicular cancer, made the trip with the team. “It’s the next thing to do,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “There’s no reason for him not to be here.”

>>> This is the Pirates’ first trip to SunTrust Park, which opened in April. Hurdle this afternoon took a walk around the fielSunTrust2d to get some sort of feel for how the park might play. “The playing field is fast and it is hitter-friendly,” he said. It’s not very Pittsburgh-friendly, though. This homage to Sid Bream’s slide is what greets you just outside the main entrance to the home clubhouse:

>>> Triple-A Indianapolis swept the International League weekly awards. INF Jason Rogers was named player of the week and LHP Steven Brault was named pitcher of the week. It’s the first time Indy ahs won both awards in the same week since joining the IL in 1998. The Indians are the first team to do it since Durham (Tampa Bay Rays) in July 2016. For the week, Brault put up a 0.69 ERA in two starts, including seven shutout innings on Sunday against Toledo. Rogers, 29, hit .400 with two doubles, two home runs, 11 RBI and one stolen base over eight games last week.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 1, Phillies 0: Chad Kuhl taps the breaks on his velo and rediscovers some success.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: GM Huntington says he’d love to spend some cash on a player or two, BUT …

>>> Monday: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Adam Frazier 7, Josh Harrison 4, Andrew McCutchen 8, Josh Bell 3, David Freese 5, John Jaso 9, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Gerrit Cole (2-4, 2.84) 1

Braves: Ender Inciarte 8, Brandon Phillips 4, NIck Markakis 9, Matt Kemp 7, Matt Adams 3, Tyler Flowers 2, Rio Ruiz 5, Dansby Swanson 6, RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2-4, 4.10) 1

>>> Tuesday: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (2-3, 7.34) Braves: RHP R.A. Dickey (3-3, 4.13)

>>> Wednesday: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (2-3, 6.04) Braves:RHP Julio Teheran (3-4, 5.47)

>>> Thursday: Pirates at Braves, 12:10 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (4-3, 2.63) Braves: RHP Bartolo Colón (2-4, 6.28)

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

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Game 44: Polanco “feels a lot better” after “a really good day” Saturday

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By Chris Adamski

NORTH SHORE – Gregory Polanco is eligible to come off the disabled list Thursday. Based on how the rehab on his left hamstring sprain is going, the outfielder appears well on track to do just that.

 

“It’s pretty good right now,” Polanco said of the hamstring that forced him out of the game a week ago Sunday. “Getting a lot better, better and better ever`yday.polanco

 

“Even swinging, (Saturday) I didn’t feel any pain.”

 

Saturday, Polanco played catch and hit balls off a tee. Manager Clint Hurdle called it “a really good day” for his erstwhile cleanup hitter. Polanco was to repeat those drills Sunday – if all goes well, he will take part in live batting practice Monday.

 

“Hopefully I’ll be back (activated) pretty soon,” Polanco said.

 

Though Polanco is hitting .252/.336/.370 with only one home run and nine RBIs on the season, he was hitting .333/.389/.545 with five extra-base hits in the 10 games before leaving the May 14 game at Arizona early.

 

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

“We love when he pitches.”

Nova, Pirates pull past Phillies

 

“This is where I plan on being. I can’t control it, though.”

Pirates notebook: McCutchen expects to stay put at trade deadline

 

 

>>> Sunday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: None. Radio: 93.7 FM

Phillies: Cesar Hernandez 4, Freddy Galvis 6, Aaron Altherr 7, Michael Saunders 9, Odubel Herrera 8, Maikel Franco 5, Brock Stassi 3, Andrew Knapp 2, RHP Aaron Nola (2-0, 5.40)

Pirates: Adam Frazier 7, Josh Harrison 4, Andrew McCutchen 8, Josh Bell 3, David Freese 5, John Jaso 9, Chris Stewart 2, Gift Ngoepe 6, RHP Chad Kuhl (1-4, 6.69)

Gamecast: Kuhl has dropped four straight decisions since beating the Braves on April 8 at PNC Park. He is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in one career start vs. the Phillies. … Pat Neshek this year became the first Phillies reliever to open a season with 14 consecutive scoreless outings since Cesar Jimenez in 2014. Since 1913, only four Phillies relievers have put up more zeroes at the start of the season. … Ex-Pirate Joely Rodriguez is in the Phils bullpen. He gave up seven runs Thursday vs. the Rangers, the most runs allowed by a Philadelphia reliever since Dustin McGowan yielded seven vs. the Orioles on June 6, 2015. It also is tied for the most runs allowed in a game by any MLB reliever this season.

 

>>> Monday’s game: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (2-4, 2.84)

Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2-4, 4.10)

 

>>> Tuesday’s game: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (2-3, 7.34)

Braves: RHP R.A. Dickey (3-3, 4.13)

 

>>> Wednesday’s game: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (2-3, 6.04)

Braves: RHP Julio Teheran (3-4, 5.47)

 

>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates at Braves, 12:10 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (4-3, 2.63)

Braves: RHP Bartolo Colon (2-4, 6.28)

 

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at cadamski@tribweb.com or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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Game 43: No win, but lessons learned for Williams

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Story by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Chaz Palla

Although he didn’t pick up a win, Trevor Williams gleaned important lessons last night during his start against the Phillies. Williams (2-3) worked 5.2 innings and gave up three runs on four hits. The Phillies didn’t square up many balls against him, but took advantage of two walks and a soft double fisted into shallow left field by Daniel Nava.

WilliamsChazThe first walk came in the third inning, after Freddy Galvis reached on a fan interference double. “A ground ball that got through the hole,” Williams said. With one out, Williams walked pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. Then Cesar Hernandez poked and RBI single up the middle. “A seeing-eye ball. That’s kind of the way today went,” Williams said.

In the sixth, Hernandez drew a leadoff walk and Nava doubled. “I had to limit the damage as much as I could,” Williams said. “Then we got two pitches and two outs after that.” Those two outs were signifiant, though — a run-scoring grounder and a sacrifice fly that put the Phillies up to stay, 3-2.

Williams didn’t make it out of the inning, as Odubel Herrera grounded a weak single to cap an 11-pitch at-bat. Williams was visibly upset as he saw the ball sneak through the middle into center field. “It was a battle I wanted to win really bad, especially to finish my start,” Williams said.

Williams did not register a strikeout, the byproduct of a limited arsenal. “I didn’t have my slider,” he said. “It was pretty clear early on in the game that it ws just fastball-changeup and working the sinker. They were swinging early, there were a lot of quick outs, so we were just riding that. You have to do what you can with the pitches you’ve got.” The slider eventually came around, but by then Williams’ outing was nearly over. Making his third straight start in place of Jameson Taillon (cancer), Williams threw a career-high 93 pitches

“We’re getting better,” Williams said. “We’re getting into a routine and the pitch count is going up. I’m going to just roll with it. We’ll reassess (on Saturday) and get ready for four days from now.”

>>> UPDATE 12:56 p.m. – Josh Lindblom woke up this morning with some left side discomfort, per the Pirates, so he’s been placed on the 10-day DL. That conveniently opens a roster spot for reliever Jhan Marinez, who was just claimed off waivers. Manager Clint Hurdle said Marinez will fill the type of role once performed by Jared Hughes — a sinkerballer who will be called upon with runners on base and who can pitch part of an inning or multiple innings.

>>> Here’s a tasty tidbit: Tony Watson (who’ll almost certainly will be traded in July before he hits the free-agent market this winter) has hired Scott Boras as his new agent.

>>> For what it’s worth …

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Phillies 7, Pirates 2: Two quick runs, then … silence.

Taillon: “When you have the word cancer involved, it’s a whole other dimension — you’re talking life, death, whatever.”

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

Phillies (15-24): Cesar Hernandez 4, Freddy Galvis 6, Aaron Atherr 7, Tommy Joseph 3, Odubel Herrera 8, Maikel Franco 5, Michael Saunders 9, Cameron Rupp 2, RHP Vince Velasquez (2-3, 5.63) 1

Pirates (18-24): Adam Frazier 7, Josh Harrison 4, Andrew McCutchen 8, Josh Bell 3, David Freese 5, John Jaso 9, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Ivan Nova (3-3, 2.48) 1

Gamecast: Over the first six games of their road trip (three games each vs. the Nationals and Rangers), the Phillies’ bullpen put up a 6.34 ERA and a .310 batting average against. … Since April 20, Tommy Joseph has raised his batting average 104 points by collecting 23 hits, including 12 for extra bases, in 79 plate appearances. … Nova is 1-0 with a 0.71 ERA in two career starts vs. the Phillies. On Sept. 13, 2016, he whiffed 11 and gave up one earned run, but got a no-decision at Citizens Bank Park. He tossed 6.2 scoreless innings for the Yankees on June 24, 2015.

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

Phillies: RHP Aaron Nola (2-0, 5.40) Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-4, 6.69)

>>> Monday: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Gerrit Cole (2-4, 2.84) Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2-4, 4.10)

>>> Tuesday: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (2-3, 7.34) Braves: RHP Julio Teheran (3-4, 5.47)

>>> Wednesday: Pirates at Braves, 7:35 p.m. SunTrust Park, Atlanta. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (2-3, 6.04) Braves: RHP R.A. Dickey (3-3, 4.13)

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

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Game 42: Taillon working his way back

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Story and video by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

TaillonST2017The night before his last start on May 3 in Cincinnati, Jameson Taillon felt, as he put it, “something odd” in his groin. He mentioned it to the Pirates’ training staff and within days was diagnosed with suspected testicular cancer. 

Today, Taillon made his first public comments after having surgery to remove a tumor that lab results later confirmed was cancerous. “I’m feeling good now, feeling healthy,” Taillon said. “We’re getting all good news back so far. Going forward, it will have to be something I’ll have to monitor. It will be something I’ll carry with me the rest of my life. It’s part of my identity now.”

Since his surgery, Taillon has been in touch with Rockies pitcher Chad Bettis, who was diagnosed with testicular cancer last fall and recently finished a round of chemotherapy. Cancer survivors Andrew Lambo, Lance Armstrong and John Kruk also have reached out. Lambo and Taillon were once teammates at Double-A Altoona. Kruk advised him to take his time coming back from the surgery.

Taillon has visited the Pirates clubhouse and has been cleared for light workouts. There is no timetable yet for when he might return to game action. “We’re going to truly go day to day,” Taillon said. “I still have to do blood work to make sure my markers are where they need to be. Once we get those results back, that will be time to map out a more strict plan.”

>>> UPDATE 5:41 p.m. — The Pirates claimed right-hander Jhan Marinez off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers. Marinez, 28, went 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in 15 relief outings before being designated for assignment on Tuesday. Marinez made his debut in 2010 with the Miami Marlins and has put up a 3.63 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP over 68 relief outings in the majors. He throws a slider and a two-seam fastball that averages 95 mph. The Pirates will make a corresponding roster move when Marinez joins the team.

>>> Gerrit Cole will be featured on “Play Ball,” a show geared toward young fans, at 10 a.m. Saturday on MLB Network. Here are a couple of sneak peeks:

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 10, Nationals 4: Josh Bell, making his debut in the cleanup spot, ignites the offense

Notebook: Jaso shrugs off critics, Frazier sings a happy tune

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

Phillies (14-24): Cesar Hernandez 4, Daniel Nava 9, Aaron Atherr 7, Tommy Joseph 3, Odubel Herrera 8, Maikel Franco 5, Freddy Galvis 6, Cameron Rupp 2, RHP Jeremy Hellickson (4-1, 3.71) 1

Pirates (18-23): Josh Harrison 4, Josh Bell 3, Andrew McCutchen 8, David Freese 5, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jose Osuna 9, Danny Ortiz 7, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Trevor Williams (2-2, 6.41) 1

Gamecast: This will be Williams’ third start since replacing Jameson Taillon (testicular cancer) in the rotation. In his last outing, Williams picked up the win (5.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 SO) vs. the Diamondbacks. … Williams has never faced the Phillies. … Cesar Hernandez leads NL second basemen in runs scored and pitches per plate appearance (3.99). He trails only the Nationals Daniel Murphy in OBP (.374) and total bases. … Right-handed hitters were 0 for 20 vs. Phillies RHP reliever Joaquin Benoit until Seattle’s Danny Valencia hit an RBI double on May 10. Benoit is holding righties to a .077 batting average.

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

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (2-3, 5.63) Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (3-3, 2.48)

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

Phillies: RHP Aaron Nola (2-0, 5.40) Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-4, 6.69)

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

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Game 41: Bench Cutch? “It hasn’t been discussed.”

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Story and videos by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Chaz Palla

CutchOnBaseLast August, manager Clint Hurdle benched Andrew McCutchen for a road series against the Braves. Before yesterday’s game, McCutchen and I chatted for about 20 minutes on the field. He kept repeating his deep, bitter disappoinment with his current batting funk. When I asked Cutch if it might be worthwhile to sit out a couple of games again as a slump-buster, he practically spit.

“It hasn’t been brought up to me at all. It hasn’t been discussed,” McCutchen said. “I don’t need to give them an excuse to even think about that. I didn’t help me. I don’t think so. People will say, ‘But you hit .280 after that.’ I said in a meeting (with Hurdle) before (being benched), ‘I did something in my last at-bat that felt really good and I’m going to stick with that approach the rest of the season.’ So, for those three days, I sat there and pondered on that one at-bat. Jeremy Jeffries. A tough pitcher, who I don’t have a whole lot of success against. I stayed inside on a fastball that ran in and hit it up the middle. And I was like, ‘Yes!’ If I had played those three games, I could have hit .290 instead of .280. I don’t think it really did much. If anything, it had me sit on that for three days.”

Apparently, a lot of yinz would like to see McCutchen get some time off — even if that means playing an untested, hybrid outfield of Jose Osuna, Adam Frazier and Danny Ortiz:

Of course, hours after that poll closed, Cutch went 2 for 4 with two RBI, two runs scored and two stolen bases vs. the Nats.

>>> This morning, a South Korean court upheld Jung Ho Kang’s suspended sentence for his most recent drunk-driving conviction. Kang’s attorney described that as a “death sentence” for Kang’s MLB career. While that’s probably hyperbole, the ruling does keep a cloud over the issue of when — or even if — Kang will be able to rejoin the Pirates this season. I’ll have more on this as it develops. UPDATE 10:32 a.m.: Prez Frank Coonelly is expected to release a statement this afternoon on Kang’s failed appeal. Neither Coonelly (in NY at MLB owners’ meetings) nor GM Neal Huntington (at Pirate City in Bradenton) is with the team today. As it was explained to me, Kang’s suspended jail sentence was not the hang-up in him getting a work visa to play in the United States. The U.S. government is focused on the fact that he was convicted of a crime (for the third time) rather than the penalty for the crime.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 6, Nationals 1: Gerrit Cole tosses another gem and finally gets some run support, including a big bop from this guy:

McCutchen deep down inside surely is at least a little pissed at management, but he’ll only say out loud that he’s angry at himself.

>>> Thursday: Nationals at Pirates, 12:35 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Nationals (25-14): Trea Turner 6, Brian Goodwin 7, Bryce Harper 9, Anthony Rendon 5, Daniel Murphy 4, Matt Wieters 2, Adam Lind 3, Michael Taylor 8, RHP Tanner Roark (3-1, 3.88) 1

Pirates (17-23): Adam Frazier 7, Josh Harrison 5, Andrew McCutchen 8, Josh Bell 3, John Jaso 9, Jordy Mercer 6, Alen Hanson 4, Chris Stewart 2, RHP Tyler Glasnow (1-3, 7.98) 1

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

Phillies: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (4-1, 3.71) Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (2-2, 6.41)

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

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (2-3, 5.63) Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (3-3, 2.48)

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

Phillies: RHP Aaron Nola (2-0, 5.40). Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-4, 6.69)

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

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Game 40: How ’bout a little love (and some runs) for Cole?

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Story and video by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

ColeMoundGerrit Cole’s been pretty good over his last six starts. Unfortunately for him, the Pirates’ offense in that span has been awful.

Cole’s put up a 2.08 ERA and a .197 batting average against. He’s been charged with two or fewer earned runs in each of those half-dozen outings. His 2.08 ERA since April 14 is second best in the NL behind Lance Lynn’s 2.06.

Yet, the Pirates have scored a total of five runs while Cole has been on the mound over his past five starts. His 1.98 run-support average is lowest among major league pitchers.

>>> PLANET OF THE ACHES UPDATE 4:45 p.m.: Gregory Polanco was placed on the 10-day disabled list, retroactive to Monday, with a sore left hamstring. Outfielder Danny Ortiz was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis. … Jameson Taillon‘s pathology report confirmed he had testicular cancer. He will be re-evaluated next week and has been cleared to play catch and do light cardio workouts. There is no timetable for when he will return to game action. … Josh Harrison was given a scheduled day off on Wednesday. Harrison said he’s healthy. … Right-hander Nick Kingham, who’s on the way back from Tommy John surgery, was cleared to rejoin Indy’s rotation.

>>> I didn’t realize Bryce Harper’s laser shot in the ninth inning last night was his first homer at PNC Park, which means he now has gone deep at every NL ballyard. It took 14 games and 58 plate appearances before Harper finally put a ball over the Clemente Wall. “I knew that,” Harper told MASN’s Dan Kolko. “So I’m able to get that out of the way and definitely happy to check it off the list.”

The ball  flew off the bat at 112.6 mph (or, for those who don’t speak Statcast, really fast) and would have reached the Allegheny River if it handed banged into the top row of seats.

>>> John Jaso is taking a lot of heat for his slow start at the plate, including from the fan last night who screamed, “Cut your hair!” after Jaso struck out. And, yeah, even Jaso will admit that he’s never going to win a Gold Glove in the outfield. But you cannot dispute the guy’s effort, especially when it produces a web gem …

https://twitter.com/statcast/status/864705394941337600

>>> Here’s a quick take from assistant GM Kyle Stark about RHP Hai-Cheng Gong, the international free agent signed on Monday out of China: “We think he’s got some upside as he fills out. We like how the arm works and see some growth potential with his secondary stuff, especially the changeup.” Stark indicated it’s too soon to say whether Gong projects as a starter or reliever: “We will look to get him to (rookie level Bradenton) and go from there.”

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Nationals 8, Pirates 4: “He was out there giving everything he (had). Sometimes, giving everything you’ve got gets in the way.”

Notebook: As his native country bleeds, Rivero yearns for an end to the unrest.

When you use this link, a portion of ticket proceeds from the June 13 game vs. the Rockies will be donated to the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon.

Thon2016

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

Nationals (25-13): Trea Turner 6, Jayson Werth 7, Bryce Harper 9, Ryan Zimmerman 3, Daniel Murphy 4, Anthony Rendon 5, Brain Goodwin 8, Jose Lobaton 2, RHP Jacob Turner (2-1, 3.31) 1

Pirates (16-23): Adam Frazier 7, John Jaso 9, Andrew McCutchen 8, David Freese 5, Josh Bell 3, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jordy Merer 6, Gift Ngoepe 4, RHP Gerrit Cole (1-4, 3.06) 1

Gamecast: The Nationals have not faced Cole at PNC Park since 2015. In his two career starts vs. the Nats at home, Cole is 1-0 with a 1.98 ERA. … Only one current National has homered off Cole. It’s not Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rendon. It’s Michael Taylor, who went into this series with 24 homers in 807 career at-bats. … Then again, Taylor has flashed some power lately. On Sunday, he mashed a two-run shot in the eighth inning to produced a 6-5 win vs. the Phillies. It was his second home run this season. … Through Monday, there was a Nationals player atop the MLB leaderboards in batting average (Ryan Zimmerman), OBP (Harper), slugging percentage (Zimmerman), OPS (Zimmerman), runs (Harper), hits (Zimmerman), total bases (Zimmerman), intentional walks (Harper) and extra-base hits (Zimmerman).

>>> Thursday: Nationals at Pirates, 12:35 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Nationals: RHP Tanner Roark (3-1, 3.88). Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (1-3, 7.98)

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

Phillies: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (4-1, 3.71). Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (2-2, 6.41)

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

Phillies RHP Vince Velasquez (2-3, 5.63). Pirates RHP Ivan Nova (3-3, 2.48)

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

Phillies RHP Aaron Nola (2-0, 5.40). Pirates RHP Chad Kuhl (1-4, 6.69)

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

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Twilight for McCutchen

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Story by Rob Biertempfel/Photos by Christopher Horner

Andrew McCutchen is now just another player on the Pirates’ roster. Nothing special. He has no cachet, no stature with management.

That’s how it appears, at least, after what transpired CutchAtBatlate in Tuesday’s 8-4 loss against the Nationals. And, to be sure, McCutchen and his teammates have taken notice.

In the seventh inning, the Pirates scored three runs to pull within 6-4. With a runner on third base, McCutchen stuck out swinging to end the inning.

Manager Clint Hurdle then removed McCutchen from the game as part of a double-switch. Jose Osuna, who entered as a pinch-hitter and delivered an RBI single in the seventh, stayed in to play left field. Adam Frazier replaced McCutchen in center.

No long ago, it would have been laughable to suggest switching out McCutchen, a five-time All-Star and former MVP, in the late innings of a two-run game.

Yet, this version of McCutchen is batting .206 with a .670 OPS, and is on pace for 121 strikeouts. Remember how badly he scuffled in the first half of last season? His performance at this point is much worse than it was a year ago — after 39 games in 2016, he was batting .248 with an .805 OPS.

Explaining the move, Hurdle said he knew Osuna, who was in the No. 9 spot, would get another at-bat. If McCutchen stayed in the game, Osuna’s spot would go to a relief pitcher, then later to either Chris Stewart or Gift Ngoepe as a pinch-hitter. “There was no guarantee we’d get to (McCutchen’s No. 3 spot) again,” Hurdle said. “So that’s why he was taken out.”

With two outs in the ninth inning, Osuna singled and Frazier doubled. Josh Harrison struck out to end the game — with Stewart, who would have pinch hit in what was McCutchen’s spot, standing on deck.

After the game, McCutchen made a quick getaway. He was not in the clubhouse when it was opened to the media. 

UPDATE 7:32 p.m.: I spoke with McCutchen one-on-one this afternoon. You can read his comments here …

I did speak with a couple other players, who brought up McCutchen’s situation without being prompted. The vibe was not good.

CutchLookUpYes, McCutchen is struggling. Everyone can see that. But when the Face of the Franchise — a guy with a team-friendly contract who was nearly  traded last winter, who then was moved out of his long-time position a couple of weeks later, who faces another position switch to left when Starling Marte returns, who almost certainly will be dealt away by the end of July like he was Nyjer Morgan or Jose Tabata or Alex Presley — is benched in favor of a rookie who wasn’t even on the opening day roster, regardless of the outcome in a game, it hits guys hard. They start looking over their shoulders. If it can happen to McCutchen, who’s next?

This kind of thing is how managers lose their clubhouses. It drives a wedge. It does not end well, even if just in the short term. The situation with McCutchen, Pirates management and the condition of the clubhouse will bear watching as May melts into June and on toward what could be a turbulent July.

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

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Game 39: Back at it

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Story by Rob Biertempfel

Miss me last week? Or perhaps you didn’t notice I was away. Either way, I’m back for the start of this homestand, then I’ll be off to Atlanta. This is a chance for the Pirates to recoup some confidence after a dumpster fire of a road trip out west. They’re 5-1 so far this year against the NL East, having swept the Braves and taken two of three from the Marlins. In 47 career games against the Nationals, Andrew McCutchen is hitting .333 with 14 home runs and 32 RBI. In 27 games vs. the Nats at PNC Park, he’s hitting .370.

>>> Gregory Polanco, who tweaked his left hamstring over the weekend in Phoenix, is not in the lineup today. UPDATE 4:13 p.m. : Polanco spoke briefly in the clubhouse about a half-hour ago and said he … 1. felt better, 2.  hadn’t yet tested his hammy in the batting cage, 3. did not believe he’s in good enough shape to run at game speed. 

>>> Back in December, it looked for a while like this series would mark Andrew McCutchen’s return to Pittsburgh for the first time with a different team. That trade didn’t pan out — the Nats instead dealt for Adam Eaton, who’s out for the season due to a torn ACL — and McCutchen stayed put. I wonder if, considering the state of both teams at the moment, he doesn’t sometimes wish it had gone through.

>>> The Nats haven’t yet named their starting pitcher for Wednesday.  Jacob Turner was supposed to pitch, but he pitched one inning of relief on Sunday, as Washington’s bullpen continued to struggle. One intriguing possibility: RHP Erick Fredde. The Nats’ top pitching prospect is 2-3 with a 3.16 ERA at Double-A Harrisburg.

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

Nationals (24-13): Trea Turner 6, Jayson Werth 7, Bryce Harper 9, Ryan Zimmerman 3, Anthony Rendon 5, Matt Wieters 2, Michael A Taylor 8, Wilmer Difo 4, RHP Stephen Strasburg (3-1, 3.28)

Pirates (16-22): Adam Frazier 7, Josh Harrison 4, Andrew McCutchen 8, John Jaso 9, David Freese 5, Josh Bell 3, Francisco Cervelli 2, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Chad Kuhl (1-3, 5.81) 1

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

Nationals: TBA vs. Pirates RHP Gerrit Cole (1-4, 3.06)

>>> Thursday: Nationals at Pirates, 12:35 p.m. PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Nationals: RHP Tanner Roark (3-1, 3.88). Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (1-3, 7.98)

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

Phillies: TBA. Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (2-2, 6.41)

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

Phillies TBA. Pirates RHP Ivan Nova (3-3, 2.48)

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

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Game 31: Williams steps into rotation

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Story and videos by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

WilliamsST2017RHP Trevor Williams will start on Monday in place of RHP Jameson Taillon, who’s on the DL with a sore groin. From what manager Clint Hurdle said last night, neither RHP Drew Hutchison (0-1, 5.00 ERA in five starts for Triple-A Indianapolis) noR LHP Steven Brault (0-3, 3.52 in six starts) was an option for the gig.

“Williams is our sixth depth starter,” Hurdle said. “Hutchison needs to continue to pitch (at Indy). Brault is in a place we thought he was at last year when we called him up. He’s getting better. We believe this our best option and opportunity right now. Williams is ahead of Brault and Hutchison right now. Those guys will stay in line and continue to pitch.”

>>> Hurdle said Andrew McCutchen is getting a scheduled day off today. Josh Harrison, however, is not in the lineup due to what the skipper described as a “throbbing foot,” which was struck by a foul tip a couple of days ago. Both players are slated to play every game of the upcoming road trip.

>>> Free advice for the brain surgeon who schedules the Pittsburgh Marathon: Next year, pick up a Pirates schedule first and pick a day when they’re not playing a day game a few hundred yards from your finish line.

>>> Josh Lindblom was in Columbus with Indy when he found out around 2:45 yesterday afternoon he was being sent to Pirates. “(Manager Andy) Barkett called me in and said it was good news and bad news,” Lindblom said. “The bad news was for them because I wasn’t going to be able to bring donuts in anymore on day games in Indy. … There’s a little spot called Titus Bakery right on my way to the field where I stop. (The team) is devastated. I don’t think the strength and conditioning staff is devastated, though.”

CAUTION: This video is rated R for one profanity that drops about halfway through:

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 2, Brewers 1: They blew two early scoring chances and nearly wasted another gem by Gerrit Cole.

Notebook: In which Taillon is disabled, Bell tinkers, Kuhl is stuck in a rut and Rivero keeps on trucking.

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

Brewers (15-16): Jonathan Villar 4, Eric Thames 3, Hernan Perez 7, Travis Shaw 5, Domingo Santana 9, Jeff Bandy 2, Keon Broxton 8, Orlando Arcia 6, RHP Zach Davies (2-2, 6.07) 1

Pirates (14-16): John Jaso 3, Jordy Mercer 6, Josh Bell 3, Gregory Polanco 8, Jose Osuna 7, Phil Gosselin 4, Gift Ngoepe 5, Chris Stewart 2, RHP Tyler Glasnow (1-1, 6.97)

Gamecast: Davies left his last start on Monday vs. the Cardinals with a 4-2 lead (5.0 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 3 K), but wound up with a no-decision. He went 0-2 with a 8.79 ERA in his first three starts. Over his past three starts, he is 2-0 with a 3.52 ERA. Davies has not turned in a quality start this season. … An MRI exam showed OF Ryan Braun has a strained flexor in his right arm, but he won’t need to go on the DL. Bruan was ruled out for this series, but might be able to pinch-hit by mid-week. … Glasnow recorded his first big league victory in his last start. He also went 1 for 2 with a pair of walks and three RBI in the 12-3 win vs. the Reds. Glasnow has never faced the Brewers. … On April 21, 3B Travis Shaw hit a 458-foot homer off Cardinals ace Carlos Martinez. With an exit velo of 113.8 mph, it was the Brewers’ hardest-hit ball this season. “One of the best balls I’ve ever hit,” Shaw said. The Brewers acquired Shaw last December as part of the trade that sent reliever Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox.

>>> Monday: Pirates at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Trevor Williams (1-1, 5.40) vs. Dodgers: LHP Alex Wood (2-0, 3.28)

>>> Tuesday: Pirates at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (3-3, 2.14) vs. Dodgers: LHP Julio Urias (0-0, 0.84)

>>> Wednesday: Pirates at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-2, 5.54) vs. Dodgers: RHP Kenta Maeda (2-2, 5.81)

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

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Game 30: LeBlanc continues to impress

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Story and video by Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

LeBlanc2017It was a relatively quick look that the Pirates got at Wade LeBlanc last season. The lefty appeared in just eight games after being acquired from the Mariners in September, but LeBlanc showed enough to impress manager Clint Hurdle.

“In the 12 innings that he pitched, he gave us a nice shot in the arm when we were treading water,” Hurdle said. “He had a couple multi-inning appearances. We put him in a leverage situation in Milwaukee one night. He’s got a slow heartbeat. Man has no ego. He’s a survivor. He’s very diligent and conscientious. I like the man, I like the skill set. He’s a guy who’s been around. He doesn’t try to overthink things. He’s just looking for an opportunity to pitch and believes he can make a difference on the mound.”

LeBlanc, 32, made his big league debut in 2008 as a starter for the Padres. In 2012, when he was with the Marlins, LeBlanc worked as a part-time reliever. The Pirates are the first team to use him full-time out of the bullpen in the majors. The Pirates brought LeBlanc back for $750,000 this season. The deal includes a $1.25 million club option for 2018 or a $50,000 buyout.

>>> Yinz want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 4, Brewers 0: Wade LeBlanc tosses three scoreless innings and comes up with a big hit, too.

Notebook: In which Jared Hughes says “Hello” to Pittsburgh, the Pirates say “Stick around” to Elias Diaz, and Hurdle says he admires Eric Thames’ perseverance.

ClementeRing

Want to wear Roberto Clemente’s snazzy suit? How about his 1971 World Series ring? You can buy them at the All-Star FanFest auction.

>>> Last night’s game drew 21,129 (paid attendance, that is). Perhaps I should have been more specific and asked if any game would draw more than 20K in actual, physical butts in the seats.

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

Brewers (15-15): Jonathan Villar 4, Eric Thames 3, Hernan Perez 6, Travis Shaw 5, Doingo Santana 9, Manny Pina 2, Nick Franklin 7, Keon Broxton 8, RHP Matt Garza (1-0, 3.38) 1

Pirates (13-16): Josh Harrison 5, Josh Bell 3, Andrew McCutchen 8, Gregory Polanco 7, Francisco Cervelli 2, John Jaso 9, Jordy Mercer 6, Gift Ngoepe 4, RHP Gerrit Cole (1-3, 3.50) 1

Gamecast: Garza began the season on the 10-day DL due to a strained right groin. … In 13 career starts vs. the Pirates, Garza is 3-6 with a 4.43 ERA. … Brewers RHP Corey Knebel registered at least one strikeout in each of his first 15 appearances (14.1 IP, 19 K). He went into this series as the only reliever in the majors with at least one whiff in every outings (minimum 10 games). … Cole has dropped each of his past two decisions since beating the Cubs on April 14 at Wrigley Field. He has gotten one run of support or less in three of his six starts. Cole has yielded three earned runs in 13.0 IP at PNC Park this year. … Andrew McCutchen continues to see a lot of sliders. Per Statcast, he’s batting .200 with a .305 slugging percentage against sliders, with one home run and 79 whiffs on 520 pitches. He’s batting .407 on all pitches that are middle-away, but .263 on those that are up-away and .256 on down-away.

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

Brewers: RHP Zach Davies (2-2, 6.07) vs. Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (1-1, 6.97)

>>> Monday: Pirates at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (2-1, 3.31) vs. Dodgers: LHP Alex Wood (2-0, 3.28)

>>> Tuesday: Pirates at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (3-3, 2.14) vs. Dodgers: LHP Julio Urias (0-0, 0.84)

>>> Wednesday: Pirates at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m. Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-2, 5.54) vs. Dodgers: RHP Kenta Maeda (2-2, 5.81)

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

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– Rob Biertempfel