Pregame: Trading places

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DerrekLeePHILADELPHIA — They filmed the ’80s flick “Trading Places” here, so I guess it’s appropriate to make that the them for today. You already know about Derrek Lee — more on him in a moment. But there’s also this, from a few trusty sources around the game …

The Pirates continue to reach out for an outfielder. As of late this morning, they were still in play for Ryan Ludwick. But I’m told he is not their top target. Jason Kubel, perhaps? The Pirates also would welcome some pitching help, especially another late-inning reliever.

»»» Manager Clint Hurdle said the team must decided by pregame Monday whether or not to put shortstop Ronny Cedeno (right knee) on the DL. Cedeno took the hint and said he feels pretty good about his chances of playing tomorrow.

»»» Now, on to Lee. He will NOT join the team today, even though he played yesterday in New York, a two-hour drive up the highway from here. Lyle Overbay will start today at first base against the Phillies. Will Overbay still be with the Pirates after Lee arrives? Probably not.

… I asked Overbay how he felt about the situation. “What situation?” Overbay replied. “I don’t know anything different than you do.” I don’t buy that. Overbay and Hurdle had a private talk in the skipper’s office this morning. A half-hour later, after the bulk of the players arrived on the team bus, there was a closed-door team meeting in the clubhouse.

… Hurdle’s reaction to getting Lee: “I am happy. He’ll get the volume of games at first base. He’s a veteran major league player who’s got a very strong pedigree. We believe he’s got good, productive baseball left in him. I spoke with him last night. He’s anxious to join the club.”

… The Pirates essentially will pick up the balance of Lee’s contract, which puts them on the hook for about $2.3 million. The Orioles will cover whatever bonus clauses Lee triggers the rest of the way.

Lineups for today’s game:

Pirates (54-51) – 1. Xavier Paul lf, 2. Garrett Jones rf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Lyle Overbay 1b, 7. Brandon Wood ss, 8. Eric Fryer c, 9. Jeff Karstens rhp (8-5, 2.41)

Phillies (67-39) – 1. Jimmy Rollins ss, 2. Shane Victorino cf, 3. Chase Utley 2b, 4. Ryan Howard 1b, 5. Hunter Pence rf, 6. Raul Ibanez lf, 7. Brian Schneider c, 8. Michael Martinez 3b, 9. Vance Worley rhp (7-1, 2.02)

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Pregame: Cedeno out with sore knee

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PHILADELPHIA — Shortstop Ronny Cedeno is out of action due to a sore right knee, which he injured in a collision with Xavier Paul in the second inning of Thursday’s game against Atlanta. “It’s just bruised,” Cedeno said. “It’s tough to move side to side.” Manager Clint Hurdle said he wasn’t sure yet if Cedeno will be available to pinch hit tonight.

»»» Right-hander James McDonald hasn’t allowed a run in 11 2/3 innings, the fourth-longest active streak in the NL. Jeff Karstens set the team high this season by tossing 15 2/3 straight scoreless innings. Since April 27, McDonald’s 2.68 ERA ranks eighth among NL pitchers.

»»» Hunter Pence’s arrival today in Philly is potentially bad news for the Pirates. In 67 games against the Pirates, Pence has hit .314 with eight homers, 38 RBI and a .840 OPS. Since 2010, he has 44 hits against the Pirates — the most by any player in the majors against one team. He is 5 for 8 in his career against McDonald.

Lineups for today’s game:

Pirates (54-49) – 1. Pedro Ciriaco ss, 2. Matt Diaz lf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Steve Pearce rf, 6. Brandon Wood 1b, 7. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 8. Michael McKenry c, 9. James McDonald rhp (7-4, 3.95)

Phillies (65-39) – 1. Jimmy Rollins ss, 2. Shane Victorino cf, 3. Chase Utley 2b, 4. Ryan Howard 1b, 5. Hunter Pence rf, 6. Raul Ibanez lf, 7. Placido Polanco 3b, 8. Carlos Ruiz c, 9. Cliff Lee lhp (9-7, 3.05)

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Pregame: Black and gold in Philly

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PHILADELPHIA — I took my kids to Kennywood yesterday. I always try to do something totally Yinzer before taking a trip to Philly, kind of an innoculation against the Eastern Pa. mojo. This afternoon, I saw a lot of folks wearing black and gold among the crowd queued up to see the Liberty Bell — a good sign.

The press box here this afternoon is abuzz about the potential Hunter Pence trade. Funny, but some of the Philly writers aren’t eager to see the deal go down; they’d rather see the club hang on to Domonic Brown because they aren’t sure Pence can be a difference-maker in the Phils’ lineup. On the other side of the state, meanwhile, everybody would love to see Pence in a Pirates uniform.

»»» Ross Ohlendorf’s rehab was transferred to Triple-A Indy. He will start tonight against Charlotte.

»»» Opposing baserunners are 7 for 7 in steal attempts against catcher Ryan Doumit in his three-game rehab stint with Indy. Doumit is 0 for 10 at the plate.

»»» Since being optioned down to Indy, reliever Daniel Moskos has pitched nine straight scorelss innings over five outings.

»»» Kevin Correia is the first Pirates to win 10 road games in a season by the end of July since Burleigh Grimes in 1929.

»»» The Pirates have homered in three straight games, their longest streak since a four-game stretch May 5-8.

»»» The Pirates are 13-10 with three games to play in July after going 16-11 in June. They haven’t notched a winning record in back-to-back months since 1997 in July (16-12) and August (15-14).

Lineups for today’s game:

Pirates (54-49) – 1. Xavier Paul lf, 2. Garrett Jones rf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Lyle Overbay 1b, Brandon Wood ss, 8. Michael McKenry c, 9. Charlie Morton rhp (8-5, 3.69)

Phillies (65-39) – 1. Jimmy Rollins ss, 2. Domonic Brown rf, 3. Chase Utley 2b, 4. Ryan Howard 1b, 5. Victorino cf, 6. Raul Ibanez lf, 7. Carlos Ruiz c, 8. Wilson Valdez 3b, 9. Roy Halladay (12-4, 2.55)

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Morton talks Halladay; Thursday post-game

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Charlie Morton talked for a long time with reporters this morning over the comparisons between him and Roy Halladay, against whom he’ll be pitching tomorrow as the Pirates open their series against the Phillies.

The similarity this year is remarkable, especially when television broadcasts show the two right-handers on split screen.

But Morton said there was no big overhaul of his delivery from 2010 to now. He’s always watched and admired Halladay – still does – and he noticed the shoulder tuck thing that Halladay does. He decided to try it himself, and let’s face it, Morton had a 7.57 ERA last year. He would have pitched while standing on his head if he could find a way to do it successfully and get back to the majors.

It felt good, he started pitching better, and stuck with it.

“I guess if that qualifies as me overhauling my delivery to look like Roy Halladay, OK,” Morton said. “It’s a story, I mean, I had an 8 ERA last year and I’m pitching better and people want to make it sound like it’s a major overhaul. The arm angle was the biggest thing. I like watching him pitch. I think watching him has really helped me a lot. I’ve admired what he’s done in his career. But I think it was blown out of proportion.”

Anything that Morton has done in his career mechanically, he said, is to benefit his career, not because he’s trying to be someone else.

“I’m not delusional, I don’t think, ‘Oh my God, people are saying I look like Roy Halladay and I’m pitching like Roy Halladay, so I’m Roy Halladay.’” Morton said. “I didn’t do the shoulder tuck thing that he does to be Roy Halladay, I did it to see if it worked. And I was pitching well.”

= Morton also revealed that they’ve been working on a few things lately to address a slight drop in velocity in recent starts.

= Here’s Clint Hurdle talking about Pedro Alvarez’s big double-play to end the seventh inning with a runner on and Chipper Jones pinch hitting: “The conversation we had on the mound was hey, if you get a ball, and you’ve got to lay out or you bobble, don’t hurry because Chipper’s not running well. Take your time. And sure enough, he laid out, gloved the ball and he did take his time. Big play for us, absolutely.”

= The Pirates struck out 14 times on Thursday, bringing their total on the season to 801, the fifth-highest total in the league. “When you’re producing runs, you can live with it,” Hurdle said. “When you’re not producing runs, it’s hard. … The only good strikeouts are the ones where you’re getting 7, 8, 9, 10 pitches that you’re doing something with. And that’s been one of the blemishes that’s we’ve really not been able to make major progress on.”

= Just one last thing, and that’s what a remarkable series this really was. The offense was abysmal, for the most part, and everyone knows the Pirates got completely robbed in the 19-inning game. But they could have gone 4-0, against the Braves, on the road. Instead, they split it, 2-2, which is what good teams are supposed to do on the road anyway. It’s no secret that this is a telling stretch for the Pirates, and while it’s not over, this series spoke volumes about how hard this team fights and how well they hold their own against the big boys.

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Pregame: Mystery injury

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Left fielder Alex Presley, still bothered by his mysterious thumb injury, is not in the lineup again today. The Pirates identify the injury as a “contusionm,” which could cover a whole range of maladies. Presley offered a bit more — but not much — clarificiation this morning.

“It’s kind of a nerve thing,” Presley said. “I don’t want to get too much into it. It’s not your standard bruise on the hand. Other than icing it, there’s not a whole lot you can do. I guess I’ll have to wait it out.”

Presley said x-rays were negative. Manager Clint Hurdle said Presley has seen two doctors, but did not elaborate.

According to Presley, the injury happened during an at-bat Friday. “It’s happened before, but not that way. It’s very odd,” Presley said. Since then, he’s lost grip strength and cannot properly hold a bat.

»»» The Pirates would have to draw more than 40,000 fans today to break the franchise attendance record for a three-game series. Not gonna happen. Still, they’ve drawn 77,592 for the first two games against the Cards. If today’s game is a sellout, this series will surpass the 108,807 total from the Phillies series and move into fifth place in PNC Park history. Eight of the past 14 games have been sold out, for a total of 12 this season.

Lineups for today’s game:

Cardinals (53-47) – 1. Ryan Theriot ss, 2. Jon Jay lf, 3. Albert Pujols 1b, 4. Lance Berkman rf, 5. Colby Rasmus cf, 6. Skip Schumaker 2b,, 7. Gerald Laird c, 8. Daniel Descalso ss, 9. Kyle Lohse rhp (8-7, 3.45)

Pirates (51-47) – 1. Chase d’Arnaud 3b, 2. Matt Diaz lf, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Andrew McCutchen cf, 5. Lyle Overbay 1b, 6. Garrett Jones rf, 7. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8. Eric Fryer c, 9. Charlie Morton rhp (8-5, 3.62)

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Pregame: Presley scratched

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Left fielder Alex Presley was scratched from tonight’s lineup to a left thumb contustion, so Chase d’Arnaud will bat leadoff against the Cards. Originally, d’Arnaud — who’s batting .215 , despite hitting safely in four of his past six games — was given the night off so he could sharpen his batting skills. Now, d’Arnaud is atop the batting order for the first time since he was called up from Triple-A Indy.

“I got jammed last night,” Presley said. “It felt OK last night, but today I’m not able to handle the bat the way I’m used to.” Presley had a short, curt response when asked if his thumb stiffened up overnight: “I don’t want to get into what it feels like. It doesn’t feel right.” Presley added that X-rays have not been taken.

»»» I often give the PNC Park scoreboard/in-game entertainment folks a hard time on this blog, mostly for having the lousiest pregame music in the major leagues. The tunes are still awful. But two videos on the scoreboard — the pregame “electricity” bit and the “hoist the colors” rallying cry in the ninth inning — were superb.

Lineups for today’s game:

Cardinals (52-47) – 1. Skip Schumaker 2b, 2. Jon Jay cf, 3. Albert Pujols 1b, 4. Matt Holliday lf, 5. Lance Berkman rf, 6. David Freese 3b, 7. Yadier Molina c, 8. Daniel Descalso ss, 9. Jamie Garcia lhp (9-3, 3.11)

Pirates (51-46) – 1. Chase d’Arnaud 3b, 2.Ronny Cedeno ss, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Andrew McCutchen cf, 5. Steve Pearce rf, 6. Matt Diaz lf, 7. Brandon Wood 1b, 8. Mike McKenry c, 9. Kevin Correia rhp (11-7, 4.04)

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Pregame: New faces

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You’re going to like Jason Grilli.

Joe Capozzi, the fantastic beat writer for the Marlins, sent me a message yesterday saying that Grilli, who played a few years ago in Miami, is one of his favorite people in the game. After talking with Grilli twice since he signed with the Pirates, it’s easy to see why Capozzi gushed. Grilli is honest, down-to-earth and hot-damn excited about to be wearing Black and Yellow. “I’m very excited to be here, with all that’s going on in this city,” he said this afternoon. “I just want to mix in.”

»»» Steve Pearce and Ronny Cedeno were activated today from the DL. Chris Leroux, Josh Harrison and Pedro Ciriaco were optioned back to Triple-A Indy. No surprises there.

»»» The Pirates will appear on Fox’s Saturday Game of the Week on back-to-back Saturdays — Aug. 13 against the arch-foe Brewers in Milwaukee and Aug. 20 against the Reds at PNC Park. “We are excited for the opportunity to showcase not only our exciting team, but the passion of our fans, the best ballpark in the country and our great city to a national audience,” prez Frank Coonelly said in a prepared statement. Both games will start at 4:11 p.m. ET. The postgame fireworks show that had been set for Aug. 20 has been cancelled.

»»» The Pirates took their team photo this afternoon.

Lineups for today’s game:

Cardinals (51-47) – 1. Ryan Theriot ss, 2. Jon Jay cf, 3. Albert Pujols 1b, 4. Matt Holliday lf, 5. Lance Berkman rf, 6. David Freese 3b, 7. Yadier Molina c, 8. Nick Punto 2b, 9. Chris Carpenter rhp (5-7, 3.69)

Pirates (51-45) – 1. Alex Presley lf, 2. Chase d’Arnaud 3b, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Andrew McCutchen cf, 5. Lyle Overbay 1b, 6. Garrett Jones 3b, 7. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8. Mike McKenry c, 9. Paul Maholm lhp (6-9, 3.06)

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Pregame: Grilli on his way

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jasongrilliRighty Jason Grilli is on his way to Pittsburgh, and will have to pass a physical before finalizing a free-agent contract with the Pirates. Assuming everything works out, Grilli will pitch out of the bullpen starting Friday, when the Cardinals come to town for a huge three-game series. Chris Leroux will be sent back to Triple-A Indy.

»»» Neil Walker fouled a pitch off his right shin last night, and this morning was wearing medicated patches on his leg to reduce the pain. Walker was not walking with any limp and took batting practice as usual.

»»» Joel Hanrahan, who’s pitched the past three games, is NOT available this afternoon against the Reds. Jose Veras would be the first option as closer. “It could be a two-guy situation, if the game dicatates,” manager Clint Hurdle said. Chris Resop, who has pitched two since experiencing some forearm pain a few days ago, is “situational at best” for today’s game, according to Hurdle.

Lineups for today’s game:

Reds (47-50) – 1. Chris Heisey cf, 2. Edgar Renteria ss, 3. Joey Votto 1b, 4. Scott Rolen 3b, 5. Jay Bruce rf, 6. Ramon Hernandez c, 7. Jonny Gomes lf, 8. Miguel Cairo 2bc, 9. Johnny Cueto rhp (5-3, 2.01)

Pirates (51-44) – 1. Alex Presley lf, 2. Chase d’Arnaud ss, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Andrew McCutchen cf, 5. Lyle Overbay 1b, 6. Garrett Jones rf, 7. Brandon Wood 3b, 8. Mike McKenry c, 9. Jeff Karstens rhp (8-4, 2.34)

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Pregame: d’Arnaud not in lineup

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Chase d’Arnaud (stiff neck) is being held out of the lineup today as a precautionary measure. He wrenched his neck last night with a head-first slide, but said he feels better today. “I wouldn’t say the night’s sleep helped me out,” d’Arnaud said. “It was our trainer who kind of loosened it up for me. Range motion is still just a little limited, but it’s significantly better than it was yesterday. I’m not too worried about it. It’s nothing major.”

»»» Neil Walker’s 12-game hitting streak is the fourth-longest active string in the majors. He’s one game shy of tying Buster Posey, who’s out for the rest of the season with a leg injury. The leader is Florida’s Emilio Bonifacio (17 games).

»»» The Bucs continue to get love from ESPN. This afternoon, Walker and Steve Blass appeared on “Outside the Lines” to discuss the Pirates’ turnaround season.

»»» An item listed high in the Pirates game notes today gushes that reporters from the New York Times and Sports Illustrated will be at PNC Park over the next few days. It reminds me of what Penn State coach Joe Paterno tells his players when they ask why they can’t perform end zone dances after scoring a touchdown: “Act like you’ve been there before.”

»»» Daniel McCutchen has made five straight scoreless outings (four innings pitched) and has allowed a run in just one of his past 12 games. He’s allowed three of 25 inherited runners to score, the fourth-best mark among NL relievers.

Lineups for today’s game:

Reds (47-49) – 1. Drew Stubbs cf, 2. Zack Cozart ss, 3. Joey Votto 1b, 4. Brandon Phillips 2b, 5. Miguel Cairo 3b, 6. Chris Heisey rf, 7. Fred Lewis lf, 8. Ryan Hanigan c, 9. Mike Leake rhp (8-4, 4.28)

Pirates (50-44) – 1. Alex Presley lf, 2. Josh Harrison 3b, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Andrew McCutchen cf, 5. Garrett Jones rf, 6. Lyle Overbay 1b, 7. Brandon Wood ss, 8. Mike McKenry c, 9. James McDonald rhp (5-4, 4.42)

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Pregame: Cedeno, Pearce on mend

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HOUSTON — Ronny Cedeno reported today to Triple-A Indy to begin a rehab assignment. Manager Clint Hurdle said that, if all goes well, there’s a chance Cedeno could be activated in time for this weekend’s series against the Cardinals. Concussions can by tricky things, so nothing is certain at this point, but Cedeno looked good the past couple of days working out with the Pirates. “He seemed alert. He seemed crisp,” Hurdle said.

»»» Shortstop Jordy Mercer went 3 for 3, including a home run, last night for Indy. However, he left the game after being hit in the head by a pitch — so the short-handed Indians were forced to have Steve Pearce, who started the game at third, fill in at short. In three rehab games with Indy, Pearce is hitting .357 (5 for 14), including a double and two homers. Hurdle said Pearce might be able to rejoin the Pirates later this week.

“As far as I know, (Mercer’s) status is uncertain at this time,” GM Neal Huntington told me via email. It’s interesting to not, thought, that infielder Josh Rodriguez today was promoted from Double-A Altoona to Indy.

»»» A solo homer in the fifth inning last night extended Neil Walker’s hitting streak to 10 games. It’s his longest streak since an 18-game run from Aug. 23-Sept. 12, 2010. Walker went 4 for 5, boosting his batting average eight points to .271. It was his third career four-hit game. In 11 games this season against the Astros, Walker is batting .442 (19 for 43) with two homers and eight RBI. In his career, he’s hitting .382 against Houston.

»»» Pirates pitchers have a 2.57 ERA against Houston this season. The starters’ combined ERA in those 11 games is 2.18.

»»» Astros closer Mark Melancon tossed a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his seventh save. It was his first save since June 8 against St. Louis. Over the past nine games, the Astros’ bullpen has a 0.39 ERA.

Lineups for today’s game:

Pirates (48-44) – 1. Alex Presley lf, 2. Chase d’Arnaud ss, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Andrew McCutchen cf, 5. Garrett Jones rf, 6. Lyle Overbay 1b, 7. Brandon Wood 3b, 8. Eric Fryer c, 9. Kevin Correia rhp (11-7, 4.01)

Astros (31-63) – 1. Michael Bourn cf, 2.Clint Barmes ss, 3. Jeff Keppinger 2b, 4. Hunter Pence rf, 5. Carlos Lee lf, 6. Chris Johnson 3b, 7. Brett Wallace 1b, 8. Carlos Corporan c, 9. Wandy Rodriguez lhp (6-6, 3.52)

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