Barmes battles slump

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Mired in a season-long slump, shortstop Clint Barmes will be benched for at least the next few days as he tries to cure his batting woes. “I’m expecting good things to happen from it,” Barmes said Wednesday. “I’ve done this before and it’s worked, so I’m staying positive.” Rookie Jordy Mercer, who tonight is making his frst career start against the Reds, and Josh Harrison will share time at short while Barmes is out.

Hitless in his past nine at-bats, Barmes is batting .170 with a .196 OBP. His lousy .189 batting average in May is actually 40 points higher than what he hit in April. “I’ve gotten to where I’m using too much body and coming around the ball,” Barmes said. “I’m trying to find something that will help me keep to the path of the ball as long as possible.” Barmes has been pulling off balls, hitting everything off the end of the bat instead of squaring it up. “It’s been a struggle to consistently take good swings in a game,” he said.

Barmes already has been putting in long hours with hitting coach Gregg Ritchie. Now, manager Clint Hurdle will become more hands-on. “Gregg’s probably sick of me at this point,” Barmes said with a wry smile. “But, it’s just another way of hearing the same thing. There’s not a whole lot different, other than it’s coming from your manager.”

Hurdle said Barmes will be on the same type of program that Rod Barajas began about three weeks ago. Barajas has gone 17 for 44 (.386) over his past 13 games. “We predicate everything off hitting line drive to center field,” Hurdle said. “We really try to kick a lot of noise to the curb and keep it simple: hit the ball where it’s pitched, be more cognizant with what his hands are doing and what he’s doing with the barrel.”

Barmes and Hurdle have a history together from when they both were with the Colorado Rockies. “I know the things he fights when he doesn’t do well,” Hurdle said. “I try to accentuate what his strengths are and what he’s got to stay away from. Other than that, I don’t know that there’s any greater success opportunity is if you’ve had a guy in the past. More often than not, it’s how receptive the student is to the information that’s given.”

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Mostly merry month of May

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With a win tonight, the Pirates would go 15-13 in May. It would be their most wins in the month since the Pirates went 15-13 in 2008, which also was the last time they had a winning record in May. They went 13-13 in May 2011. Andrew McCutchen ranks second among in the NL this month in slugging percentage (.744), is fourth in batting average (.378) and is tied for third with eight homers. James McDonald’s 1.54 ERA this month is third-best behind Bud Norris (1.17) and Ryan Vogelsong (1.51).

»»» No options for Morton: I didn’t have this info at my fingertips this morning when I was on TribLive Radio, but I looked into it and, yes, Charlie Morton is out of minor league options. The only current member of the rotation who has options is Kevin Correia, who has one.

»»» Milestone: Last night, Rod Barajas played in his 1,000th game behind the plate. He ranks third among active catchers behind A.J. Pierczynski (1,474 games) and Ramon Hernandez (1,414).

Game 50: Reds @ Pirates, 7:05 p.m. ET

Reds (27-21): 1. Zach Cozart ss, 2. Drew Stubbs cf, 3. Jay Bruce rf, 4. Brandon Phillips 2b, 5. Chris Heisey lf, 6. Todd Frazier 3b, 7. Mike Costanzo 1b, 8. Ryan Hanigan c, 9. Johnny Cueto rhp (5-2, 2.53)

Pirates (24-25): 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Jordy Mercer ss, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. Neil Walker 2b, 6. Garrett Jones rf, 7. Matt Hague 1b, 8. Rod Barahas c, 9. A.J. Burnett rhp (3-2, 4.19)

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Eight is enough for JMac

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httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=856jnhhSBx0

Manager Clint Hurdle said he gave “not much” consideration to sending James McDonald back out for the ninth inning today on a steamy afternoon at PNC Park. McDonald tossed eight scoreless innings in the 4-1 victory. The righty threw 103 pitches and matched his career high for innings pitched in a game.

“He finished strong, retiring 12 straight going out the door,” Hurdle said. “It was another great step forward for him. The pitch count was manageable. It was a hot day and in the third and fifth innings he had to pitch through some traffic. We took what we got from him and moved on. Very strong outing from James today.” McDonald, who’s been yearning for his first career complete game, was diplomatic about Hurdle’s decision: ” Every pitcher wants to go back out there. But coach knows best. He sees the game and knows what’s going on. That’s why he’s the coach.”

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Tabata good to go

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Jose Tabata this morning tested his gimpy left leg on the field as team trainers looked on, and seemed up to speed enough to be in the starting lineup today against the Reds. Tabata asked out of yesterday’s game in the sixth inning after feeling tightness in his leg.

»»» Manager Clint Hurdle said RP Juan Cruz is expected to rejoin the team in time for the series this weekend in Milwaukee. Cruz was placed on the restricted list to attend to personal business at home in the Dominican Republic. A player on the restricted list does not count against the 40-man roster, so the Pirates still have an open spot (after Nate McLouth was DFA’ed). Also, players are paid but do not earn service time while on the restricted list.

»»» Not to jinx, it, but a win today would give the Pirates a season-high four-game winning streak. They won four in a row three times in 2011.

»»» The Pirates are 3-0 so far as they embark on a 12-game stretch against NL Central Division foes. When this run ends, the Pirates won’t face another division team until June 29, when they play the Cardinals.

»»» Neil Walker, who was bumped up to No. 2 in the lineup today, has hit safely in five straight games (8 for 19, .421) and eight of his past nine (13 for 32, .406) against the Reds. At PNC Park, Walker has hit safely in 14 of 18 against v. Cincy, going 22 for 60 (.367) with five doubles, a homer and 10 RBI.

Game 48: Reds @ Pirates,1:35 p.m. ET

Reds (27-20): 1. Drew Stubbs cf, 2. Wilson Valdez ss, 3. Joey Votto 1b, 4. Brandon Phillips 2b, 5. Jay Bruce rf, 6. Chris Heisey lf, 7. Miguel Cairo 3b, 8. Ryan Hanigan c, 9. Bronson Arroyo rhp (2-2, 3.22)

Pirates (23-24): 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Neil Walker 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. Garrett Jones rf, 6. Matt Hague 1b, 7. Rod Barahas c, 8. Clint Barmes ss, 9. James McDonald rhp (3-2, 2.51)

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Cruz on restricted list, Slaten recalled

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For the first time this season, the Pirates have two lefties in the bullpen, as Doug Slaten has been recalled from Triple-A Indy. Slaten is filling in for Juan Cruz, who was placed on the restricted list so he can attend to personal affairs in the Dominican Republic. Slaten takes the spot on their 40-man roster that opened last week when Nate McLouth was DFA’ed. Slaten, 32, went 2-0 with eight saves and a 0.36 ERA in 20 minor league outings. He has the second-lowest batting average against (.161) among International League relievers.

»»» Finally, some good offensive news (albeit in the future tense) for the Pirates: 3B Jordy Mercer and CF Starling Marte smacked huge home runs yesterday for Triple-A Indy. Mercer tied the game against Louisville with a two-run shot and Marte broke open the 9-4 win with a grand slam. GM Neal Huntington revealed yesterday afternoon that he’s mulling a callup for Mercer in the near future. Marte almost certainly also will be in Pittsburgh before the season is over, although he’s more likely to arrive in September. Marte’s slam was a titanic shot to left field. “He’s got unbelievable power,” Mercer said. “That ball still hasn’t landed yet.” If it lands on the North Shore, maybe Marte can stop by to retrieve it and stay a while.

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Alvarez impresses with defense

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Runners on second and third, two outs, a batter with a lot of speed hits and slow roller up the third base line. Pedro Alvarez did exactly the right thing. He made a running, bare-handed grab and fired — hard — to the plate to nail the runner from third, Paul Maholm. “It’s an instinctive play,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s a big-league play. I’m sure the last thing on Paul’s mind was that the play would be coming home.”

Catcher Rod Barajas had seen that kind of play develop a few times over his 14 seasons in the majors. He was impressed by Alvarez’s athleticism and his decision-making. “I was thinking the same thing (as what Alvarez did) but I wasn’t sure at first if he was going to head in that direction. That’s just understanding the game and thinking ahead. It’s something you can’t teach — baseball instincts.”

»»» Mea culpa: In my story today about last night’s game, I mistakenly ID’d the Pirates RF as Jose Tabata. It was Josh Harrison.

»»» Ouch! Before Matt Hague’s moment of glory last night, the Pirates’ previous walk-off win via a hit by pitch came April 15, 1997, when Tony Womack was struck  in the face by Padres LHP Sterling Hitchcock. Last night’s game also was the first time the Cubs lost on a walkoff HBP since May 27, 2007, when Carlos Marmol plunked the Dodgers’ Juan Pierre.

Game 47: Cubs @ Pirates,1:35 p.m. ET

Cubs (15-31): 1. David DeJesus rf, 2. Starlin Castro ss, 3. Joe Mather 3b, 4. Alfonso Soriano lf, 5. Jeff Baker 1b, 6. Reed Johnson cf, 7. Darwin Barney 2b, 8. Koyie Hill c, 9. Matt Garza rhp (2-2, 3.72)

Pirates (22-24): 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Josh Harrison ss, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. Neil Walker 2b, 6. Garrett Jones rf, 7. Matt Hague 1b, 8. Michael McKenry c, 9. Erik Bedard (2-5, 3.52)

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Minor league moves

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The Pirates today made a couple of minor league roster moves involving right-handed relievers. Jeff Inman was moved up to Double-A Altoona and Duke Welker was sent up to Triple-A Indy. Inman’s promotion was announced this morning by the Curve. Welker’s was tweeted this afternoon by Cory Giger of the Altoona Mirror.

By my count, Indy has 25 players on its active roster, not including Welker, plus five guys on the 7-day DL. The injury list includes pitchers Mike Crotta, Kyle McPherson and Daniel Moskos. Lefty Jo-Jo Reyes left his start Tuesday after one inning due to an apparent leg injury, but so far there’s been no official word that Reyes has been placed on the DL. If he doesn’t, Indy would have to clear a roster spot for Welker some other way — which, of course, raises all sorts of interesting possibilities.

I’ve put in a call with GM Neal Huntington for some clarification. When I hear back, I’ll pass that information along to y’nz.

Welker, 26, went 2-1 with five saves and a 2.31 ERA for Altoona. A second-round pick in 2007, he was added to the 40-man roster last offseason and projects as a late-inning reliever in the majors. Welker throws hard and racks up strikeouts, but until this season had battled control problems.

UPDATE 3:50 p.m. Just talked with the GM. Reyes (hammy) is DL-bound, so RHP Rick VandenHurk will move into Indy’s rotation and Welker will pitch out the bullpen.

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Gorkys: Something good is going to happen

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Gorkys Hernandez isn’t feeling any pressure today as he makes his first start in the big leagues. “I’m ready to just do the best I can,” Hernandez said a few minutes ago. “I’m not doing anything different. I’m not nervous; I’m really focused. I want to get my first hit. I think something good is going to happen today. I think I’ll do something today to help us win. That’s what I’m looking for.”

»»» Roster move: Reliever Jason Grilli is off the bereavement list. LHP Jeff Locke was optioned back to Triple-A Indy. Locke, a starter at Indy, did not make an appearance during his brief stint with the Bucs’ bullpen. “Jeff was here for a role that never presented itself,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “If we’d needed a couple (consecutive) innings to be pitched, he would have been used that way. He wasn’t going to be used situationally.” Locke will throw a bullpen session today, then rejoin Indy’s rotation.

»»» Loving lefties: The Pirates are 6-0 at PNC Park when the opposing team starts a lefty. They went 13-11 in such games last season. Andrew McCutchen is batting .465 against LHPs, the second-best mark in the majors.

»»» Goin’ streakin': Rod Barajas is riding an eight-game hitting streak. He’s hit four homers in his past 10 games. Barajas has 129 career homers, which ties him with Mike Napoli for sixth among active catchers. Ramon Hernandez is tops with 165. Miguel Olivo is fifth with 132.

»»» Welcome back: LHP Paul Maholm will start for the Cubs on Saturday. It will be his first outing at PNC Park since leaving the Pirates last offseason. Because the game is a Fox telecast, first pitch is set for 7:15 p.m.

Game 44: Mets @ Pirates, 12:35 p.m. ET

Pirates (20-23): 1. Josh Harrison rf, 2. Gorkys Hernandez lf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Casey McGehee 1b, 6. Rod Barajas c, 7. Yamaico Navarro 3b, 8. Clint Barmes ss, 9. Charlie Morton rhp (2-4, 4.35)

Mets (23-30): 1.Mike Baxter lf, 2. Kirk Nieuhenhuis cf, 3. David Wright 3b, 4. Lucas Duda rf, 5. Daniel Murphy 2b, 6. Ike Davis 1b, 7. Ronny Cedeno ss, 8. Rob Johnson c, 9. Jonathon Niese lhp (2-2, 4.85)

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Locke recalled from Indy

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DETROIT — It’s like a family reunion for the Nate McLouth trade. Jason Grilli this morning went on the bereavement list and LHP Jeff Locke was recalled from Triple-A Indy. Locke’s arrival means all four players from that June 3, 2009 swap — Locke, Gorkys Hernandez, Charlie Morton and even McLouth himself — are on the Pirates’ active roster. Grilli is expected to return Tuesday.

Locke had been scheduled to start today for Indy — “That’s as fresh as it gets, I guess,” he said –so he’s ready to pitch right away out of the bullpen. Manager Clint Hurdle said Locke was brought up to pitch for length, not to face soley lefty-on-lefty situations. The Tigers have five lefty batters in their lineup today.

Game 41: Pirates @ Tigers, 1:05 p.m. ET

Pirates (18-21): 1. Jose Tabata rf, 2. Neil Walker 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Pedro Alvarez dh, 5. Garrett Jones 1b, 6. Josh Harrison 3b, 7. Rod Barajas c, 8. Nate McLouth lf, 9. Clint Barmes ss. Starter: Kevin Correia rhp (1-4, 4.50)

Tigers (19-20): 1. Don Kelly cf, 2. Andy Dirks lf, 3. Miguel Cabrera 3b, 4. Prince Fielder 1b, 5. Delmon Young dh, 6. Brennan Boesch rf, 7. Jhonny Peralta ss, 8. Alex Avila c, 9. Ryan Raburn 2b. Starter: Max Scherzer rhp (2-3, 6.26)

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Notables on a near no-no

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Clint Hurdle called Justin Verlander "a craftsman -- with power tools." (Getty Images)
Clint Hurdle called Justin Verlander "a craftsman -- with power tools." (Getty Images)

DETROIT — Manager Clint Hurdle is not worried about how (or if) his club will bounce back after nearly being no-hit last night. “I hadn’t been around any until last night,” he said. “I’ve talked with people — hitting coaches, managers — who’ve had them thrown against them. I’ve never really heard of a collateral damage effect. We’re real good at showering well. We’ve got to be. You take the shower, you wash it off and we’re here today. There’s no shame in what happened to us last night. Anybody who thinks there’s shame in the event, that’s a little misguided. You look at the guy on the mound (Justin Verlander), who’s got a couple of them in the bag already and some one-hitters as well. He’s been good for a long time. He has that skill set, you might see a couple of them in a generation.”

»»» More notables: Here’s good nugget, courtesy of the Elias wonks via media relations superstar Dan Hart: The Pirates were last no-hit by HOFer Bob Gibson on Aug. 14, 1971. Since then, the only teams with longer runs of not being no-hit are the Cincy Reds (last no-no’ed on June 3, 1971) and Chi Cubbies (Sept. 9, 1965).

Here’s another goodie that was pointed out to me by the impeccably dressed John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press: the Pirates have twice been one-hit this year. In both games, they have not gotten a hit from either a catcher, infielder or outfielder. DH Josh Harrison got the single last night. On April 13, pitcher James McDonald singled off Matt Cain for the Bucs’ lone tally.

»»» The Pirates go into today’s game riding a 39-inning errorless streak. (Don’t blame me if Pedro Alvarez boots a grounder in the second inning. It was Hart who jinxed it by putting it in the game notes.) Their longest blunder-free run this season was 58 innings from April 21 to 28.

»»» 29’s a crowd: Gorkys Hernandez will become the 29th player to get in a game this season for the Pirates. Texas (25) and Atlanta (27) have used the fewest. At the moment, the Pirates are tied with the White Sox, Reds, Marlins, Mariners, Cardinals and Blue Jays, who each have used 28 players.

»»» Lovin’ lefties: Andrew McCutchen has eight hits in his past 12 at-bats against lefties. He’s ranked fifth in the NL with a .432 average against lefties. McCutchen is good at baseball. That is all.

Game 40: Pirates @ Tigers, 4:05 p.m. ET

Pirates (18-21): 1. Jose Tabata rf, 2. Josh Harrison dh, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. Neil Walker dh, 6. Rod Barajas c, 7. Casey McGehee 1b, 8. Yamaico Navarro lf, 9. Clint Barmes ss. Starter: A.J. Burnett rhp (1-2, 5.12)

Tigers (19-20): 1. Don Kelly cf, 2. Andy Dirks lf, 3. Miguel Cabrera 3b, 4. Prince Fielder 1b, 5. Delmon Young dh, 6. Alex Avila c, 7. Brennan Boesch rf, 8. Jhonny Peralta ss, 9. Ramon Santiago 2b. Starter: Drew Smyly lhp (1-0, 2.31)

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