CLEVELAND, OH — Pedro Alvarez has been locked in at the plate the past two games against the Cleveland Indians. The third baseman drove in a career-high six RBI on Sunday and nine overall over his last nine at-bats. In the Pirates win on Saturday, Alvarez connected for two long balls.
“Just trying to go up there and relax and compete,” Alvarez said of his adjustments. “Just try to go up there and take some good passes and swing at some balls. Be selective. Try to swing at some good pitches that I can drive.”
The club pounded out four long balls against the Indians arms Saturday, and on Sunday continued their power stroke as Alvarez led the way. The infielder blasted two home runs off right-hander Jeanmar Gomez en route to his 3-for-4 day.
“He’s worked hard to get to a better place,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “I like him swinging the bat. I’ve encouraged him to swing the bat. It’s easier said than done sometimes but he seems to be finding his way. Time will tell. It sure shrinks the ballpark though when he puts the barrel on the ball…That’s why we keep running him out there.”
The first was a three-run shot to right field in the 4th inning to take a 3-2 lead. In his very next at-bat, Alvarez came through with another three-run shot in the 5th. He trails only David Freese among National League third baseman in home runs. It also marked his fourth career multi-homer game. Alvarez became the first Bucco to drive in six runs since Andy LaRoche did so against the Dodgers on September 28, 2009.
“He drives the ball to dead right field for a three-run homer with a base open so you know the pitcher had options,” Hurdle said. “He made a mistake and Pedro hit one. And then he hits another one. Then he hits a ball to left center field. Very good day at the plate for Pedro. Very good day.”
The fifth inning was a part of a six run rally for the club. It marked their third six run inning for the Pirates this season. The last time came on June 2 in Milwaukee. Alex Presley connected for a game tying solo-blast in the frame on a 3-2 pitch. It marked his second long ball in as many games. The club, who isn’t known for their power sticks, have pounded out seven home runs in their last two games.
“It’s a lot of fun to win some ballgames,” Alvarez said. “We did a good job of scoring some runs and putting some pressure on them.”
Following his two blasts, Alvarez took a double off the wall in left field just a few feet low of a third home run on the day. His three extra-base hits in a game is a career-high.
Two-Out Hitting Ends Lincoln’s Outing Early
Brad Lincoln lasted just 3.1 innings in his fourth start of the season, his third straight since rejoining the rotation. General Manager Neal Huntington said prior to the game that the plan is to leave Lincoln as a starter until Jeff Karstens returns from the disabled list.
But this season, Lincoln has been much sharper in relief. The righty has just an 0.45 relief ERA while striking out 23 batters over 20.0 innings. Overall on Sunday, Lincoln allowed four runs on eight hits over 3.1 innings. He walked one and struck out two while throwing 67 pitches, 47 for strikes. Two-out hitting has been a struggle for Lincoln. Three of the four runs scored off Lincoln on Sunday came with two-outs.
“I thought there was an improvement obviously in the velocity and the spin on the breaking ball at times,” Hurdle said. “There’s still inconsistency with command. It seemed he was easy to see. We had talked after his last start about maybe opening up a little too early with his front side. It was giving the batters a good view. He worked some good hard fastballs in that nobody backed away. As far as him going out there letting it eat, he did that. Some good sequences, but at the end of the day, they still put the barrel on the ball a little more than we expect with the stuff he had. He went out there with much better intensity I thought as far as his stuff was playing better.”
“I filled up the strike zone early,” Lincoln said. “Just let it slip away from me there in that last inning. Left that pitch up to Choo. I’ve got to focus more. Especially with two outs. It’s been a big problem for me. I don’t know if I don’t focus, or what happens. It just seems they do a lot of their hitting and scoring with two outs against me. More often than not, they’re doing most of their damage with two-outs.”
After retiring his first two batters on just four pitches to start the bottom of the 1st, Jason Kipnis took a 93 mph heater deep to right-center field for the first run he allowed.
The two-out hits hurt Lincoln again in the next inning. Johnny Damon hit a single to left field and swiped second base. Casey Kotchman followed by lining a pitch at second baseman Neil Walker, who was in shallow right field with the shift on. The hard hit ball bounced off his glove for an RBI single. Lincoln allowed a third straight single, but got Shin-Soo Choo to chase to end the inning.
“That’s who I am,” Lincoln said. “I’m going to be a guy that’s going to come out at you with everything I have. I’m not saying that was a case where I ran out of gas or anything, I just wasn’t able to locate my pitches and be down in the zone and they did damage when they had to.”
He was chased from the game early in the fourth frame. Damon with a leadoff double down the right field line. After advancing to third on a ground out, Lincoln walked his next batter. Choo lined a double over the head of Alex Presley in left field for a two-run double to lose the Pirates lead.
“If we [catch] that ball in left field as a sac fly, instead it turns into a two-run double,” Hurdle said. “That could have been a little different for him as well, but we wanted to give him the opportunity to do something in the fourth inning. It didn’t work out that way.”
“I like to attack the zone and go right at you with what I have,” Lincoln said. “If you beat me, you beat me. That’s the way it is. They got the better of me today…I’ve just got to make adjustments and go out there and get them next time.”
Club May Make Move to Give Mercer Regular Playing Time
Since infielder Jordy Mercer was promoted from Triple-A on May 29, he has made just two starts. Both of them have come at shortstop. Mercer’s last start came on June 1st and hasn’t seen a pinch hit at-bat since the 9th of this month. A young player like Mercer benefits from being in the Majors by learning from the veterans and the experience. But at the same time, not getting everyday playing time can hinder his development.
“It’s been a challenge as you see because of the inactivity. I want to make sure Josh gets a game there first and foremost,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “Jordy gave us a nice little look in a short window of time when he first got involved. He was much more comfortable on the field in his first big league appearance than I think he was at anytime in spring training, which was very good to see. Very good to see. He’s been all over the field. If nothing else comes from it then the playing time that he got, it’s been a very valuable experience. He’s got a much better understanding of the game at this level now.”
Finding playing time for Mercer has also been difficult due to Interleague play on the road. Hurdle hasn’t had the opportunity to use his bench.
“With our young players in utility roles on the bench, as we’ve done with [Yamaico] Navarro, as we’ve talked about with Matt Hague, we’ve talked about it with Josh Harrison, there’s going to come a point in time where they’ve got to get out and play, to shuffle the deck, to keep those guys sharp and keep those guys growing and developing,” General Manager Neal Huntington said. “Not saying we’re getting to that point with Jordy yet, but there will come a point in time with each of these young players on the bench that we need to keep them growing and developing…We’ve got some young guys that are in Triple-A that are ready to step up. But most importantly we’ve got to make sure we’re keeping guys growing and developing.”
Navarro, who broke camp with the club out of spring training, was sent to Triple-A on May 29 in place of Mercer in order to get him some more regular playing time. The infielder has been hitting well at Triple-A since the demotion and could be an option if they want to keep Mercer fresh.
“It could be Navarro,” Huntington said. “It could be some other guys. The nice part about the versatility and the flexibility with a bunch of our guys is they can play a bunch of positions defensively, we don’t have to replace one with another. We’re continuing to have those conversations. Jordy’s worked so hard pregame, post game to keep himself sharp, to keep himself fresh. But it’s still a challenge. You still can’t replace those game at-bats.”
“I understand why most Managers like having veteran guys on their bench. They don’t have to worry about keeping them fresh. They know their role…A young player, the manager feels pressure to play them, feels pressure to keep them sharp. Clint has done phenomenal at keeping our guys going, but yes, there might come a point in time where we’ve got to make a move.”
Bucco Injury Updates
Right-hander Jeff Karstens threw a 35 pitch bullpen session on Saturday without issue. He will make a rehab start with Double-A Altoona on Tuesday. Hurdle said that he will likely need two starts before returning to the starting rotation.
“I don’t think it’s so much an innings cap,” Hurdle said. “We hope its going to end up around five [innings] and 80 [pitches]. If it’s four and 80 so be it. It’s more about the 80 then it is the innings.”
Right-hander Daniel McCutchen had his rehab moved to Triple-A Indianapolis today from High-A Bradenton. McCutchen tossed 2.0 scoreless innings of relief Thursday night in his first rehab outing with the Marauders. He’s been on the disabled list since May 13 with a left strained oblique.