Pirates Notebook: Alvarez Locked in at the Plate; McDonald Needs to Seek Greatness

When Pedro Alvarez is locked in at the plate, watch out. That was no more evident than on Tuesday night at PNC Park. Alvarez had a four hit night, but it was two huge swings of the bat that dropped jaws.

“I shared with him after his last at-bat where he struck out, I said, ‘Look. All you got to do is hit two homers, get four hits, and they’ll clap for you when you strike out around here’,” Manager Clint Hurdle joked.

With Andrew McCutchen on in the third inning and two outs, Alvarez blasted a 1-0 sinker from St. Louis’ Jake Westbrook. What was impressive about the long ball was where Alvarez deposited it. The third baseman went opposite field, and sent the ball to the deepest part of the ballpark, 422 feet in left center field.

“Not the direction in which he hit it or the distance,” Hurdle said on if it was a home run pitch. “He was able to show you [why we feel] the way we feel about him. Having a man in the lineup with that kind of raw power, that type of ability that you can project as you move forward. He’s made adjustments. He’s gotten better in some areas this year. There’s still room for improvement and growth. But we’ve only seen three left-handers take a ball into those seats left of the notch. He’s one of them now. ”

What was next was arguably even more impressive. Alvarez crushed his next pitch. Literally. Westbrook’s pitch left over the plate sailed out of PNC Park and bounced onto the riverwalk. The estimated feet? 469 — the longest home run hit by a Pirates player in the ballpark history.

“The second one, that’s just kind of like, the ball looked like it was going to hit the bridge,” Hurdle said. “That’s a whole bunch of feet. We look for more consistency, but that goes to show you that he can shrink a ballpark.”

Only three other players have hit longer long balls than Alvarez in PNC Park history. Sammy Sosa in 2002 blasted a 484 ft shot, Daryle Ward in 2002 (479) and Prince Fielder in 2006 (471).

Alvarez, who is 9-for his last-15 (.600), connected for long balls No. 24 and 25 on the season. He now leads the team.


McDonald Needs to Seek Greatness

James McDonald believes the game is about 80 percent mental. A reason for his second-half struggles could be attributed to that. Overshadowed on Tuesday was an impressive outing from McDonald on the bump.

“James needs to continue to seek, I think, greatness,” Hurdle said. “And expect nothing less. To be the best he can be every time he goes out there, and expect nothing less. That’s going to take the focus that you saw tonight. That’s going to take the execution. It’s not going to be like that every night. But I do think he does have a switch somewhere, I’m not sure what kind, but we’ve seen it. When he throws strikes, it’s very good, it’s very good and it’s hard to hit.”

“It was a dominating effort against a very offensive club. And James went through it professionally.”

The right-hander allowed just three base runners — two hits — over seven shutout frames. McDonald struck out six while throwing 97 pitches, 66 for strikes.

“I felt like I got ahead of guys and commanded the zone well,” McDonald said. “First pitch strikes. If I did get behind, the next pitch, I was going at them aggressively. Just being aggressive was the main focus for me tonight.”

McDonald has shown flashes of getting back on track. His last start against San Diego, McDonald allowed four runs, but blanked the Cardinals with six shutout frames the outing prior. McDonald attributes it to his work in his bullpens.

“This last week, I worked on a couple things in my bullpen that translated into the game,” McDonald said. “I kept focused on what I was doing and try to carry it into the next start…Just staying back. Let my arm work. Don’t try and do too much.”


Harrison Plows Molina Over at the Plate

Josh Harrison is a ballplayer. He will do whatever it takes to help the team win. He said it so himself after the game.

“That was nothing more than a guy wanting to score a run for his team and help in anyway possible,” he said.

Harrison was involved on a play at the plate last season, but this time it was different.

With Harrison on second base and two outs in the second inning, Jose Tabata ripped a single to right field. Harrison rounded third base bag and went for home as Carlos Beltran made a perfect throw home. Harrison’s only option was to attempt to knock the ball out of the glove of Yadier Molina. He went full-force into the catcher, plowing him down on a rough play at the plate. Molina held onto the ball, but after being evaluated from the training staff, was removed due to upper back, left shoulder and neck strain.

“I was just trying to score,” Harrison said. “I saw the throw. It was similar to the play I had last year where I was in-between sliding and running him over. Last year it was a head on head collision. This year, I felt like the plate was blocked. You never want anybody to get hurt. It’s part of the game.”

“The moment that I was probably about a third away from the plate, I saw him slide his feet back in. The whole plate was blocked. There was no way to slide around him. I felt my only way was to go through him. That’s the only move I felt like I had.”

“That’s an old fashioned baseball play,” Hurdle said. “You never like to see people get hurt. Watching it from the dugout and actually watching it again after the game, he took the plate away from Josh. Josh had no where else to go. Then a baseball play happened. It can spark a team.”

The Cardinals didn’t attempt to retaliate in Harrison’s at-bat following the collision. Prior to the staff helping the woozy Molina off the field, Harrison was seen clapping in the dugout as he walked off. But they did in his second one following.

Westbrook drilled Harrison on the leg to load the bases. Hurdle came out to argue with the umpires, veteran Rod Barajas was yelling from the bench, and both benches were warned.

“It’s part of the game,” Harrison said of getting hit. “If they feel that I did that intentionally, I mean, I was just trying to run a guy over, not put him out.”

“All I have to say is this, I’ll share the rest of my comments with the League Office, but a baseball play was made at home plate,” Hurdle said. “They decided to pitch Josh Harrison inside tight. That’s a baseball play. What I was disappointed in was we weren’t able to make a baseball play. That’s all. They felt there was intent to hit him, then throw the pitcher out and lets move on.”

The Pirates got payback with the bat, however. Clint Barmes ripped a two-run double to left field in the four run frame.


With Walker Sidelined, d’Arnaud Gets Opportunity

With Neil Walker being out of the lineup for a second straight day, the Pirates promoted Chase d’Arnaud to the Majors. The infielder has not appeared in the bigs this season, but appeared in 48 games last year.

Walker was seen by doctors today, and had not yet arrived to the clubhouse prior to batting practice. Walker was sent home from the game last night and given meds to help treat his low back tightness. Hurdle did say that he was feeling a little bit better today, but was needed to be seen by another doctor.

With Walker day-to-day, d’Arnaud is ready to step in.

“Being back for the second time, I feel a little bit more comfortable than before,” d’Arnaud said. “I just want to come in and contribute the best way that I can. I’ve just focused a lot more on baseball and it’s just really paid off.”

After starting the season off slow, d’Arnaud battled several injuries, the infielder has put up solid months of July (.278 avg) and August (.272), which includes a .381/.395/.643 line over his last 10 games.

“He’s well past that stage of dealing with any of those issues that he had earlier with the concussion. He’s actually been playing some of his better ball right now,” Hurdle said. “He’s been doing well. He’s found himself to a good place. Obviously he’s excited for the opportunity here to add whatever he can add while he’s here. We will see how this plays out pretty much one day at a time with Neil. Chase does give us the flexibility to do more things with the other infielders.”

“Just all facets of the game,” d’Arnaud said on what he worked on to get back. “I just want to become an everyday player just like everyone else. Defense, offense, work on my throwing, and accuracy, and just my approach at the plate.”

“When I got back from the concussion it’s tough, you don’t have your timing right away. This last month I’ve put a lot more focus on baseball and it’s really paid off. It’s only natural that my game got better, it got me here, and I just want to take advantage of this opportunity.”

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I’ve always thought the key to pitching was to use the force. McDonald should change his name to Luke. He doesn’t need to seek greatness. If he uses the force, greatness will seek him. Or as Yoda would say, ‘Seek him, it will.’
Hooray for the aggressive base running from Harrison.

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