PITTSBURGH -- The difference between the good Pedro Alvarez and the bad one in 2012 has been like night and day. Alvarez has a .318 average in day games, when in fewer than half as many opportunities he has more homers (14) and RBIs (32) than at night (seven and 26).Still, the third baseman was out of the starting lineup for a second straight afternoon affair as the Bucs concluded their four-game series with the D-backs on Thursday. The presence of left-hander Joe Saunders on the mound had less to do with manager Clint Hurdle's decision than Alvarez's recent play. Alvarez has one hit -- and six strikeouts -- in his last 14 at-bats. "I'm not going to hang my hat on day games guaranteeing he'll get hits all the time. It hasn't played out that way lately," said Hurdle. "Right now, I'm just looking at the quality of his at-bats." In the course of that latest batting lull, Alvarez has also committed three errors. Josh Harrison, who again started at third on Thursday, has flashed good range and leather at the position.
McKenry gets first chance to catch Wandy
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle consciously wants to avoid any pitcher-catcher dependency issues -- well, with the obvious exception of the A.J. Burnett, Rod Barajas pairing. Otherwise, he makes it a point for all his pitchers to get comfortable with both of the team's catchers.Thus, Michael McKenry was behind the plate on Thursday for Wandy Rodriguez, whose first two Pittsburgh starts had come with Barajas behind the plate. Asked whether he had any concerns about the switch, Hurdle responded with a terse, "No." McKenry was more verbose about looking forward to the assignment, but essentially said the same thing. He definitely knows about making in-season acquaintances with pitchers; in 2011, he passed through the Colorado and Boston organizations before finally landing with the Pirates in June. "Last year, coming in here, I had to try to figure out a whole pitching staff, so I have had some experience with it," said McKenry. "I'll sit down with Rod again before the game and get an idea of what [Rodriguez] likes to throw. And I've caught him in the bullpen," McKenry said. "But he's a veteran guy. He doesn't need much help. He knows what he wants to do, how to attack hitters. My job is to see what hitters are trying to do with him and make adjustments." McKenry has emerged as the Bucs' offensive catcher. He is driving in a run every five at-bats, and his total of 28 RBIs in 141 at-bats are seven more than Barajas has accumulated in 230 at-bats. Nor does it hurt that the Pirates entered Thursday's game having won nine of McKenry's last 12 starts.
"What if ... the Pirates made the playoffs? That would really stink."
- Cleveland comedian Mike Polk Jr., in a video spoof of the Indians' "What If ...?" marketing campaign, taking time to notice what his city's rivals are up to.
Reliever Juan Cruz (shoulder inflammation) is set to make another rehab start for Double-A Altoona on Thursday night, after an accelerated simulated-game bullpen session on Wednesday in which he went through his entire repertoire. Kevin Correia's spot start Wednesday pushed each of the constants in the five-man rotation back one day, enabling them to take their next turns on five days' rest, starting with Wandy Rodriguez on Thursday. So how have those pitchers fared with an additional day of rest this season? A.J. Burnett, James McDonald, Erik Bedard, Jeff Karstens and Rodriguez were a collective 19-14 with a 3.25 ERA entering Thursday's game. In closing out Wednesday night's 7-6 win, Joel Hanrahan had only the third "pluperfect" save of his career, three-up and three-down, all on strikeouts. Hanrahan had one last season (May 27 at the Cubs) and one earlier this year (June 5 at Cincinnati). Andrew McCutchen has gone hitless in consecutive games only once all season (June 8-9), and his longest hitless streak has lasted nine at-bats (June 7-10).
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.