PIT@MIN: Alvarez's two-run shot gives Bucs 3-1 lead

PITTSBURGH -- Pedro Alvarez played in a Grapefruit League game on Tuesday -- then disappeared. As he sat out exhibition after exhibition, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle simply said his third baseman was "working on some things."

The end-of-Spring Training retreat was unusual, particularly for someone who had been experiencing a respectable camp, with a .277 average that included a pair of homers.

Alvarez was in the Opening Day lineup's No. 4 slot against the Cubs and Jeff Samardzija on Monday. Other than the timing, apparently there was nothing mysterious or secretive about Alvarez's timeout. In fact, Hurdle said he was back in the lineup for the final exhibition on Saturday, canceled by inclement weather.

"We were working on some swinging mechanics. And also just giving him some time, since we put him to task," Hurdle said. "He's ready. I'm looking forward to having him anchor down the middle of that lineup. He's in a good place."

For Hurdle, there's no better place than the cleanup spot. He has looked forward to Alvarez finding a home in a slot that has proven challenging in the past: Alvarez batted .218 in 46 games at cleanup in 2013, and he has a career average of .183 there.

Having dad at PNC Park is special for Hurdle

Clint Hurdle won the 2013 NL Manager of the Year Award.

PITTSBURGH -- Having Jim Leyland present him with the 2013 National League Manager of the Year Award on Monday made Clint Hurdle feel good.

Having his dad, Clint, present to see him do it made Hurdle feel even better.

"It will be special for me to have Dad here," said Hurdle, who pledged the award to his father when he was originally presented with it at a January banquet in New York City. "The award will go to him.

"Fifty-one years ago," added the 56-year-old manager, "my dad grabbed my hand and said, 'Let's go outside and play catch.' I can think of no better person to receive the award.

"He's had to manage me, and that's quite a task. Good, bad, up, down -- he's been with me the whole journey."

The junior Hurdle felt adolescent-like pride in being able to accept his profession's highest honor in front of a parent.

"He'll be able to look at his kid and say, 'Well done.'"

Worth noting

Catcher Chris Stewart hopes to return to game action next week.

• Catcher Chris Stewart, two weeks removed from knee surgery, took pregame batting practice and plans to return to game action in extended spring training next week.

• This was not the Pirates' first March 31 season opener, but it was the quietest in terms of runs scored. On March 31, 2003, the Bucs won 10-1 in Cincinnati; five years later, they outlasted the Braves, 12-11, in Atlanta.

• The Pirates began a season at home for the third straight year. How unusual is that? Well, in its entire history, the club had only 30 prior home openers (15-15) compared to 97 on the road (53-44).

First number, last word

9: Consecutive different Opening Day starting pitchers for the Pirates, the team's longest such streak since 1900. This streak began with left-hander Oliver Perez in 2006, and led to left-hander Francisco Liriano on Monday.

"I always felt this is the greatest city in America, and fans treated me great in a Pirates uniform or in any other uniform. I'm home. This is my place." -- Dick Groat, National League Most Valuable Player in 1960, and a son of Pittsburgh forever.