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Alvarez blasts a solo homer to deep right

PHOENIX -- There is likely a part of Pedro Alvarez that is ready for the mental break that awaits him this offseason. A tumultuous season like the one he has endured will prompt the need for such an escape.

But the absence of anticipated production from Alvarez this year has never left the Pirates questioning his raw talent. The results, everyone urged, were not indicative of the potential.

In Tuesday's 5-3 win over the D-backs at Chase Field, Alvarez showed flashes of why it is far too early to give up on a player that had been hyped as a cornerstone of the organization.

He did have his shortcomings, too, only further reinforcing the maddening theme of inconsistency that has defined his career thus far. But during a season in which positives have been challenging to pinpoint, consider Tuesday night another step in the right direction.

In addition to launching his first home run since July 30, Alvarez made a handful of spectacular defensive stops to back Charlie Morton. Those moments overshadowed the pair of swinging strikeouts and late-inning throwing error.

"It's got to feel good," said manager Clint Hurdle, whose club stopped a four-game skid. "He played both sides of the ball extremely well tonight. The defense was just top shelf. Good for him."

"He played a hell of a game," added Arizona manager Kirk Gibson.

Alvarez's night helped put Morton in position to join Kevin Correia as the rotation's second 10-game winner. Morton pitched six shutout innings in the victory over the first-place Arizona club.

"[Braves manager Bobby Cox] made a big thing about when you go into a place, even if you're not in contention, you give it everything you got because other teams will respect you for that," Morton said. "There is something to be said about coming in here and giving it everything we got and playing well."

In the starting lineup for the fourth time in the team's last five games, Alvarez drilled a first-pitch fastball from D-backs starter Daniel Hudson into the right-field seats to lead off the second inning. The RBI was Alvarez's first this month and the homer just his fourth all year.

There had been signs, though, that Alvarez was on the verge of finally connecting. He just missed on a pitch Monday night and has had noticeably-improved plate discipline since returning to the Majors after the conclusion of the Minor League season.

"The last couple days I have felt really good," Alvarez said. "I think I'm giving myself the best opportunity to succeed. [I am] seeing the ball and laying off the tough pitches and swinging at the balls that I can drive."

The five walks he drew in his first 12 plate appearances on this road trip were indicators of just that. He drew another on Tuesday, though it was intentional. Alvarez had not been intentionally walked this year.

"Honestly, I'm going out there and just trying to play," Alvarez said. "Let my abilities take over and not over-analyze anything. Just keep it as simple as possible."

His homer increased the Pirates' lead to 2-0. Consecutive doubles by Alex Presley and Neil Walker in the first had driven in the club's first run. Pittsburgh extended its lead further in the fifth, when Ryan Doumit followed back-to-back walks with an RBI double.

That would be Hudson's final inning. The Pirates tagged him for seven hits and three walks. Hudson had not allowed three earned runs in any of his previous five starts.

Morton successfully piggybacked off Jeff Karstens' strong start the night before. Morton snapped a string of six winless starts in the 106-pitch effort. He had thrown that many pitches in a game only one other time since the start of July.

Morton scattered three hits and three walks and benefited from some tremendous defensive plays to keep Arizona off the scoreboard. Right fielder Garrett Jones made a diving catch to end the first with two runners aboard. Alvarez made several above-average plays to garner outs during Morton's six-inning outing.

"That was the best defensive game played behind me I've ever had," Morton said. "That was awesome."

The Pirates' lead fell into immediate jeopardy upon Morton's departure. Chris Leroux entered in the seventh, allowed two singles and handed that mess over to Jason Grilli, who immediately allowed an RBI single to Willie Bloomquist. Grilli escaped more damage by retiring the next three hitters.

Derrek Lee's two-run homer tacked on some insurance for the Pirates in the eighth. That proved crucial when the D-backs responded with two runs off Jose Veras in the bottom half of the frame. The latter came on Alvarez's one defensive miscue of the game.

With runners on the corners and two outs, Alvarez charged in to field a bunt by Bloomquist. As a run scored, he threw wide of first base. The inning continued, though Tony Watson ensured the error wouldn't further exacerbate the inning by retiring the next hitter to end the inning.

Joel Hanrahan then sealed the win with his 39th save.

In all, the clubs combined to strand 23 runners in the game. The Pirates finished 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position, while Arizona went 2-for-13 in such spots.

"Give Pittsburgh credit," Gibson said. "I talked to Clint before the game. He told [me] they were going to try and beat our [butts]. I respect that."

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