PITTSBURGH -- Though John Russell held Lastings Milledge out of the lineup for the fourth time in the team's past five games on Tuesday, the Pittsburgh manager said that the outfielder will still get plenty of playing time moving forward.
Milledge lost his starting job in left field with the arrival of Jose Tabata last week. That means that, as things stand now, Milledge will split playing time in right with Ryan Church and, to a lesser extent, Delwyn Young. Who plays on a given day will largely be determined by matchups, Russell said.
"We're trying to get Church going a little bit, but Lastings is going to get plenty of opportunities as well," Russell said. "Lastings has swung the bat pretty well for us as of late. We're not going to just make him a bench player."
Still, Milledge missed his opportunity to show the Pirates that he deserves to be an everyday outfielder with this club. He still hasn't hit a home run this season, and he entered Tuesday with a .255 batting average and 17 RBIs.
Church, though, hasn't fared any better recently. His season average has dipped to .186 with a 6-for-61 stretch that dates back to May 6. The hope is that the dismal five-week period has largely been due to Church's bruised right wrist, which only recently fully healed, and a bout with the stomach flu.
"He's just now playing pain-free, sick-free and it's just getting back into his routine," Russell said. "He's proven throughout his career that he's going to hit. It's just a matter of him getting back on track."
Of course, these right-field plans could change if Steve Pearce returns to the big league club after he finishes his rehab stint. If Pearce rejoins the Pirates, he'd likely get the majority of the starts at first base. That would shift Garrett Jones to right field on a regular basis.
Coonelly refutes report about Russell's status
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates president Frank Coonelly strongly refuted a FOXSports.com report on Tuesday that suggested manager John Russell's job was in jeopardy.
Citing multiple Major League sources, FOXSports.com reported that the Pirates were holding internal discussions about Russell's immediate future. Coonelly, in turn, flatly denied that any such meetings were taking place.
"We think that such 'votes of confidence' are unfair to the employee and to the organization," Coonelly said. "It is unfortunate that several unnamed 'Major League sources' would spread this rumor when there was, and is, no basis for it whatsoever.
"We fully expect that John will be part of our return to winning baseball this season, and I hope that he is able to do his job without rumors being circulated by unnamed sources."
Russell is in the final guaranteed year of his contract, though the team does have a club option for 2011 that it can exercise. The Pirates have gone 152-235 since Russell took over in 2008, but until this report came out on Tuesday, there was never any indication that the organization planned to make an immediate managerial change.
Rehabbing Pearce to see game action
PITTSBURGH -- Rehabbing first baseman Steve Pearce is expected to see game action on Wednesday for the first time since spraining his right ankle on May 24.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said the plan is to get Pearce into an extended Spring Training game on Wednesday before deciding where Pearce will go on a Minor League rehab assignment. Because of his lengthy layoff, Pearce will likely need more than a week of games before the Pirates consider taking him off the disabled list.
What the Pirates haven't determined yet -- at least not publicly -- is whether Pearce will be Pittsburgh-bound as soon as his rehab stint is up. He played in 15 games with the Pirates before the injury and his much-improved offensive approach had left a good impression with management.
"He was starting to do some pretty good things up here," Pirates manager John Russell said. "He put himself in a very good position and took advantage of some situations. It's a guy that we'd like to get healthy and look at how he fits back up here."
The biggest issue could be finding roster space for Pearce. He was replaced on the 25-man roster by Neil Walker, who has since taken claim as the everyday second baseman. The Pirates added outfielder Jose Tabata last week and will have to clear a spot for Pedro Alvarez when he comes up, which is expected to be later this week.
Morton to make another rehab start
PITTSBURGH -- According to Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, right-hander Charlie Morton will make at least one more Minor League rehab start with Triple-A Indianapolis before the Pirates reevaluate his status.
Morton has been on the disabled list with right shoulder fatigue since May 28. At the time the injury was revealed, Morton was 1-9 with a 9.35 ERA in 10 starts with Pittsburgh.
The righty began his rehab stint with Indianapolis on June 8 and has made a total of two starts so far. In his first outing, Morton allowed five runs (two earned) on six hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings. He followed that up with a six-inning outing on Sunday in which he gave up three earned runs on seven hits. Morton walked one and struck out six in that contest.
"Part of his shoulder issue leads to some mechanical issues that we're trying to refine right now," Huntington said, when asked of Morton's progress. "Last start, he really had a chance to fold up the tent in the first inning and battled through it and competed very well and was able to make the adjustments he needed to make on the mound."
Huntington would not speculate as to whether Morton would immediately rejoin the big league club at the conclusion of his rehab assignment. Morton is eligible to stay on the DL through July 7. He does have one option remaining, meaning that the Pirates do have the option of leaving Morton in Triple-A beyond that date.
Morton is scheduled to make his next start on Saturday.
Bucs come to agreement with six picks
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates announced on Tuesday that they have come to agreements with six late-round Draft picks.
The players signed include: outfielder Justin Bencsko (20th round, Villanova University); catcher Matt Skirving (30th round, Eastern Michigan University); third baseman Chase Lyles (32nd round, Northwestern State University); left-hander Justin Ennis (33rd round, Louisiana State University-Shreveport); shortstop Kelson Brown (34th round, Linfield (Calif.) College); and right-hander Kevin Decker (39th round, College of Charleston (S.C.)).
These represent the first six signings from the Pirates' 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Decker and Ennis have already reported to the Pirates' Minor League affiliate in State College to participate in the Spikes' three-day mini-camp this week.
Pittsburgh also signed undrafted infielder Kevin Mort, a senior out of the University of Mississippi.
The Pirates' short season affiliate in State College began its three-day mini-camp on Tuesday. Among those participating in the workouts are some notable players selected in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft: Brooks Pounders (second round), Zack Dodson (fourth round) and Zack Von Rosenberg (sixth round). South African infielder Gift Ngoepe is making the step up to State College, which begins its season on Saturday. ... The Pirates and Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh will hold their third annual Pirates Charities auction on Thursday. The on-air auction will take place during the Pirates' game against the White Sox and go through the end of the seventh inning. ... Former University of Pittsburgh basketball player DeJuan Blair will throw out Wednesday's ceremonial first pitch at PNC Park. Blair, who now plays for the San Antonio Spurs, is in town to promote his July basketball camp.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.