PITTSBURGH -- Jim Leyland, in his homecoming to Pittsburgh, made it no secret on Friday that he is a fan of the direction the Pirates are headed.
Leyland's ties to the city are numerous. He remains a resident of Pittsburgh, even though his 11-year managerial stint with the Pirates ended after the 1996 season. He was the last manager to lead the organization to a winning season, though Leyland was also around to see the first four losing seasons in a streak that now sits at 18.
Having played the Pirates three straight years in Interleague Play, Leyland likes what he sees.
"Believe me, I'm glad to see it," Leyland said. "I scouted a few years when I wasn't managing, and I was here and they were struggling so much. It was sad for me. I felt bad. But this is a great baseball town. If you really look way back, it was probably a baseball town before it was a football town. It's a great place and, in my opinion -- I'm a little biased, but I think they have the best ballpark in America."
Leyland pointed particularly to the young talent and increased emphasis on spending in the Draft as the most encouraging signs that the Pirates' organization is taking steps forward. And being as attached to the organization as he is, Leyland knows specifics.
"[Jameson] Taillon is a tremendous talent," said Leyland of the Pirates' 2010 first-round Draft pick. "The kid that's down there in extended [spring training] right now that's having trouble throwing strikes is a tremendous talent, because he's got a 95-100 mph fastball. I saw the kid in a showcase. Stetson Allie, I think his name is.
"And they've got one of the best young players in all of baseball in center field, [Andrew McCutchen]. This guy's a dynamic player, in my opinion. [Neil] Walker, the [Pedro] Alvarez kid, [Jose] Tabata -- they're definitely headed in the right direction. I know people here probably have a tendency to say they've heard this all before. I don't want to get into what's going to happen when they become free agents. That's none of my business. That's not for me. But they're definitely headed in the right direction, and I think Clint's brought energy. I don't think there's any question about that. I watched the game yesterday. They're the real deal."
Alvarez sits with right quad tightness
PITTSBURGH -- Bothered again by tightness in his right quadriceps, Pedro Alvarez was held out of Friday's starting lineup as a precautionary measure.
Alvarez missed four games earlier this month with the injury, but had started seven of the nine games since returning. All seemed fine until Sunday, when Alvarez tweaked his right quad again. He played through the issue on Wednesday and Thursday, but the Pirates opted to stick to treatment only on Friday.
"Hopefully, this could be something that by the end of the day is gone," Alvarez said. "We're taking it day-by-day. It's never a good time to have to sit out of a game because of something like this. We're just taking every precautionary measure we can."
While Alvarez downplayed the timing of the setback, the ailment does come as the third baseman seems to be finding at least a little better footing at the plate. Though Alvarez had only four hits in 20 at-bats during the road trip, both he and manager Clint Hurdle noted encouraging signs in Alvarez's approach.
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"He has been swinging it better," Hurdle said. "There's nothing that's going to give a young player more confidence than having some success. The success is building his confidence a little bit. Obviously, his bat plays significantly in this lineup when it's there."
Brandon Wood started at third in place of Alvarez on Friday and is likely to continue to get most of the starts there for as long as Alvarez might be out. Steve Pearce could also fill in, if necessary.
McClendon signs infamous 'stolen' base
PITTSBURGH -- The base had been tucked away on a shelf inside a back room of the Pirates' clubhouse for years. And on Friday, Lloyd McClendon finally scribbled his name on it.
McClendon and this particular base have a history. On June 26, 2001, McClendon, then in his first year as Pirates manager, tucked the base under his arm and carried it off the field with him. It was his final action during a memorable meltdown that began with McClendon arguing an out call with first-base umpire Rick Reed.
Reed promptly ejected McClendon, and McClendon responded by uprooting the base and taking it to the dugout.
The Pirates don't have any known plans for the base now, though McClendon's signature is now stamped on the bottom right-hand corner.
"It's something I'm not proud of, but it happened," McClendon said on Friday. "It's not something you want to be remembered for."
While McClendon has tried to detach himself from the incident, it remains one of the most memorable moments in PNC Park history.
Hurdle, Leyland have bond from Rockies days
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates-Tigers series may not have the national appeal that a handful of other Interleague matchups boast, but don't tell manager Clint Hurdle that, as he has had his eyes on this three-game set since he took over as the club's manager in November.
A Michigan native, Hurdle is not shy about his ties to the state's sports teams. He often references the frustrations of being a Detroit Lions fan when asked about Pittsburgh's desire to have a winning baseball team. He's an avid Red Wings fan and grew up admiring Al Kaline while listening to Ernie Harwell call Tigers games.
"I love the opportunity to play the Tigers," Hurdle said. "I loved the Tigers, [though] not so much tonight. It's two old-school baseball teams. When you're talking about the Tigers and the Pirates, it has a good feel to it."
Hurdle's connection to the Tigers goes much deeper than childhood fandom, though. One of Hurdle's five-plus years as Rockies hitting coach came during Jim Leyland's brief stint as Colorado manager. The Rockies finished in last place in the National League West that year. Leyland left the managerial post after that season, but not before a bond was formed.
Before Friday's series opener, Hurdle talked about the respect he gained for Leyland when their time overlapped in Colorado. The relationship turned out to be beneficial, too, when Hurdle was gathering information about the organization during his interview process with the Pirates this fall. One of his calls was to Leyland.
"I reached out to Jim for some thoughts and some historical reference," Hurdle said. "He had a great stay here. He got to see both sides of it. He's a native. Just talking about the city, talking about the fan base, talking about the quality of life, talking about it all."
Evan Meek (right shoulder tendinitis) needed just five pitches to get through his one-inning appearance with Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday. The rehab outing was Meek's third with Indianapolis; he is expected to make his next one on Saturday. Assuming he has no setbacks while pitching on back-to-back days, Meek will return to Pittsburgh on Sunday and be activated off the disabled list prior to Tuesday's game against the Braves.
By picking up the save in Indianapolis' 3-2 win over Buffalo, Meek ensured that Rudy Owens was rewarded in the win column for another strong performance. Owens needed only 81 pitches to finish seven innings. He allowed one run on seven hits and didn't walk a batter.
Manager Clint Hurdle confirmed that Matt Diaz was fine after the outfielder stepped awkwardly out of the batter's box during his pinch-hit appearance on Thursday. Diaz ended up pinch-hitting on Friday and drove in the second of six sixth-inning runs.
Pittsburgh native and former Pirates player Don Kelly spent time visiting with former teammates prior to Friday's game. He also got a gift from his brother-in-law, Pirates second baseman Neil Walker. The Pirates' promotional item on Saturday is a Walker bobblehead figurine. Walker got Kelly his keepsake a day early.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.