PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates made a somewhat unexpected roster move on Saturday when, just a little more than an hour before first pitch, the team announced it had designated catcher Dusty Brown for assignment. Eric Fryer, who split time at Double-A and Triple-A this year, was called up to join the big league club and serve as the team's second catcher.
"We appreciate Dusty Brown's efforts, but believe that Eric Fryer has a chance to help this Major League club more than Dusty Brown at this point in time," general manager Neal Huntington said. "This move is the move we feel is best for this club at this time. We will continue to look for logical, rational ways to improve our club."
Immediately following news of the roster move, the clubhouse was closed for a team meeting. Management had warned that a number of moves were likely over the next 10 days to try to shake up a roster that is underachieving offensively. This one, though, seems to be directed more to shoring up the defense.
Since losing Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder to injuries, the Bucs have maintained that their priority in finding catching replacements is to focus on the defensive end. The club's decision to cut ties with Brown now suggests he wasn't meeting that defensive standard.
"As we continue to move forward and see if there are other upgrades, the focus will continue to be on the game call, the receive, the leadership, the presence, even if it does result in a sacrifice of some of the bat," general manger Neal Huntington said earlier in the week.
Since the Pirates acquired Michael McKenry on June 12, Brown had made just two starts.
Fryer hit .315 in 58 Minor League games this season. He threw out seven of the 21 baserunners attempting to steal. Fryer is the second position player from Indianapolis to be called up in as many days, and he is not likely to be the last. The Pirates are expected to recall outfielder Alex Presley before Tuesday's series in Toronto.
"Sometimes you don't know what a guy can do until you get him up here, and you don't want to put a ceiling on a guy and say those are Triple-A numbers," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Sometimes you need to bring him up and take that step of faith and give them an opportunity to play up here and see what they can do."
McDonald excited for test against Boston
PITTSBURGH -- This three-day visit by the Red Sox did not go unnoticed by James McDonald back in September when Major League Baseball released its 2011 schedule. And because of the Pirates' decision not to pitch Charlie Morton on Sunday, McDonald gets to be an active participant in the Interleague series.
"Since the schedule came out, I've been looking forward to this day," said McDonald, who will start the series finale on Sunday. "They will let you know where you stand because these guys have taken down some of the best pitchers. Going against them will be fun."
Challenging might be as appropriate an adjective as fun. McDonald has labored through a number of starts this year because of inefficiency, and an experienced Boston lineup will surely exploit McDonald if he is unable to command his fastball early.
In four starts this month, McDonald has walked 16 in 20 1/3 innings and he has averaged 19 pitches an inning. As a result, McDonald has been able to finish six innings only once in June.
- 131 wins
- 121 wins
Sunday's start might end up holding even more significance for McDonald, as his cousin, Darnell McDonald, is a member of the opposition. The two have never faced each other, though a matchup was looming in 2009 when Darnell McDonald, then with the Reds, was on the on-deck circle when James McDonald was on the mound in relief for the Dodgers. James McDonald retired the hitter at the plate to end the inning and the chance of a family showdown.
Morton taking steps to avoid fatigue issues
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' decision to skip Charlie Morton's next turn in the rotation has him in a 10-day stretch in-between starts. But while Morton may not be taking the mound, he and pitching coach Ray Searage are using this time to make some tweaks to Morton's preparation. These are changes that the right-hander anticipates will help him avoid enduring fatigue issues once he gets back on a normal pitching routine.
Morton has been actively working through a long-toss program since his start on Monday. The purpose is to build back his arm strength and elongate his muscles, which get short once fatigue sets in. He also threw a side session of fastballs on Saturday and will throw again off the mound on Tuesday.
Searage noted, too, that, moving forward, the Pirates will have Morton reduce the intensity of his workout routine.
"He's still doing the routine, but it's not going to be as high intensity," Searage said. "What we have to do is just maintain the strength and not try to build. Every time he did something, he always worked harder at it. That sped up the usage of all the energy that he had and that backed him up even more. There are going to be days where he is just going to have to rest."
Morton's next scheduled start will come against the Nationals on Friday. The hope is that the extra rest and adjustments to his routine will go far in helping Morton emerge from a three-start stretch in which he was knocked around for 15 runs in 11 innings.
"I just know that I'm not looking at it as I have to change all these things and do some kind of overhaul," Morton said. "There are just some [fatigue issues] that kind of snuck up on me because I really never got to this point before."
Expecting to win part of club's turnaround
PITTSBURGH -- Seventy-five games into the 2010 season, the Pirates were 25-50 and at the end of a stretch in which the team dropped 18 of 20 games. Aside from hoping for individual improvement for particular players, the Pirates were already staring at another losing season with more than three months left to play.
Much has changed in one year. Heading into Saturday's game against the Red Sox, the Pirates were above .500 (38-37) and showing no signs of fading. The starting pitchers are already within six wins of the rotation's total from last season, and the bullpen, which has a 3.24 ERA, has been an anchor behind them.
That pitching has made up for a lagging offense and has carried the Bucs through a period in which a number of key players have gone down with injury. Those tangible results have had a noticeable and critical impact on the psyche of everyone inside the clubhouse.
"They definitely come to the ballpark expecting to win a game. No doubt in my mind about that," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We know we can beat any team on any given night or day. At the end of the night, we have to score one more run. We know we can do that. I don't think there's a man out there who doesn't believe that when he gets ready for a game and walks through those doors."
Of all the benchmarks the club can clear this season, there is one that is within reach before the end of the month. Only twice have the Pirates had a winning record in Interleague Play (2001 and '09), and in neither of those campaigns did the club win more than eight games against American League teams. With a 5-5 record and five games remaining, the Bucs have a shot at getting to nine victories over the AL for the first time.
Manager Clint Hurdle said that Pedro Alvarez was expected to resume game activity on Friday, but had a minor setback with his neck. Alvarez has been on the disabled list since May 21 with right quadriceps tightness.
Lefty Joe Beimel had another successful bullpen session on Saturday and is expected to throw his next one on Tuesday. After that, the tentative plan is to have Beimel travel to Florida to continue his work back from left elbow inflammation.
Right-hander Michael Crotta (right elbow posterior inflammation) made another scoreless relief appearance for Triple-A Indianapolis on Thursday. Crotta, who is on his Minor League rehab assignment, has not allowed a baserunner in two Triple-A innings.
Once Eric Fryer sees time behind the plate for the Pirates, he will be the seventh different catcher used by the club this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the most catchers used by the team since 1953. The Pirates used eight that year.
After notching his 21st save, Joel Hanrahan is four shy of tying the franchise record for saves before the All-Star break. Mike Williams had 25 before the break in both 2002 and '03.
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.