PITTSBURGH -- A familiar name to Pirates fans because of his role in ending a 19-inning game between the Pirates and Braves nearly three weeks ago, Jerry Meals is in Pittsburgh as part of the umpiring crew assigned to this week's Pirates-Cardinals series.
This marks Meals' first trip to Pittsburgh since ruling that Pirates catcher Michael McKenry did not tag Atlanta's Julio Lugo on a swipe attempt in the 19th inning of a July 26 game. The safe call gave the Braves a 4-3 win in a game that was the longest in franchise history (in terms of time) for both clubs. Since Meals' call, the Pirates are 3-15.
Assigned to umpire at first base on Monday, Meals should be behind the plate on Tuesday. Umpires rotate clockwise around the bases during a series.
While Meals will likely hear some jeers from those in the stands, his trip to Pittsburgh will also include some time spent giving back to the community. Meals and the rest of the umpiring crew will be at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh on Tuesday to host a Build-A-Bear workshop for children with cancer or other serious illnesses and injuries. The event is one of many initiatives by Major League Baseball's UMPS CARE Charities.
Tabata returns to Pirates, not activated from DL
PITTSBURGH -- Jose Tabata returned to Pittsburgh on Monday, but the outfielder was not activated from the disabled list prior to the club's series opener against the Cardinals. Rather, the Pirates called Tabata away from his Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis to have him undergo a medical checkpoint review.
The purpose, according to manager Clint Hurdle, was to see Tabata go through a series of drills to ensure that his mobility is no longer affected by a left quad strain that put him on the DL on June 28.
While Hurdle wouldn't speculate on an activation date for the outfielder, Tabata said he was told that if all goes well on Monday, he'd be ready to return on Tuesday.
"I feel good. I feel ready to go," Tabata said. "It's been a long time since I [have seen] a Major League ball. I feel nervous a little bit because I want to do a good job. But at the same time, I don't want to put pressure on [myself]. I [have] come back here, and I'll try to do my same job."
Tabata played in nine games with Indianapolis and went 11-for-33 with six extra-base hits. He attempted two stolen bases, and Hurdle said the reports were that Tabata had improved his outfield routes and running times during the latter part of the rehab stint.
"At the beginning, I felt a little uncomfortable," Tabata said. "But now I feel much better. I think I'm finding my swing again. I'm very happy for that."
The Pirates will have to make a corresponding roster move when they are ready to make Tabata's return official. Steve Pearce and Pedro Alvarez, both of whom have struggled since returning from their own injuries, would be candidates to be optioned to Triple-A. Both players, it would seem, could benefit from taking a step back and playing every day in the Minors.
Alvarez trying to work through recent struggles
PITTSBURGH -- Held out of the lineup against a right-handed starter on Monday, Pedro Alvarez continues to focus much of his time on rediscovering the swing that has not been there for him on a consistent basis all year. While Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has liberally sat Alvarez against lefties, this marks the first time the third baseman has not started against a righty since being recalled on July 25.
"We've got some things we're still working on," Hurdle said. "He's working very hard, but the transfer has not been clean and it has not been as quick as we had hoped. The readiness to hit is inconsistent. It's been challenging, to say the least."
Since rejoining the club three weeks ago, Alvarez has just 12 hits in 68 at-bats. Alvarez has struck out 24 times, drawn only four walks and has watched his season average dip to .197 during this stretch.
There is a possibility that Alvarez could return to Triple-A when the Pirates activate outfielder Jose Tabata from the disabled list this week. Such a move would give Alvarez the ability to accrue everyday at-bats in a less-pressurized environment. There are three weeks remaining on the Triple-A schedule.
One thing that the Pirates hope will jump-start Alvarez is adding off-speed pitches to his batting-practice sessions, Hurdle said on Monday. Inside the organization, there also seems to be a concern about Alvarez's current level of confidence, which is to be expected given how little success he has had this season.
"We're just trying to keep everything funneled and simple," Hurdle said. "Now it's at the point of the league having punched back, and he's got to find some punches. He's got to find a positioning to get himself in a more dynamic hitting position. That's the goal."
Prospect Owens has inflammation in shoulder
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates pitching prospect Rudy Owens traveled to Pittsburgh to undergo an MRI on his left shoulder on Monday. He received encouraging news following the exam.
Director of player development Kyle Stark said late Monday that no structural damage was found in Owens' shoulder. What the results did show, though, was some signs of inflammation, which has prompted the Pirates to have Owens stop throwing for now.
There is no timetable for how long Owens' period of rest might last and whether or not he'll pitch again this year. There are three weeks remaining in the Minor League season.
Owens, who was named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in each of the past two seasons, was 9-7 with a 5.05 ERA in 21 starts before being placed on the disabled list. The lefty has struck out 71 and walked 32 in 112 1/3 innings.
Chase d'Arnaud (fractured right pinkie finger) and Alex Presley (left hand bruise) are on rehab assignments with Triple-A Indianapolis. Both have played in three games since moving up from Class A Advanced Bradenton (Fla.). Presley is 3-for-12 with Indianapolis; d'Arnaud is 1-for-12.
Right-hander Chris Leroux (left calf strain) made a scoreless three-inning rehab outing for Indianapolis on Saturday. Leroux did not allow a hit or walk in the appearance. He struck out two.
Outfield prospect Starling Marte was named Eastern League Player of the Week after batting .556 with four doubles, one triple, one homer, two RBIs and 10 runs scored last week. Marte becomes the third Altoona Curve player to earn EL honors this season.
Left-hander Jeff Locke is scheduled to make his Triple-A debut for Indianapolis on Monday. Locke was promoted from Double-A last week. Locke went 7-8 with a 4.03 ERA in 23 games (22 starts) with Altoona.
The 2011 Pirates Charities Golf Classic will take place at Fox Chapel Golf Course at 10 a.m. ET on Thursday. Fans will get the chance to play golf with players, broadcasters and front-office executives in the event, which will raise money for Pirates Charities.
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.