ST. LOUIS -- The Pirates' outfield -- as well as the top of the batting order -- just got even faster.
Alex Presley returned to the mix on Thursday, fresh off a disabled-list stint during which he recovered from a left hand contusion. Manager Clint Hurdle wasted no time getting Presley involved, as the outfielder started in left and batted second in the team's series opener against the Cardinals.
With Presley alongside Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata, the Pirates now flaunt one of the quicker outfield trios in the league.
"It's going to be fun," Presley said. "We should cover a lot of ground out there, I think. I'm just excited to be back and play again."
"I've got to believe we've got an outfield with top-shelf range in terms of running down balls," added Hurdle. "If that ball goes up with a hump in it, we've got a chance for it to end up in a glove."
With Presley expected to play left regularly, the Pirates will slide Tabata over to right field. Tabata will remain the Pirates' leadoff hitter, with Presley slotted just behind him. That batting order, Hurdle said, is subject to being flip-flopped, if needed.
Presley hit exclusively from the top spot in the order during his first stop in the Majors this year. He batted .333 and scored 12 runs in those 20 games. But that leadoff role has belonged to Tabata for the majority of the season, and since coming back from his own injury, Tabata is 15-for-38 while hitting first.
"I think it's going to play very well for both of them," Hurdle said. "Right now, Tabata has earned that role. We'll see what kind of offense that provides."
With Presley back and healthy, outfielders Matt Diaz and Xavier Paul are expected to see limited playing time. Ryan Ludwick, the team's other outfielder, will be sidelined for at least two weeks after landing on the disabled list due to back spasms.
Back from DL, d'Arnaud ready for challenge
ST. LOUIS -- Chase d'Arnaud rejoined the Pirates on Thursday after spending nearly one month on the disabled list with a fractured right pinky finger.
d'Arnaud did not get a start in the Pirates' series opener against the Cardinals, but he will get plenty of playing time as the season winds down. And what d'Arnaud does over the next five weeks will be critical as the Pirates begin to piece together their roster plans for 2012.
The Pirates own a $3 million club option that they can choose to exercise to keep shortstop Ronny Cedeno through 2012. But d'Arnaud has long been thought of as Cedeno's successor, and the 24-year-old infielder has a chance to make a statement that he can take over at the start of next year.
If nothing else, d'Arnaud can certainly make that decision a tough one if he can finish 2011 with a strong five weeks both defensively and at the plate. He will split time at second, third and short, manager Clint Hurdle said, though d'Arnaud's long-term fit is most likely to come as a shortstop.
"It's important for all of us younger guys just to prove ourselves as a player and show that we can belong here and can contribute on a day-to-day basis," d'Arnaud said.
After a quick stop with Class A Advanced Bradenton, d'Arnaud appeared in 12 rehab games with Triple-A Indianapolis. He said he has been feeling completely healthy for about a week and a half.
"It's just been a matter of getting back into the swing of things and the daily life of baseball," said d'Arnaud, who went 9-for-49 with Indianapolis. "I just want to get back and contribute. I want it to be as if I never left."
Before the injury, d'Arnaud hit .225 with seven stolen bases, 11 runs scored and three RBIs in 25 big league games.
Hurdle likes McKenry-Morton combination
ST. LOUIS -- Playing time will continue to be split between catchers Michael McKenry and Ryan Doumit over these final five weeks of the season. But there needs to be no speculation as to who will draw the assignment when Charlie Morton is starting.
Manager Clint Hurdle, by design, continues to put McKenry behind the plate to catch Morton. And that is not going to change anytime soon.
Since McKenry joined the club, he has caught 10 of the 11 starts Morton has made. The only time McKenry wasn't Morton's batterymate came on July 24, when Morton worked with Eric Fryer.
"It just seems to really be working well," Hurdle said. "This is one that is just making sense right now. We'll just leave it alone."
McKenry's defensive ability plays a large role in having him work so closely with Morton. He is more adept at blocking balls in the dirt than Doumit, and that bodes well since Morton throws so many sinkers.
Interestingly, though, Morton's ERA is actually lower when he's been paired with Doumit. The two have worked together four times this year -- the last time coming on May 1 -- and Morton posted a 2.96 ERA in those four games. In 10 games working with McKenry, Morton has a 3.74 ERA, though he has a 0.95 mark in four August outings.
Morton has had his most success with Chris Snyder, who remains on the disabled list with a lower back injury, behind the plate. In the seven games Snyder caught Morton, Morton had a 2.31 ERA.
Inside scoop: Bucs try to re-establish success
ST. LOUIS -- For all the success that the Pirates' pitchers had by throwing inside during the first half of the season, it makes little sense why the group has collectively gotten away from doing so lately.
But while manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage may not have been able to give an answer as to why their pitchers have shown more hesitancy to throw inside, both are preaching the same message of getting back to doing so.
"We have to make sure that we reboot the system back up again," Searage said. "What we've done is that we've gone to pitching away from contact. We got hit around a couple of times, and now we're pitching to avoid contact. That doesn't work because we're a contact pitching club. We have to pitch to contact in order to get weak contact."
It's no coincidence that as many of the pitchers have backed off on pitching inside, the staff has put up its worst month-long numbers. Since July 25, the Pirates have had a 5.35 ERA. The team's ERA before that date was 3.43.
"I don't get it," Hurdle said, when asked why the staff got away from something that was so successful. "You work hard for three and a half months to get into a position individually or as a group and things start to get away. ... I've been on other teams where you have to revisit [pitching inside]."
The Pirates were encouraged to see their two spot starters -- Brad Lincoln and Aaron Thompson -- this week thrive on pitching inside. The two games the Pirates won in the four-game series against the Brewers were started by Thompson and Lincoln.
"I hope some other guys were looking at that," Searage said. "We did that well early. Now we're trying to get back into [throwing inside]. Slowly but surely we're doing that."
In order to clear roster spots for infielder Chase d'Arnaud and outfielder Alex Presley to come off the disabled list, the Pirates optioned both left-hander Aaron Thompson and infielder Pedro Ciriaco back to Triple-A. Neither move came as a surprise, and both players are likely to be among those called up when rosters expand in September.
Ciriaco has now been called up from the Minors and sent back down five different times this year. In three of those five instances, his stay with the Pirates lasted less than a week.
Double-A Altoona outfielder Starling Marte has been named to the Eastern League postseason All-Star team. Marte, 22, currently leads the active members of the EL with a .322 batting average and 161 hits. With five more hits, Marte will match the Curve's franchise record, which was set by Nate McLouth in 2004.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Pirates' 2-0 win over Milwaukee on Wednesday marked just the third time in National League history that a team with a starting pitcher making his Major League debut (Thompson) has shut out a club that sat at least 25 games above .500. The feat last happened in 1993.
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.