ST. LOUIS -- Back in late April, when it looked like Chris Leroux was falling down on the Triple-A depth chart, he was presented with the suggestion of returning to his old form. He revisited the three-quarters arm slot that had brought him success in 2008-09 and picked back up his "slurve" pitch that he had thrown in college.
Leroux's Triple-A numbers saw an immediate improvement after the two changes were made. And now back in the Majors, the right-hander has carried over that success. With another 2 2/3 scoreless innings on Thursday, Leroux has allowed only one run in 10 2/3 innings with Pittsburgh.
"I'd like to say it's been career saving," Leroux said of the change in arm angle. "My control is way better. I'm down in the zone more. I'm throwing my breaking ball a lot more for strikes. I think the results speak for themselves."
They do, especially in comparison to Leroux's numbers from a year ago. Claimed off waivers by the Pirates last September, Leroux came to Pittsburgh to finish off a season in which he posted a 6.75 ERA in 23 Major League appearances. His results in the Minors -- a 6.28 ERA in 26 games -- weren't much better.
But a renaissance of sorts this year has helped Leroux lay claim to a long-relief role and has put him on the radar to be a piece in the Pirates' bullpen beyond 2011.
"I'd just like to give it more time to make sure that what we're seeing is what we're seeing," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Where it all goes, I don't know. But I do know that right now he has a very versatile arm. He can be used multiple times in a week. I love the arm. He's got a lot of self-confidence in a quiet way. I think he's got a very good future."
After unsuccessfully lobbying to start earlier in the year, Leroux has settled into a multiple-innings relief role. It's a role Leroux said suits him well, and it could turn out to be his best fit on a Pirates team that is likely to construct its 2012 bullpen mostly through internal options.
"I've showed the little time I've been up here this year that I'm a changed pitcher," Leroux said. "I think this next month is going to be big for me. Hopefully, I can prove even more that I deserve to be here."
Harrison trying to improve plate discipline
ST. LOUIS -- Infielder Josh Harrison insists that his plate discipline has improved during his second stint with the Pirates. Just don't look at his walk total for proof of that.
Now up to 123 plate appearances, Harrison has drawn just one walk. It briefly looked as if Harrison might double that total on Thursday when he got ahead of Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson 3-0 during his second at-bat. Harrison took the next two pitches for strikes before flying out to end the inning.
The Pirates would like to see Harrison increase his on-base percentage, which currently sits at .275. But the staff doesn't necessarily want Harrison to back completely away from the aggressiveness that has led to so much success in the Minors.
"I think that's going to be part of him learning to play at this level," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I do think there is some room for improvement -- just him trusting himself to hit deeper in counts."
Harrison admits that, as a result of not playing every day, he expanded his strike zone too much when he was with the team earlier this summer. He has extended his at-bats out more since returning to the club this month and is making a focused effort not to give in on as many borderline pitches.
That approach, Harrison said, is part of the reason why he has exceeded his extra-base hits total from his first 35 games during his last five.
"I'm back to that zone where I can take pitches and work counts, which could lead to more walks," Harrison said. "I went down and I played every day and I got the at-bats. I'm recognizing pitches better than I was last time I was here."
By nature, Harrison isn't one to walk much. He drew just 15 in 254 Triple-A plate appearances this year. He showed his most patience in 2010, when he walked 32 times in 585 plate appearances. Still, that averages out to just one walk every 18 plate appearances.
"I am an aggressive hitter," said Harrison, who has had a three-ball count just 12 times with the Pirates. "It can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing because I can expand my zone. If you get on base, they really won't say much."
Hall of Famer Stargell to be featured on stamp
ST. LOUIS -- Pirates great Willie Stargell will be featured on a stamp next summer, the United States Postal Service has announced.
The U.S. Postal Service has selected four players to be recognized as part of an All-Star set of stamps. Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio and Larry Doby have also been chosen for the recognition. The fourth player will be named at a later date.
The collection, which is designed to honor perennial All-Stars, is scheduled to come out in July 2012.
Stargell represented the Pirates in the All-Star Game seven times. He won National League co-MVP honors in 1979, the same year Pittsburgh captured a World Series championship. In 21 seasons with the Pirates, Stargell hit .282 with 475 home runs and 1,540 RBIs.
The outfielder/first baseman was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1988 and passed away at the age of 61 on April 9, 2001.
First baseman Derrek Lee (left wrist fracture) is on track to begin swinging a bat next week while the team is in Houston. Recent tests have cleared Lee to increase his baseball activities.
Saturday will mark the third straight week that the Pirates will be a part of FOX's national broadcast. Pirates analyst Bob Walk will be joining Cardinals play-by-play announcer Dan McLaughlin as the commentators for that game. First pitch is scheduled for 4:10 p.m. ET.
It has been one month since the Pirates lost to the Braves in a 19-inning marathon game in Atlanta. And on Thursday, Pittsburgh's low Class A West Virginia affiliate played its own 19-inning game. The club lost to Greensboro in the contest. Kevin Mort, who began the night as the team's starting second baseman, pitched the final 5 1/3 innings for West Virginia. Mort was also the only Power player to have three hits in the game.
With two stolen bases on Thursday, the Pirates have 90 entering Friday. The last time the Pirates stole more was in 2001, when the club swiped 93. Last year, the Pirates finished the season with 87.
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.