PITTSBURGH -- When Clint Hurdle falls in love with a lineup, the affair usually doesn't last long. Pittsburgh's manager has not gone longer than two consecutive games with the same batting order, but the current alignment could have a little more shelf life.The lineup turned in for the first two games against the Royals has dramatic differences from the look for most of the season's first two months -- principally with the Garrett Jones-Pedro Alvarez-Jose Tabata link fourth-through-sixth. Alvarez and Tabata have both been lowered into lesser-pressure spots from cleanup and leadoff, respectively. "I'm trying to get Pedro out of the fourth-hole, like taking a little pressure out of a football. Same with Tabata," Hurdle said. "[Tabata] profiles to be a top-of-the-order guy; unfortunately, the numbers haven't played out well." In 31 games leading off, Tabata hit .217 with only nine walks in 132 plate appearances; he took over as the primary leadoff man with the demotion of Alex Presley, whose recent return from Indianapolis freed him to move elsewhere. The Alvarez clean-up experiment, which began May 5, pretty much went bust, as he batted .140 in 24 games there. "Let's get [Tabata] out of that spotlight, give him a chance to find his own comfort zone," said Hurdle, who likes the idea of Tabata's speed on the bases in front of Rod Barajas and Clint Barmes, the Nos. 7 and 8 hitters whose bats have warmed. "Now that they're spanking, we can score runs at the bottom [of the order] as well as on top." The lineup won't survive a third straight day: Left-hander Bruce Chen is slated to start for Kansas City on Sunday, thus Jones figures to shift to right with Matt Hague returning to first.
Karstens' issues keep Lincoln in rotation mix
PITTSBURGH -- Jeff Karstens' setback sets up Brad Lincoln to remain in the Bucs' rotation for at least two more spins.Karstens was on target to be activated to lead off the Pirates' Interleague series on Tuesday in Baltimore, until tweaking his right groin muscle at the end of his Thursday rehab outing with Indianapolis. An MRI taken Friday traced Karstens' discomfort to the hip flexor, viewed as a better-case diagnosis. Still, Karstens will be limited to some flat-ground tossing for about a week before "getting him back on the mound when he's comfortable with the leg," manager Clint Hurdle said. Lincoln will take the hill in Camden Yards on Tuesday night, looking to improve on his last start, in which the Reds tagged him for five runs in four innings. If the Pirates need a replacement starter beyond that, they might look at alternatives. Lincoln has been too valuable in his usual long-relief role (0.45 ERA in 13 games), and some worthy candidates are available at the Triple-A level.
Hurdle lauds Barmes for defensive prowess
PITTSBURGH -- Clint Barmes has never won a Gold Glove Award, and it's not often his name is mentioned alongside the likes of premier shortstops such as the Marlins' Jose Reyes and the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins.But the Pirates shortstop knows his way around the position, and the job Barmes has done there this season has pleased manager Clint Hurdle. "He's steady. He's solid," Hurdle said. "He's got a slow heartbeat in the middle of the infield." While Barmes hasn't exactly set the world on fire with his bat, Hurdle said he's done a good job of not letting that affect his fielding. "He's definitely won us some games with his glove," Hurdle said. At the plate, Barmes brings a meager .194 average into Saturday's game against Kansas City. But that's up from a week ago, when it sat at .167. Since June 3, the shortstop has seven hits in 16 at-bats, good enough for an average of .438. In his only previous two at-bats against Saturday night Royals starter Vin Mazzaro, Barmes was 1-for-2, with a double and a strikeout.
"It's not a Roto baseball league. You make a deal over the winter, you're not going to float the guy after five weeks."
-- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle on Clint Barmes, the veteran shortstop and free-agent signee who entered June with a .167 average and has hit .438 since.
What is more amazing? That 12 of the 14 Major League clubs that play in the Eastern Time Zone are playing winning baseball -- or that the only two that aren't were popular choices to meet in the World Series -- the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies? With 10 wins in their last 13 Interleague home games, the Pirates will be out to complete their first sweep of an American League opponent since 2001, when they won three straight over the Indians. Yuniesky Betancourt's fourth-inning home run was only the fourth allowed this season by James McDonald in 73 2/3 innings. The first-inning double-steal pulled by the Royals' Alex Gordon and Billy Butler made it 19 straight successful steals against the Pirates; overall, foes have converted 41 of 45 steals attempts. Pittsburgh ran its home record in Saturday games to 6-0.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.