PITTSBURGH -- Clint Barmes greeted a visitor with an awkward smile following his 3-for-4 performance in the Pirates' 7-2 victory over Minnesota on Tuesday night."Did I make it?" Barmes asked, referring to crossing baseball's derogatory Mendoza Line, drawn at a .200 batting average. Indeed, the three-hit game had pulled the shortstop's average to .200, after he had spent the season's first 74 days below it. It's still only a starting point, but it is an indication that Barmes is at a better point than at any time this season. "I'll take it. As much cage work as I have done, it's nice to have found something that clicks," he said. "It's only one night -- and I know we've had this conversation already a few times this year -- but I've found a way to relax at the plate and find some [bat] barrels, and I'm trying to be consistent with it. "What day is it?" he added, asking rhetorically. "As many games as we have left, it's nice to be where I am now. Definitely better than the way I started." Barmes is heartened by the possibility of reaching his natural level by the end of the season. As a career .252 hitter before 2012, getting there would mean a pretty hot second half. He could be on his way, with a .284 average in June. Heating up at this time of the year is typical for the 33-year-old 10-year veteran, who has a matching career June average of .284. Also, he batted .282 last July and in 2010 batted .291 through June and July. Barmes couldn't be sure he'd have gotten to this U-turn had the shots been called by a manager other than Clint Hurdle, who knows him well from their days with the Rockies, and who had lobbied for the Bucs to sign him as a free agent in the offseason. "It's hard to say if I would've gotten the chances with another manager," Barmes said. "I've played and struggled with other managers, and they kept throwing me out there, believed in me as well. I'm just very thankful for the opportunities I've gotten."
Karstens stops by PNC between starts
PITTSBURGH -- Rehabbing Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens was in the clubhouse at PNC Park before Wednesday's game against Minnesota, fresh off a dominating start the day before in Double-A Altoona.Karstens, who is currently on the 15-day DL with right shoulder inflammation and a hip flexor issue, threw seven innings for the Curve, allowing one earned run while striking out five. "I felt really good," Karstens said. "I wasn't surprised to be that effective, because I felt ready the last time I pitched in Pawtucket, before I got sidetracked by the hip thing. And I'd been able to keep the arm fresh by throwing on flat ground." In his previous outing, Karstens was forced to leave a Triple-A start early after feeling discomfort in what he thought was his groin, but what an MRI later revealed to be his hip flexor. The right-hander has a bullpen session tentatively scheduled for Thursday, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. The manager also said Karstens is penciled in for a start Sunday in Triple-A Indianapolis, but that outing could be pushed to Monday if the pitcher needs an additional day off. Karstens hasn't started a game for the Pirates since April 17 in Arizona, where he left after giving up two earned runs in the first inning.
Mazeroski, Virdon forced off bench by rule
PITTSBURGH -- Turns out, there was a very good reason manager Clint Hurdle had asked Ron Gardenhire, his Twins counterpart and a former teammate, for permission to have former Pirates greats Bill Mazeroski and Bill Virdon in uniform and the dugout for Tuesday night's game."I figured I'd get an OK there," Hurdle said. Gardenhire signed off on the ceremonial additions, but Major League Baseball called an end to it after that one game. An MLB official called Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington on Wednesday and, citing rules limiting the number of uniformed personnel in the dugout, asked the Bucs to desist. "I was told that'd be the end of it. It did not surprise me," Hurdle admitted prior to Wednesday night's second game of the Interleague series with Minnesota at PNC Park. "It wasn't really within the rules and regulations of the game, which I might have overlooked in my excitement to get them involved." Mazeroski and Virdon will continue to be in uniforms and on-field for pregame workouts, but once games start will take box seats near the Pirates dugout "to enjoy the game and put their experienced eyes on us from a different venue," Hurdle said.
Despite struggles, Lincoln to get Saturday start
PITTSBURGH -- Despite his struggles this season as a starter, Brad Lincoln will get the nod Saturday against the Detroit Tigers at PNC Park, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle announced Wednesday.While Lincoln was effective in a spot start mid-May against Miami, the right-hander has gone 0-2 with a 10.03 ERA in three June starts. "It's been a work in progress, and the results haven't necessarily been what we have wanted," Hurdle said, "but I think we need to give this young man a chance to channel through the transition period, which isn't as easy as some people might think it is." The manager stressed the importance of patience with regards to Lincoln's role in the rotation, especially because starting pitchers are such valued products across baseball. "I do think it's him nailing down a mentality and a commitment in which he goes about his opportunities to start," Hurdle said, "to make the pitches he needs to make with the focus he needs to have, to start innings as well as finish innings." As a relief pitcher, Lincoln has had a much more positive impact on the Pirates' pitching. In 20 innings out of the bullpen, he has allowed just one earned run, a homer to Martin Prado in an April loss at Atlanta. In his 13 relief appearances, the Pirates 2006 first-round pick has 23 strikeouts to go with just seven walks. Opponents have hit .171 against Lincoln as a reliever, but are batting .346 against him as a starter.
Cole solid in first Double-A start
PITTSBURGH -- Continuing where he had left off in Class A ball, right-hander Gerrit Cole had a great start Wednesday night in his first outing for Double-A Altoona.Cole went five innings, yielding five hits and two runs while striking out six without a walk, to pick up the decision in Altoona's 9-4 victory over New Britain. It was the June 2011 No. 1 Draft choice's sixth consecutive victory, continuing the streak begun with Bradenton in the Florida State League. Cole retired the first nine men he faced. He wound up making 74 pitches, 52 for strikes.
The Pirates entered Wednesday night's game leading the Majors with 20 stolen bases during the month of June -- which they'd begun with a prior season total of only 25. "I'm committed to it," manager Clint Hurdle said of the running game. "We've got to be aggressive, we've got to be moving. And you've got to establish that mentality first." Wednesday night's loss was the Pirates' first by one run since June 6's 5-4 defeat in Cincinnati. Overall, the Bucs are 17-11 in one-run decisions. In case you're wondering why Rod Barajas suddenly is clean shaven: His family is in for a visit, including his 3-month-old daughter, and the smooth look is to avoid any irritation in those fatherly hugs. Great news: Wednesday's game marked the 21st time in 32 home games that Pittsburgh pitching did not allow more than two earned runs. The not-so-great news: Wednesday's game was also the sixth of those that the Bucs have lost.
The Last Word
"We've continued to show patience in a lot of different areas. This is one more."
-- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, on the decision to give Brad Lincoln another start on Saturday, after the young righty has gone 0-2 with a 10.03 ERA in his last three outings.
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.