PITTSBURGH -- One of the Pirates' biggest preseason concerns was the challenge of keeping Rod Barajas fresh for a reasonable portion of the season's second half. The club's intuition about the veteran catcher's influence on the pitching staff has been borne out, but they knew they were getting a 36-year-old who hadn't made more than 87 starts behind the plate since 2009.Michael McKenry has taken a swing -- several of them, in fact -- at that issue. Problem solved. McKenry's surprising and welcome production has given Barajas and the club the luxury of waiting out the left-knee bone bruise he suffered 12 days ago in Philadelphia. Entering Friday night, the Bucs had won eight of 10 games since, only two of which have involved Barajas but most of which have been affected by McKenry's .370 average with three homers and 11 RBIs in the other eight. Barajas was back in the lineup Friday night, to catch Erik Bedard, but figures to sit out much of the rest of the weekend. Coupled with the upcoming four-day hiatus, the serious break will help keep him energized for the stretch. "We were looking for opportunities to get McKenry in play more," manager Clint Hurdle said, "and when presented with this opportunity, he moved on it. "We could be aggressive and have Barajas play more innings now, but why? The way McKenry is playing, Rod can get much healthier much quicker." Friday's start was No. 49 for Barajas in Pittsburgh's 83rd game.
Break could give Burnett unusual starts
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates will take advantage of the four-day All-Star Game break to adjust their starting rotation. Teams always do this, so the only intriguing part here is the likelihood of A.J. Burnett actually starting consecutive games.The oddity is possible because in the unprecedented scheduling, all teams will take a four-day break before their return games Friday. Burnett is scheduled to bring down the first-half curtain with his Sunday start against the Giants, thus the second-half opener would be on his normal rest. While confirming the plans to toss the rotation, manager Clint Hurdle didn't divulge details since the pitchers involved hadn't been yet told. However, it is highly likely that the Bucs will give Burnett the honor of starting off the second half as recognition of his contributions on the mound (9-2, 3.74 ERA) and in the clubhouse, as well as make up for having been an Opening Day scratch. Burnett was pencilled in to start the season opener, but missed out while on the disabled list with the eye orbital-bone fracture he'd suffered in a Spring Training bunting mishap.
Pirates send Leroux, Slaten to Triple-A
PITTSBURGH -- Right-hander Chris Leroux and veteran lefty Doug Slaten were optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis by the Pirates on Friday, after both had cleared Major League waivers.Leroux has been on the disabled list all season with a strained pectoral muscle suffered in the spring's final exhibition game. His rehab assignment, by rule capped at 30 days, had concluded Thursday. Slaten returns to the Triple-A Indians, with whom he had fashioned an ERA of 0.36 in 20 appearances to earn a promotion to the big league club at the end of May. In 10 long-relief appearances with the Pirates, Slaten worked 13 innings, allowing nine hits and four runs for an ERA of 2.77.
The Chicago White Sox on Friday claimed Daniel Moskos on waivers from the Pirates, who had designated the 26-year-old left-hander for assignment on June 26, when the Bucs needed his spot on the 40-man roster for Drew Sutton. Several teammates raided Andrew McCutchen's locker to swipe and wear dreadlock caps sent him from a recent promotion by the Altoona Curve, the Bucs' Double-A affiliate. Josh Harrison, about the same height as the original, looked particularly convincing in the look. Friday night's first-pitch temperature of 94 degrees made it the warmest game in PNC Park history. The last time a Pirates home game started at 95 degrees (according to the Elias Sports Bureau) was on July 31,1999 -- when the club still called Three Rivers Stadium home.
The Last Word
"There are two kinds of people in the world to me: those who are humble, and those who are about to be."
-- Manager Clint Hurdle, on why the Pirates will not get carried away with their current standing atop the National League Central.
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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.