Top Prospects: Gerrit Cole, RHP, Pirates

MILWAUKEE -- Gerrit Cole had an interesting outing Saturday night for Triple-A Indianapolis in Buffalo. The Pirates' top pitching prospect allowed singles to the first three men he faced -- two of whom wound up scoring -- then pitched hitless ball for the rest of his six-inning stint.

Baseball talent evaluators are always looking for little telltale signs, and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle considered the experience a good one for Cole.

"On a night that could've punched him in the eyes and knocked him sideways, he was able to hold on, fight through and finish," said Hurdle, with Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor's report on his mind. "So that turned out to be a good night, and he showed some growth.

"He's improving. He's still been challenged. The fastball command has been a little erratic. But he's continuing his development."

In 10 starts with Indianapolis, Cole has split six decisions with an ERA of 3.67 in 54 innings. He has struck out 39, but has his highest walk rate as a pro, with 4.3 per nine innings.

Alvarez wows Bucs, Crew with monster smash

Must C Crushed: Alvarez crushes second homer of game

MILWAUKEE -- Pedro Alvarez's seventh career two-homer game, and his third against Milwaukee pitching, came in two flavors on Saturday: Loud, and long.

Alvarez's first crank, a two-run blow off Mike Fiers in the second inning of the Bucs' 5-2 win, was a laser into the right-field corner. The second shot, off Alfredo Figaro in the ninth, soared over the last row of the right-field second deck, scattering vendors on the concourse beyond.

Men in Pirates uniforms are accustomed to having their jaws dropped by Alvarez, but Saturday's experience was a new one for the Brewers' Carlos Gomez. He had two homers himself in the game, but nothing like what he saw off Alvarez's bat, estimated by Miller Park personnel at 459 feet, and by ESPN at 433 feet.

"In games, I think that's the first one I've seen," said Gomez, making a distinction from batting-practice displays. "It's amazing. It's not fun to see one of your pitchers get hit like that, but after everybody cools off, you are reminded it's really awesome."

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle would just like to be awed a little more regularly.

"We've gotten that in spurts," Hurdle said, "but not consistently. [Saturday], his swing looked like it's in a good place. We need him. We're a much better team when he can have some consistency to his offense."

Alvarez has spent most of this season deep in the lineup, hitting either No. 6 or No. 7. Hurdle still regards him as most ideal cleanup hitter in his clubhouse, but that is a role he must still grow into.

"Pedro will let us know when he's ready to hit in the middle. He hasn't yet," Hurdle said. "I've tried that twice, and had to back away both times."

Alvarez began this season in the cleanup spot but was dropped after going 2-for-11. In an extended trial last season in the four-hole, he hit .140 with one homer and 35 strikeouts in 24 games.

First number/Last word

10: Home runs by Pedro Alvarez since April 18, most in the National League and fourth most in the Majors, trailing Detroit's Miguel Cabrera (12), Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion (11) and Texas' Nelson Cruz (11).

"It's something to talk about in May. It's OK. I'm more into the fact we've backed up 15-win months. We had not done that in a while."
-- Hurdle on the fact all three NL clubs with 30 wins -- his Pirates, the Cardinals and the Reds -- reside in the Central.

Worth noting

• With one start remaining this month -- on Thursday against Detroit at PNC Park -- Jeff Locke has a 2.10 ERA in five May starts, allowing only 19 hits in 30 innings. It is a long shot, since he has only two wins and three no-decisions, but the young lefty has to be considered a candidate to become the Pirates' first NL Pitcher of the Month since Randy Tomlin in June 1992.

• Garrett Jones is likely to serve as the Pirates' DH in both Interleague games in Detroit, allowing for Gaby Sanchez's better glove to be stationed at first base and for Travis Snider to remain in right field. In 20 career games as the DH, Jones has hit .269, with a homer and four RBIs in 67 at-bats.