05/03/07 8:53 PM ET
Notes: LaRoche working through slump
First baseman gets the day off vs. Brewers on Thursday
By JR Radcliffe / Special to MLB.com
"It's a very similar case to what we experienced over the last few days with Alfonso Soriano," Tracy said before Thursday's game in Milwaukee, referring to the Cubs' bank-breaking offseason acquisition, who entered the recently-completed three-game series with Pittsburgh with a .261 average and zero home runs.
"He came into PNC Park without a home run this year and happened to swing the bat pretty well. [Players like that] are going to get on track."
Soriano had eight hits in 15 at-bats during the three-game set, and the Pirates hope a similar turnaround is lurking for first baseman Adam LaRoche. Mired in a well-documented slump, LaRoche was out of the starting lineup for just the second time in 2007 on Thursday, but Tracy insisted that the move could not be considered a "benching."
"It's a day off for him," Tracy said. "We spent the better part of an hour looking at video, talking about some things. What we were looking at were subtle things, not talking about 50 different things. That's only going to make the situation worse because you're flooding his mind."
Xavier Nady returned to the starting lineup Thursday for the first time since April 21, after a strained hamstring had limited the Pirates right fielder, and Tracy penned in hot-hitting Ryan Doumit at first base. That gave LaRoche a chance to take his mind off the .132 batting average and 32 strikeouts that has him tied for second in the National League.
"This isn't the first time we've sat down and spent 30-40 minutes analyzing last year," said LaRoche, referring to the pregame video session that featured at-bats of his days with the Braves. "I think if you guys were to watch it, you probably wouldn't see anything. We had to really pick it apart. It's not a total overhaul, it's just a couple minor things to try.
"It's going up there with confidence at the plate, where you don't feel like every pitch is on the black. You get the confidence to wait and trust."
LaRoche said the analysis with Tracy and hitting coach Jeff Manto made him anxious to get back in the lineup, a place Tracy assured LaRoche would be Friday.
"It's probably smart to take a day to relax and watch a baseball game," LaRoche said, though also adding, "You don't get out of a slump sitting in front of a TV. The only way to get out is to walk out there on the field."
Said Tracy: "We've seen some days where it looks like it's very close to happening. He's beginning to resemble his old self and then all of a sudden, the following day, you see a fallback, and you see a player at home plate who's completely lost.
"These things that we're talking about fall into place."
X-File: After participating in a full workout to test the strained right hamstring that forced him to leave a game early April 21, Nady said he felt ready to go Thursday.
"It's frustrating anytime you're hurting," Nady said. "You want to be out there and there's not a whole lot you can do, especially with something like that. I've worked hard to get back, and hopefully I can put it behind me and stay on top of things."
Entering Thursday, Nady was batting .262 with three home runs and 12 RBIs, and he was hitting 9-for-27 (.333) with seven RBIs in seven games prior to the contest he left early. Nady has made just two pinch-hitting plate appearances in the 10 games since.
Nady's return figured to bump the team's hottest bat back to a reserve role, though Tracy kept Doumit in the starting nine by giving him the nod at first. Doumit, making his 28th career start at first base, has nine hits in his last six games (.450), with two home runs and six RBIs.
The learning curve: Steven Pearce didn't need long to get acclimated to Double-A Altoona. After striking out as a pinch-hitter on Tuesday in his first at-bat with the Curve, the 24-year-old first baseman went 2-for-4 with a double and a home run Wednesday in his team's 5-4 win.
Ranked as the team's No. 6 prospect by Baseball America before the season, the eighth-round draft choice out of South Carolina in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft hit 26 home runs in the Minors a year ago. He was promoted from Class A Lynchburg after a torrid April, finishing with 10 home runs and 22 RBIs over his last 10 games. He also had an 11-game hitting streak, hitting .444 (20-for-45) in that stretch and .347 overall.
Pearce took the first pitch he saw from Connecticut starter Ben Cox over the left-field wall for his Minor League-leading 12th home run of the year. Neil Walker, who knows a thing or two about prospect status himself, having entered the year ranked as the Pirates' No. 2 farmhand, followed with a shot to center to give the Curve back-to-back dingers for the first time this season.
On deck: Left-hander Paul Maholm (1-3, 5.28 ERA) seemed to have his rocky start to the season turned around April 24 against Houston with a complete-game three-hit shutout, but Maholm allowed six runs on seven hits in four innings in his last start against the Reds. Brewers right-hander Claudio Vargas (2-0, 3.68 ERA) will challenge Maholm on Friday at 8:05 p.m. ET.
JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.