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07/24/10 6:40 PM ET

Carrasco capable of starting in a pinch

PITTSBURGH -- When the White Sox were in town for a three-game series at PNC Park last month, manager Ozzie Guillen called his former reliever D.J. Carrasco Chicago's MVP in 2009. This year, Carrasco has presented a problem to Pirates manager John Russell, albeit a good one.

"One of the things about D.J. is kind of the double-edged sword," Russell said. "He's very valuable, what he does in the bullpen for us. He really does a great job. We can pitch him in so many different kinds of situations, whether it's a close game or we need big outs or we need him to cover two or three innings in a close game or keep us in a game. So the value he has for us in the bullpen is great, but in doing that, he has been stretched out a little bit."

That leaves the question of whether the 33-year-old Carrasco, who has started 23 games in his six-year career, can make a spot start for the Pirates at some point this season.

"If the need arose that we needed a spot start, that we didn't have any bodies lined up in Triple-A that we felt could come up and make that start, then yeah, absolutely he'd be a candidate," Russell said. "He's been a candidate a couple times in the past and [it] just didn't really work out. But he has done it before. I know talking to him, he loves and would like the opportunity to start, but we'll continue to weigh it. When that opportunity comes up again, we'll discuss our options and I'm sure his name will be one of them."

Carrasco has allowed 47 hits over 53 2/3 innings (43 appearances) this season, striking out 44 and walking 22. He entered Saturday's game against the Padres tied with All-Star Evan Meek for the most innings pitched by a Pirates reliever this season. Carrasco's ERA stands at 3.86 after he escaped a seventh-inning, bases-loaded, no-out jam on Friday by inducing three consecutive outs. (One was a sacrifice fly, with the run charged to Brendan Donnelly.)

Making four appearances in eight games since the All-Star break, Carrasco has struck out eight batters in eight innings, allowing four runs on four hits.

In 20 starts with the Royals in 2005, Carrasco went 6-8 with a 4.79 ERA.

"I've asked about it; I'd hope it'd be more than a spot start," Carrasco said. "I'm talking about being able to be a starter and not just spot start. I've done it before. I think I could really help this team out if that opportunity is given to me. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm right, but I think I can contribute in a very valuable way, being able to start and hopefully give some quality efficient innings out there."

McCutchen takes BP, could return Sunday

PITTSBURGH -- Center fielder Andrew McCutchen was not in the Pirates' lineup Saturday against the Padres but could return Sunday, exactly one week after suffering a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder.

McCutchen took outdoor batting practice prior to Saturday's game, and manager John Russell left open the possibility of McCutchen pinch-hitting later in the evening.

"We're getting there," Russell said. "Obviously, we're going to welcome him back. It would be nice to get him back in the lineup, but we've got our fingers crossed for [Sunday], let's put it that way. If not, then we're pretty confident about Tuesday."

The Pirates have an off-day Monday before traveling to Colorado on Tuesday, but Russell said the extra rest from not playing on Sunday wouldn't do much to help McCutchen, who has no structural damage in the shoulder.

McCutchen has missed six consecutive starts since suffering the injury during the eighth inning of last Sunday's game, when he made a diving catch to rob the Astros' Pedro Feliz of a base hit. Since McCutchen's callup in June 2009, he missed only two games prior to the injury.

Pirates battling through hot weather

PITTSBURGH -- With game-time temperatures at PNC Park hovering around 90 degrees on Saturday for the second consecutive night, Pirates head athletic trainer Brad Henderson and conditioning coordinator Frank Velasquez found themselves with more to worry about than usual.

"We make sure [players are] hydrated, make sure they talk to them about plenty of liquids," Pirates manager John Russell said. "It's not just when you get to the ballpark. Frank and Brad remind them, 'When you go home in the morning, make sure you start drinking liquids.' It's not just as soon as you hit the ballpark. And then, obviously, on the bench, Frank has all the replenishing drinks mixed up and they drink out of the Gatorade bottles, so they stay pretty well hydrated."

The Pirates held batting practice in the indoor cages on Friday to give the players a little more time off the field, but the sun is still out during the early innings of night games. The Pirates have played in warmer cities before, but in the case of places such as Phoenix and Houston -- where they have played a total of nine games so far this season -- the players can be protected by the comforts of domed stadiums when the temperatures get too warm.

"Here, it's a factor. You've got to worry about the heat outside, how much you run earlier in the day, how many warmup pitches you take," reliever D.J. Carrasco said. "So that kind of comes into play, especially over a long homestand, or whatever it may be, if you're not going into a series with a team in a dome or something like that. So it's a big deal."

Worth noting

A 2-8 slump since the Eastern League All-Star Game has brought changes for Double-A Altoona. Right-hander Bryan Morris had his start skipped on Thursday for Derek Hankins, and Tony Watson will take Jared Hughes' spot in the rotation. Morris is expected to return to his normal spot in the rotation Tuesday against Erie after 103 innings this season combined between Class A Advanced Bradenton and Altoona. Morris has allowed 14 earned runs in his previous 12 2/3 innings. Hankins will likely return to the bullpen. Watson will start Sunday against Trenton. Hughes has lost each of his past four decisions. At 57-41, the Curve entered Saturday still atop the Eastern League's Western Division, five games ahead of Bowie. ... Right-hander Tom Boleska was promoted from Bradenton to Altoona. ... Outfielder Alex Presley is hitting .385 in 27 games with Triple-A Indianapolis.

Matt Fortuna is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.