05/14/11 4:24 PM ET
Ascanio feels good after debut
By J.R. Radcliffe / Special to MLB.com
Now recovered from shoulder surgery that cost him a month and a half of 2009 plus the entire 2010 season, it's been a long road back.
"It just feels great to come back," he said. "The slider was working good last night. I feel 100 percent now. My velocity was comfortable at 94 and 95."
Learning curve still apparent for Alvarez
MILWAUKEE -- With his 0-for-3 night Friday in Milwaukee, Pedro Alvarez saw his batting average dip below .200 for the first time in May. It's been a struggle for the Pirates third baseman this season, who entered Saturday's game with a .198 average and one home run in 2011.
Manager Clint Hurdle suggested an uptick in aggressiveness would force pitchers to become more creative against the No. 2 overall selection in the 2008 Amateur Draft.
"The majority of work on Pedro has been [an] early-away strike, and if he takes it, they go there again," Hurdle said. "Then ... they have all kinds of options. Thirty-four percent of his at-bats have been 0-2 counts, and that's very hard to hit. He knows the numbers. The only way you're going to get them to change is go out there that first time, whack one of those things and hit it to left-center field or over someone's head. Until you do, why would [a pitcher] change?"
Alvarez has still reached base in six straight starts and nine of his last 10, but his on-base percentage remains at .270 for the year.
"One of the comments was that people thought Pedro hitting seventh is not getting pitches to hit," Hurdle said. "Pitchers are absolutely going right after him without hesitation. One of the biggest fallacies, at least in my experience I've heard in the game, is that 'he has no protection around him.'
"There might be a handful of hitters in the game that actually get pitched around. Watching the teams I've been on, we've never talked about pitching around so-and-so. Bonds, yes. Pujols, yes. You might have a series where 'this guy won't beat us.' If he's hitting seventh, it's not going to be that guy."
Alvarez was involved in one of the more memorable defensive plays Friday, when Ryan Braun lined a sharp grounder to third base with runners at second and third in the fourth inning. Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo, the baserunner at third, scored on the play to give Milwaukee a 3-2 lead. Alvarez noticed Rickie Weeks off the bag at second and tossed over, initiating a rundown that ended with a rugged collision between Weeks and Ronny Cedeno, which led to both benches emptying.
None of that would have happened at all if Alvarez had tried for the out at home.
"We were playing back, so if a ball's hit to him, it's, 'get an out,'" Hurdle said. "If the ball's scorched to him and it's in your glove and the pitcher's two steps removed from where he was ... his feet were tangled but on that particular play, but you untangle your feet, the pitcher is 65 feet from home.
"Rule of thumb will tell you take the outs early and take the runs off the board late, but that ball was hit so hard. That's why you know through the experience of playing at this level, the speed of the game, a lot of new things can happen from time to time. Whether you handle them right or wrong, the experience is garnered. ... The last place I would anticipate the ball to go in that situation was second. Playing back, you think, 'I'll get the out at first.' On one side, he had some awareness around him. He felt that guy was far enough off to make a play."
Walker third, Doumit fourth in Saturday's lineup
MILWAUKEE -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle slotted Neil Walker in the No. 3 hole for Saturday's game against Milwaukee for just the second time this season, Walker's first bump up in the order to that spot since April 3.
Catcher Ryan Doumit, meanwhile, moved into the cleanup spot for the first time since April 9, 2010.
"I might not be done," Hurdle said of the roster rearranging. "This has been a month and we've had more success on the road than at home, but our offense has not been offensive. We're trying to look for a little bit of a mix. If I jumble it up a little bit, I'm looking for ways to get creative."
Starting pitcher Brad Lincoln allowed just two runs in seven innings and earned his third straight victory for Triple-A Indianapolis Friday. Lincoln has allowed five earned runs in three starts after opening the year 0-3...Right-hander Jameson Taillon, the top prospect in the Pirates' organization, pitched Friday night for Class A West Virginia and allowed one run on four hits and a walk, while striking out three batters over four innings. The second pick in last year's First-Year Player Draft, Taillon boasts a 1.80 ERA in four starts with 14 strikeouts in 15 innings...Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said the science behind Ronny Cedeno's leg kick wasn't too nuanced. "I just told him get on the plate, pick the leg up and swing for the fences," Hurdle said. "He's not going to hit a homer every time, but it's just the mentality of letting the bat go. There's a couple hitters here we've had the conversation with. Just let the bat go. Having a pretty swing versus a swing that does damage ... we've got nothing to lose. We're striking out a lot as it is trying to make some adjustments. But if we're going to go down, let's go down with some force."
JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.