06/04/11 11:24 PM ET
Alvarez continues to progress toward return
By Jenifer Langosch and Laura Myers / MLB.com
Alvarez, who is sidelined with a right quadriceps strain, remains in Bradenton, Fla., where he is playing in extended spring training games. After serving as a designated hitter in two games, Alvarez has twice played third base.
The fact that Alvarez was cleared to play defense is an encouraging sign, as it was Alvarez's mobility that was hampered most by the quad strain. The Pirates have not divulged how long they expect Alvarez to remain in Florida or whether the third baseman will head to one of the organization's Minor League affiliates for a rehab assignment next. The latter move is expected, however.
Alvarez isn't the only player currently rehabbing in Bradenton. Starter Ross Ohlendorf (right shoulder posterior strain) continues to throw bullpen sessions there, while reliever Mike Crotta (right elbow posterior inflammation) is at Pirate City working through a throwing program.
Kevin Hart, who is recovering from right shoulder surgery, is also throwing in extended spring games and will continue to do so through the end of the extended spring schedule.
Saturday's crowd at PNC largest ever
PITTSBURGH -- Saturday night's Pirates-Phillies game at PNC Park was played before the largest crowd in stadium history.
The announced attendance for the night was 39,441, which beat the previous record of 39,392, set on Aug. 11, 2001, against San Diego.
"Everybody loves to play in front of a big crowd," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It can give you an adrenaline boost, there's no doubt. And then when bigger situations -- those game-changing situations -- come up, it just works. I've always loved it; there's no player that doesn't love it."
It was the Pirates' third sellout crowd of the season. The first two came in an Opening Day loss to Colorado on April 7 and in a May 21 win against Detroit. The 2011 Pirates now hold two of the top three spots in PNC Park attendance history -- Saturday night's game and the 39,219 mark on Opening Day, which ranks third.
The mixture of Pirates and Phillies fans on Saturday made for a boistrous atmosphere. The Pirates won the game, 6-3, and nearly every play received applause as well as boos.
"You try to take it and use it to your advantage," third baseman Brandon Wood said. "You get some excitement out of it. It's nice when you play with a packed house. Sure, there were a few Phillies fans, but we had the Pirates fans overdraw them a little bit."
Through 25 home games this season, the Pirates are averaging 20,196 fans in attendance. That's an 18.6 percent improvement through 25 games over the 2010 attendance. The Pirates were 23-31, overall, at this point in 2010, as opposed to their 28-29 record after Saturday's game. The Bucs' attendance improvement this season ranks fourth in the Majors; Texas is first with 37.1 percent improvement.
"I do believe that we're getting some incremental traction with our fanbase," Hurdle said. "We're playing better, [but] we have a long way to go. Hopefully, it's playing out, and they're seeing this is a fun club to watch."
Last year's weekend series against the Phillies averaged 30,603 fans over four games in early July, but this year's average is expected to be significantly higher.
Paul in the mix in right field
PITTSBURGH -- It appears the platoon situation in right field that the Pirates began the season with is no longer going to involve just two players. Manager Clint Hurdle suggested on Saturday that he's going to liberally insert Xavier Paul into that mix, even at the expense of playing time for Garrett Jones.
While Jones' production has dipped, Paul has been a catalyst when given sporadic starts or late-inning pinch-hit opportunities. Paul is batting .312 in 28 games since being claimed off waivers, while Jones is hitting just .218 during that same period.
Paul was back in the starting lineup on Saturday, marking the second consecutive game played against a right-handed starter in which Hurdle has gone with Paul. Could this be a harbinger for how playing time will be divvied up moving forward?
"Paul has brought some energy to the games," Hurdle said. "He's brought some barrel with the bat. It's very hard for me to walk away from Paul right now as an opportunity to play a left-handed bat in the outfield. Very hard."
The Pirates really have little choice but to let Jones work out any issues with his swing at the big league level. He does not have any Minor League options remaining, which means the Pirates can't send him down to Triple-A without exposing the outfielder on waivers. Jones would almost certainly be claimed in such a scenario.
Matt Diaz, who batted .282 in May and is 7-for-22 in his past nine games, will continue to start in right field when a lefty is on the mound.
Right-hander Brad Lincoln allowed one run on six hits over seven innings in Triple-A Indianapolis' 3-1 victory on Friday. Lincoln evened his record to 5-5 with the win and matched his longest outing of the season. He also helped his cause by hitting a double and triple. Though Lincoln has made some encouraging steps forward over the past month, the success of the Pirates' rotation is keeping him from earning a callup.
Manager Clint Hurdle said that Brandon Wood will start at short on Sunday in order to give Ronny Cedeno a day off. Hurdle plans to rest second baseman Neil Walker on Tuesday.
Conversations have been had, Hurdle confirmed, about whether the Pirates can make room for outfielder Alex Presley on the big league roster. Presley, who leads the International League in hits, continues to be blocked by the Pirates' current group of five outfielders.
Asked if he wanted to participate in the Draft process, Hurdle declined the opportunity to watch video of players the Pirates have scouted. "I have complete and total trust in our scouting department," Hurdle said. "Really, my hands are full right here."
Double-A shortstop Jordy Mercer extended his hitting streak to nine games with a double in Altoona's loss on Friday night. Mercer, who was named the organization's best infield arm by Baseball America before the season, is batting .254 with 13 doubles, eight homers and 30 RBIs in 52 games. Though Mercer spent time at each infield spot last season, he has played exclusively at short this year.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. Laura Myers is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.