05/05/12 11:19 PM ET
As closers fall, Hanrahan's value goes up
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
Hot Alvarez moved into cleanup spot
PITTSBURGH -- From Day 1, everyone around the Pirates -- staff, uniformed personnel, fans -- knew the team would be best off the day Pedro Alvarez began hitting like a cleanup hitter.That day became Saturday, when Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle validated Alvarez's remarkable turnaround by inserting him into the four-hole against the Reds. Alvarez went 0-for-2 with a pair of walks in a 3-2 victory. "When I first took this job, I envisioned the day we'd have Pedro at cleanup," Hurdle said. "You try to find the right spot, at the right time. The traction he has put down the last two weeks got us to this point to have the best lineup." After seven months and 188 games on the job, Hurdle finally got to write Alvarez's name into the four-spot for the first time. Alvarez was hitting .067 on the morning of April 21. He has gone 17-for-45 [.378] since -- with five homers and 13 RBIs in 12 games -- to raise his overall average to .253. The start on Saturday was Alvarez's first in the cleanup spot since being listed fourth for 10 games as a rookie in 2010. "This is not a day-to-day thing," Hurdle said. "We're putting our foot down, committing to it. We'll see where it take him, and us. I'm optimistic about it, I really am. I talked to [Alvarez] beforehand, and he's ready to go. He was smiling." Concurrently, Neil Walker, the Pirates' primary cleanup hitter before Saturday, was elevated into the No. 2 hole and hit a two-run homer. That does not figure to be as permanent, as Alex Presley, who became the No. 2 hitter when Jose Tabata took over at leadoff -- but mired in a 1-for-25 slump before Saturday -- hit a pinch-hit homer in the seventh inning.
Andrew McCutchen was back in the lineup after missing most of the previous three games while fighting stomach flu; he went 1-for-3, reaching base for the 21st time in 25 games this season.
Jason Grilli, whose strikeout of Brandon Phillips with two on and two out in the eighth may have been the biggest play of the game, now has 20 strikeouts in 11 innings.
Saturday night's crowd was considerably bigger than the 20,445 that attended Friday night's game, and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was asked whether he was bothered by the notion that Zambelli Fireworks may be a bigger draw than the Bucs.
"I don't count people -- we win baseball games," Hurdle said. "I love our fan support." The Last Word: "Hey, it's Cinco de Mayo. It was either bootleg, or brainstorm." -- Hurdle, tongue-in-cheek, on his decision to insert Pedro Alvarez into the cleanup spot.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.