06/03/12 8:16 PM ET
Hague earns starting first baseman slot
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
Hurdle benches slumping Alvarez
MILWAUKEE -- Pedro Alvarez's scrutinized season has gone through several specific stages. He started out being platooned against left-handers. From there, he became a regular in the lower half of the batting order, then graduated to the everyday clean-up job.The third baseman's season reached a new stage on Sunday: Alvarez, unplugged. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle benched Alvarez for the finale of the series against the Brewers, and made it clear that it was not merely a one-day rest for the guy whose latest slump reached 0-for-18 Saturday night. "We've got to clean the deck," Hurdle said. "We'll revisit the two-week period, late April into early May, when he was strong. Did he get away from things? Did his focus change? He's gotta get unplugged. I told him, 'Don't even swing a bat unless I need you late. It's not like you're going to forget how to swing a bat.' He needs a mind-break." Alvarez's average had peaked at .260 the day he moved into the clean-up spot on May 5. Since, in 24 games, he is hitting .140 with nine RBIs, nearly half of that in a four-RBI game against the Cubs that included his only home run. Casey McGehee started at third base on Sunday, fulfilling Hurdle's intent to get him into at least one of the games against his former club. Hurdle has shown a tendency to bench slumping players in games followed by off-days -- the Bucs are off Monday before opening a three-game series in Cincinnati -- to give them an easy two-day blow, but indicated Alvarez's rest may be longer. "I haven't figured that one out yet," the manager said. "I'm taking these cases one by one, and he's next on my list of people to get right, to help regroup. We've talked about when he was hitting fifth and seventh, and he doesn't think there's been much difference. Yes, they have pitched him a little differently, as any team would a guy that can shrink the ballpark. "But he's also had numerous pitches to hit that he hasn't. I'm more concerned about that than anything. I want to help him find his way back to square up pitches in the strike zone as he did in late April." Alvarez is all about power: The power to hit home runs, and the power to decided the Pirates' fortunes. The club has a record of 13-3 in games he has an RBI.
One good reason for the Pirates to not get carried away with the series win in Milwaukee: The Brewers lineup for the Sunday finale included only three of their nominees listed on the 2012 All-Star Game ballot: Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart and Nyjer Morgan. Morgan's home run in the sixth was only the third allowed this season by James McDonald in 71 innings. The Bucs improved to 11-0 when collecting 10-plus hits and to 10-3 in getaway games. The back-to-back homers in the fifth by Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones were the Pirates' second of the season. Jones was also involved the first time, on April 25, when his shot was followed by Pedro Alvarez's.
The Last Word
"Now that's what you call a quality hold."
-- Jason Grilli, who protected a one-run lead by blanking the Brewers in the eighth inning Sunday -- after allowing consecutive walks with two outs, then retiring Ryan Braun on a fly to the warning track in right field.
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.