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06/07/12 7:00 PM ET

Slumping Alvarez back in lineup Thursday

CINCINNATI -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he won't know whether Pedro Alvarez has put his struggles at the plate behind him until he plays. So after four days off, Alvarez returned to the Pirates' lineup for Thursday's series finale against the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

"I don't think you ever see signs in practice. Most guys up here can practice well," Hurdle said. "You've got to send him back out there eventually."

Alvarez, who was mired in an 0-for-18 skid until his pinch-hit single in the eighth inning on Wednesday, started for the first time since Saturday. Hurdle said the coaching staff didn't work on anything specific with Alvarez during the time off.

"We just tried to revisit what we did in early April," Hurdle said. "Not so much the mechanics of the swing, but more his mindset."

Alvarez, who entered Thursday's action batting .199 with 60 strikeouts in 161 at-bats, was non-committal when asked if the hiatus helped.

"I'm always grateful for any opportunity I get to play," Alvarez said. "It'll be nice to go out there and play baseball. They were just trying to get me in a relaxed state. Sometimes, you can learn a lot from just watching from a different point of view from the bench."

Alvarez started at third base on Thursday and batted fifth, where he was hitting .467 this year, not in the cleanup spot where he has made 24 starts.

"I don't see a need to put him back in the fourth spot after the month that we've been through," Hurdle said. "The numbers don't lie. I like the way the lineup matched up with him at five tonight."

Jose Tabata, who has not started since Sunday due to tightness in his left leg, started in right field and batted sixth on Thursday. Michael McKenry spelled Rod Barajas behind the plate and batted eighth. Garrett Jones started at first base and hit in the cleanup spot, ending a streak of 11 straight games in which Matt Hague has played first.

Worth noting

• Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said left-hander Doug Slaten would be unavailable for Thursday's game after pitching three scoreless innings on Wednesday.

• Right-hander Chris Leroux began his rehab assignment with Class A Bradenton on Wednesday night, allowing one earned run on two hits in three innings. He walked one and struck out two in a 4-0 loss to Daytona.

Jeff Wallner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.