4/14/2014 8:01 P.M. ET
To field or not to field? Pitchers amuse Hurdle
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Friday night in Milwaukee, Bryan Morris gave his manager the shakes. The righty reliever pounced on a swinging bunt by Ryan Braun between the mound and third base with, yes, Morris-the-cat-like quickness and whirled for an off-balance throw to first that was on target but a tick late.
Clint Hurdle would rather not have his pitchers try that body-challenging maneuver, instead making way for in-charging third baseman Pedro Alvarez.
"Puts them in peril," Hurdle reasoned. "Just trying to keep them healthy."
The manager thus made a point of asking his pitchers to, please, don't make like a pretzel.
"I strategically went down to all the starters and told them I'd prefer if they didn't attempt to make that play," related Hurdle, already grinning broadly. "[Edinson] Volquez says, 'Coach' -- he calls me coach -- 'Coach, I think I can make that play.' Charlie [Morton] says, 'I don't know, if I get there and have a shot, I might have to.'"
Of course there is a punch line: Volquez on Saturday and Morton on Sunday had, and made, the identical play on bunts by Scooter Gennett and Martin Maldonado, respectively.
"Crazy," Hurdle said. "I'm just sitting there [in the dugout] laughing, because you can't make that stuff up."
He should be able to relax Monday night. Wandy Rodriguez, the night's pitcher, had a different reaction to the manager's plea:
"I'll let it roll. Pedro's got to make that play."
Bucs preparing final stages of Stewart's rehab
CINCINNATI -- One week into his rehab assignment, and less than a month since the surgery on his right knee, Chris Stewart may have already passed the ultimate physical test for his return.
According to the catcher's own reports to manager Clint Hurdle during phone conversations between the men, Stewart caught seven innings for Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday and all of a four hours-plus game on Sunday -- "and he said he felt good [Monday], which is a good sign," Hurdle said.
Which, in turn, may be a sign that when the Pirates leave Cincinnati on Wednesday night and arrive home, Stewart may be there waiting for them.
Not necessarily to be activated yet, but the staff is exploring the possibility of the veteran concluding his rehab requirements with the big club. Hurdle and bench coach Jeff Banister got with head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk to discuss their options.
"We're finalizing the last bit of Chris' return-to-play program," Hurdle said, "and just have to run it by [general manager Neal Huntington]."
The manager wanted to avoid leaving the impression that there is a greater urgency for Stewart's return in the wake of Tony Sanchez's two-run throwing error in Sunday's game in Milwaukee. The Pirates signed Stewart to a $1 million contract after acquiring him in a trade from the Yankees and understandably are eager to get value from that deal.
• Happy Anniversary: Monday marked the one-year anniversary of the last home run given up by Mark Melancon -- to the Reds' Joey Votto, but in PNC Park.
• The Bucs dropped all three games in Milwaukee over the weekend despite allowing only four, three and four runs; a year ago, they were 23-18 when allowing three or four runs.
• Hurdle was still marveling over catcher Russell Martin's latest "Cirque de Soleil" move: He chased down a pitch that caromed off the corner of the plate in Saturday's game and made a "mitt flip" right on the money to the plate, although it was tardy.
"There are some things that just make you go, 'Huh?' Like that," Hurdle said. "Flipped directly on home plate, just a bit late. Right on the spot. You can't practice that."
First number, last word
.333: Martin's lifetime average in Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, entering this series.
"I don't get caught up in it. Obviously he's off to a good start. He's hitting the ball hard where it's pitched, and his baserunning has been good. It's a good, solid effort. But it's not even two weeks. Let's keep it in perspective." -- Hurdle on Gregory Polanco, named International League Batter of the Week after going 14-for-28 in seven games last week, with four extra-base hits and seven RBIs.
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.