5/15/2014 11:29 P.M. ET
Stewart, Martin set for reunion with Yankees
By JR Radcliffe and Teddy Cahill / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- It will be a homecoming of sorts for several members of the Pirates as the team makes its first visit to the new Yankee Stadium and first trip to the Bronx since 2007.
Catcher Chris Stewart played for the Yankees over the past two seasons, and fellow backstop Russell Martin spent both 2011 and 2012 in pinstripes.
"I had a good time there; obviously playing for the Yankees, you really can't beat it with the history and the tradition they have," Stewart said. "Playing in Yankee Stadium, obviously everything is first class. We were pretty spoiled there."
The Pirates are 0-6 all time in visits to face the Yankees, with the other series in 2005. The team has never played in the ballpark that began operation in 2009.
Perhaps one of the new stadium's most notable features is its short porch and jetstream that creates a homer-friendly environment for left-handed batters hitting to right field. That's good news for Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez, a native of Riverdale in the Bronx, who has already fared very well in his trips back home. He's gone a career 11-for-37 with two home runs and nine RBIs at Citi Field when the Pirates face off with the Mets.
"I've witnessed quite a few popups turn into home runs," Stewart said. "Every stadium kind of has their pros and cons, and that's definitely one of them for left-handers, and some right-handers like to go the other way. I've seen popups over there that have sailed out [as opposite field shots]."
Martin was named to the All-Star team as a member of the Yankees in 2011 and finished his two-year tenure in the Bronx with 39 home runs, 118 RBIs and a .224 batting average with a .723 OPS. He played 125 games for the team that reached the American League Division Series three years ago and 133 for the 2012 American League runnerup.
Counting his days with the Dodgers and last year with the Pirates, Martin has been part of a playoff team five of the past six seasons. The Pirates outbid the Yankees for Martin's services as a free agent prior to 2013.
The 2014 season has served as a farewell tour for Yankees long-tenured shortstop Derek Jeter, whose RBI single in the bottom of the 10th off Matt Capps sealed a three-game sweep with a 5-4 win June 10, 2007, the last time the two teams met there.
This year's Yankees feature electric Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, now 6-0 with a 2.17 ERA in his first MLB season following his shutout performance Wednesday. The Pirates won't have to face Tanaka, however, nor will they have to deal with a recent addition to the disabled list, C.C. Sabathia.
Prospect Bell collects five hits in doubleheader
Outfielder Josh Bell, the Pirates' No. 6 prospect, collected five hits and drove in four runs in two games Thursday, helping Class A Advanced Bradenton split a doubleheader with Lakeland.
In the first game of the day, Bradenton defeated Lakeland, 7-6, in 10 innings. Bell went 3-for-5 with a double, a home run and scored three runs. He added two more hits in the nightcap, but the Marauders lost, 4-3, in eight innings.
Bell, ranked No. 63 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, extended his hitting streak to nine games Thursday. He is hitting .472/.525/.694 during the streak.
In 38 games this season, Bell is hitting .315 with three home runs. A year after hitting 13 home runs in 119 games in the South Atlantic League, his home run rate has slipped in the more expansive parks of the Florida State League. But he still ranks among the league leaders in slugging percentage (.479) and doubles (nine).
Decker optioned to Indy; Wandy activated
MILWAUKEE -- The Pirates made a roster move before Thursday's game in Milwaukee, sending outfielder Jaff Decker back to Triple-A Indianapolis as a corresponding move that allowed the club to activate starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez.
This was Decker's second go-round with a big league club after appearing in 13 games and hitting .154 for the San Diego Padres last year. After getting traded early in the offseason as part of the package in exchange for Minor Leaguer Alex Dickerson, Decker has batted .238 at Indy. He was hitless in three plate appearances with the Pirates.
Manager Clint Hurdle said before Thursday's game that the pending move did not come down to an either/or circumstance between Decker and Starling Marte, whose scheduled return from back tightness was unclear at the start of the series. Marte pinch-hit Wednesday in the eighth, stayed in the game and delivered a two-run double in Pittsburgh's 4-1 victory.
Marte was not, however, in the lineup Thursday.
"He's not starting today; can he come off the bench and play? Yes," Hurdle said. "We feel this is the best way to go about his return to play."
Rodriguez, newly returned from the 15-day disabled list after incurring knee inflammation, has struggled to find a groove both at the Major League level and in his two rehab starts.
"That was one of the challenges he was having, not being able to get any downhill angle," Hurdle said. "The ball became flat because he wasn't able to create that based on the injury. We feel like we're in a better place. He's done two sides in between [now and] the last time he went out on rehab and pitched. We've got to get him out there and see what we have and see what he's able to bring."
Rodriguez came into Thursday's start a career 4-8 with a 6.39 ERA in 14 starts at Miller Park.
"This has been a challenging place for him in the past, somewhat similarly to [Francisco] Liriano," Hurdle said. "Liriano was able to show up last night, and Wandy needs to go out there and be aggressive, get to work downhill and change some speeds, get us to a good part of the game with a chance to win. That's the goal of every starting pitcher coming out. You got to see a pretty good blueprint last night right in front of him with how Francisco pitched. That might help."
• Pirates lefty reliever Tony Watson allowed an uncontested steal of second base during a scoreless eighth inning Wednesday, something manager Clint Hurdle acknowledged his pitcher was still working on preventing. Watson wound up as the winning pitcher and moved to 4-0 when the Pirates scored three times in the ninth and his ERA dropped to 1.50.
"Tony's release time can be lengthy. … That's just a part of his game that he has to continue to hone to the best of his ability," Hurdle said. "You don't want to lose focus on what he can do at the plate. He's been very effective this year."
• The Pirates bullpen has picked up eight of the team's last nine wins and four of the last five road wins. Pittsburgh leads the Major Leagues in bullpen wins with 13.
• Both Neil Walker and Jordy Mercer singled in their final at-bats Wednesday to extend hitting streaks to six games and five games, respectively. Walker has reached safely in 13 consecutive games and leads all MLB second basemen with 23 RBIs
JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.