8/19/2014 12:12 A.M. ET
McCutchen takes swings, on verge of return
By Stephen Pianovich / MLB.com
PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen expects to be back in the Pirates' lineup Tuesday, the first day he is eligible to be activated off the 15-day disabled list.
McCutchen took live swings at PNC Park on Monday, facing a Minor League pitcher. The reigning National League MVP wasn't bothered by the fractured rib in his left side and added "the plan" is to return to playing field Tuesday against Atlanta.
McCutchen caused an avulsion fracture to his 11th rib by taking a mighty swing against the D-backs on Aug. 3 and said this was the last test to ensure he would be ready to return against live competition.
"The way I injured it was by swinging. So swinging is the biggest thing," McCutchen said. "If the swinging feels good, I feel good. And the swinging felt good today."
The star center fielder took about 20 swings against right-hander Jeff Inman, whom the Pirates brought in from Double-A Altoona to give McCutchen more of a game feel without going on a rehab assignment.
Wearing a spandex shirt with extra padding on both sides of the rib cage -- something McCutchen said he'd likely wear the rest of the year under his uniform -- the four-time All-Star drove some balls, took pitches and even swung and missed. It wasn't like normal batting practice, and McCutchen said he could tell he would feel OK after the first swing of afternoon.
As for feeling any soreness later, McCutchen, who is on the DL for the first time in his Major League career, didn't rule it out.
"I have a really high pain tolerance. So, I could be in a little bit of pain but not really feel it," McCutchen said. "If I was a normal person, there might be something there. It's not hindering me from doing anything I have to do."
Both Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington watched McCutchen's hitting session. Before it, Hurdle said the team was hopeful to have McCutchen return on Tuesday.
"Unless there's some type of setback, we feel optimistic that he could very well rejoin us [Tuesday]," Hurdle said.
The Bucs entered Monday with a 5-8 record since McCutchen has been sidelined. The Pirates were 1 1/2 games back in the NL Central at the time of the injury and a half-game back in the Wild Card hunt. Five consecutive losses, though, have them 5 1/2 behind Milwaukee in the division and 1 1/2 back for the second NL Wild Card.
When McCutchen first got hurt, he said "when I do come back, I'll let it be known I'm back." That would be a welcome sight for the Pirates.
Alvarez 'pretty comfortable' in first-base debut
PITTSBURGH -- Pedro Alvarez took the field by jogging to the right corner of the infield on Monday, opposite of where the lifelong third baseman was used to starting.
Less than two weeks after the Pirates decided to have Alvarez start taking practice at first base, he made his first career appearance there, starting against the Braves. Alvarez noted the speed of a game cannot be replicated during infield drills, but he said he felt "pretty comfortable" in his new role.
"It felt new. The first time out there, it takes some getting used to," he said. "It's a different angle, it's a different point of view and different responsibilities come with the position. It's just foreign."
The 27-year-old dealt with a number of routine plays in his first-base debut and had a few others that stood out.
Alvarez moved to his right to field a chopper by Jason Heyward in the fourth inning. He scooped the ball and underhanded it to pitcher Vance Worley at first, but it was not in time to nab the Braves' leadoff hitter. In the sixth inning, shortstop Josh Harrison made a throw a bit wide of Alvarez, who was not able to catch the ball. Harrison was charged with an error.
"I don't want to start critiquing him after one game," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Alvarez. "We'll just get with him and share our thoughts with him."
It was Alvarez's own throwing issues that caused the team to try him out on the other side of the infield.
Alvarez's arm has been among the most unreliable in the Majors. He leads all players with 25 errors this season, 24 of which are throwing errors. The latest came Sunday when he floated a ball over the head of catcher Russell Martin while trying to cut off a runner at home.
Alvarez had been taking more fielding practice at first of late and said he was not surprised that he saw live action there so soon.
"We've been practicing over there pretty vigorously with the intention of trying to get game ready as quickly as possible," he said. "I was eager and anxious to get out there."
As Alvarez tries to find a place on the field, he is also trying to regain footing in the batter's box. Due to the throwing issues, Alvarez has been out of the lineup more often lately, cutting down his at-bats. He went 0-for-4 with a strikeout on Monday, lowering his average to .230.
Rookie-level pitcher suspended for HGH
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates Minor League pitcher Michael Clemens received a 68-game suspension from Major League Baseball on Monday for possession and use of human growth hormone (HGH).
Clemens, a 17th-round selection by the Pirates in June's First-Year Player Draft, was playing for Rookie-level Bristol. His suspension is effective immediately.
In 13 professional appearances, the right-hander allowed two earned runs in 18 innings (1.00 ERA) and recorded 20 strikeouts.
• Infielder Clint Barmes' rehab moved to Indianapolis on Monday night, where he was scheduled to play seven innings with the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate. Barmes (groin) has been sidelined since July 6 and played two games at Double-A over the weekend, each appearance lasting five innings.
• International League All-Star Matt Hague, who had a brief but popular run with the Pirates last year, was claimed on waivers Monday by Toronto and assigned to Triple-A Buffalo. The Bucs had designated Hague for assignment on Friday, clearing 40-man roster space for reliever John Axford.
First number, last word
.400: Travis Snider's average during his eight-game hitting streak. Snider -- who has been getting more time with McCutchen on the DL -- is 12-for-30 during the streak with three homers, three doubles and seven RBIs.
"The road trip was like a root canal, at the end of the day. It took us a lot of different places and not once into the win column. That being said, the guys out there, they're ready to play. I got challenged to do the ice bucket thing today. We're focused on a lot of things here, and one of them is not how many games we just lost." -- Hurdle on the Pirates' recent 0-5 road trip.
Stephen Pianovich is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.