LaRoche looking for his power stroke
Third baseman hit third homer of season on Tuesday
PITTSBURGH -- Andy LaRoche talked this spring about the need to hit for more power this season, knowing that such production is typically expected of a third baseman. To this point, though, the power numbers have been lagging.
While LaRoche has been one of the Pirates' most consistent hitters to this point, the extra-base hits haven't been falling with as much regularity as LaRoche had hoped. LaRoche had just one double and two home runs before going deep in Tuesday's 3-2 win over Chicago.
But could that solo home run off Chicago's Ryan Dempster be a sign that his power might soon show with more frequency?
"I told [hitting coach] Don [Long last weekend] in L.A. that it was coming," LaRoche said. "I felt like the swing was there. I was getting a lot of base hits, but the power wasn't there. The swing was there and the timing was off. I feel like it's getting close, and hopefully there will be some power production coming up."
LaRoche showed decent power numbers in the Minors -- he had 30 homers in Class A in 2005 -- but that hasn't yet been the case in the Majors. He hit 12 in 150 games with the Pirates last year, with eight of them coming in the final 48 games when LaRoche stopped feeling limited by a right thumb injury from 2008.
Though LaRoche hasn't shown exceptional power yet this season, the Pirates aren't in the business of complaining about his overall production. Since missing six games with back spasms, LaRoche has gone 17-for-42. In fact, since the beginning of last September, he is hitting .321 with 25 RBIs in 46 games.
Russell sticking with classic lineup
PITTSBURGH -- Manager John Russell went to a more traditional lineup -- one in which the pitcher hits in the ninth spot of the batting order -- for the third straight game on Wednesday. Russell batted his pitcher eighth for the first 24 games of the season.
The Pirates' lagging offense, which ranks 14th in the National League with a .236 average, played a role in Russell's decision to abandon his early season lineup plan. So, too, have the offensive struggles of shortstop Ronny Cedeno, whom Russell had been hitting ninth.
After hitting .342 in his first 10 games this season, Cedeno has hit just .114 since. His .152 on-base percentage during that span is concerning, too, given that he was expected to be a leadoff hitter of sorts from that ninth hole.
"We're just trying something different to see if we can jump-start the offense a little bit," Russell said. "When Ronny starts swinging the bat better, it could be a situation where we make the move again. He's not really swinging the bat like he's capable of, so we don't see the advantage to it as much."
One of the primary benefits Russell saw to batting the pitcher eighth was having two stronger hitters bat in front of outfielder Andrew McCutchen, who started the year hitting No. 2 in the batting order. Russell is accomplishing that now by batting McCutchen third.
Ohlendorf has impressive rehab outing
PITTSBURGH -- Ross Ohlendorf pitched four shutout innings for Double-A Altoona on Wednesday night in what could be the right-hander's final tune-up before rejoining the Pirates' rotation.
Ohlendorf, who has been sidelined with back spasms since his April 7 start, threw 59 pitches (41 strikes) in the outing. He gave up three hits, one walk and struck out six. Wednesday's outing marked Ohlendorf's second Minor League rehab start. His first came in extended spring training last Friday.
The Pirates haven't officially announced what's next for Ohlendorf, but management was optimistic that, if all went well on Wednesday, Ohlendorf would be ready to come off the disabled list. If that's the case, he would make his return start next Monday when the Pirates open up a three-game series against the Reds.
"We'll see how he pitches," manager John Russell said before Ohlendorf's appearance. "I know he feels pretty good. If it goes well, I don't see any reason why he can't make the start on the 10th."
Pirates need more quality starts
PITTSBURGH -- With Tuesday's 3-2 win, the Pirates moved to 8-1 in games decided by two or fewer runs this season. That can be attributed to a variety of things, including timely hitting and reliable relief pitching. The other common denominator in these close wins, though, has been decent starting pitching.
The Pirates have yet to lose a game when leading after four innings, and only one time has the club lost a game in which its starter gave a quality start (six innings, three or fewer earned runs allowed).
Even still, quality starts have been few and far between. Heading into Wednesday's game, Pirates starters have made just six this year. To put that number into better perspective, consider that there are four National League pitchers that have six quality starts apiece.
"As the starting staff, we need to challenge ourselves to go six, seven, eight innings and make sure [the bullpen is] fresh when they come in there," said Paul Maholm, owner of half of the staff's quality starts. "We've kind of hung them out to dry. If you go six or seven innings, those guys [in the bullpen] are going to be fresh."
After testing his right ankle on Wednesday afternoon, Andrew McCutchen declared himself ready to return to the starting lineup. McCutchen ended up missing just one game because of the mild sprain. "It's good to have him back," manager John Russell said. "I don't see any reason why he won't be just as aggressive with his game. That's how he plays." ... Left-hander Rudy Owens struck out 11 while pitching six no-hit innings for Double-A Altoona on Tuesday night. With the win, Owens is now 3-0 with a 2.83 ERA in five starts this year. ... Steve Pearce is making his first start of the season for the Pirates on Wednesday, one day after being called up from Triple-A Indianapolis. ... Just 27 games into the season, Russell has now used 21 different lineups. He employed his fifth different leadoff hitter on Wednesday, as well. Bobby Crosby batted atop the lineup for the first time since 2003, when he was a rookie with Oakland.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.