Aki the only option to lead off for now
Skipper Russell wants speedster to work way out of slump
CHICAGO -- Continuing to put Aki Iwamura in the leadoff spot certainly doesn't seem ideal given the second baseman's offensive problems. However, when asked about the perplexing lineup placement on Saturday, manager John Russell said he sees few other options.
The closest thing the Pirates have to a prototypical leadoff hitter would be Andrew McCutchen, who has the ability to get on base consistently and the speed to cause havoc once he does. However, Russell doesn't want to move McCutchen out of the No. 3 spot in the order where he has shown that he can be a run-producing threat.
"It's not easy to plug a guy into the leadoff spot," Russell said. "There's just not too many of those guys around. You look at what you have and you try to balance it as best you can. Aki has the ability to do it because when he's going well, he works the count."
So what are Russell's other options? Ronny Cedeno has some speed, but the .267 on-base percentage he had coming into Saturday's game isn't especially appealing for a leadoff hitter.
Lastings Milledge has hit atop the order twice, but the Pirates still see the outfielder profiling more as a middle-of-the-order hitter, especially if he can start to show any power. Given his plate patience and consistent ability to get on base, Andy LaRoche would seem to be an intriguing option. But Russell likes having LaRoche hit right in front of McCutchen.
All this means that for now, Iwamura will continue to try to work his way out of a slump while getting more at-bats than anyone else in the lineup. Iwamura entered Saturday hitting .161 with a .255 on-base percentage. In his first 41 at-bats this month, Iwamura had just two hits.
Pearce has nothing more than tight tendon
CHICAGO -- Steve Pearce called it a "sigh of relief" to learn that the pop he felt behind his right knee during Friday's win was nothing more than some tightness near his tendon.
An MRI done on Pearce's knee on Friday came back negative, showing no structural damage. The news got even better on Saturday when Pearce was cleared to pinch-hit after hitting in the batting cages and taking batting practice in the morning.
"I feel good," Pearce said. "I think I did the right thing [on Friday] by taking [myself] out [of the game]. I probably would have [it] blown out [running]. I caught it early."
Running could still be an issue for Pearce, which means that he's unlikely to start this weekend. But a stint on the disabled list does not appear to be necessary.
"We'll just see how he goes the next few days," manager John Russell said. "I think it's more where the calf meets the tendon, so there is nothing wrong with the knee. We'll just see how he responds."
Pearce is 2-for-14 since being recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis on May 4.
Bass accepts assignment to Triple-A
CHICAGO -- Right-hander Brian Bass cleared waivers and accepted an outright assignment to Triple-A Indianapolis. Bass is expected to join the Minor League club later on Saturday in Toledo, Ohio.
Bass was designated for assignment on Monday when the Pirates reinstated starter Ross Ohlendorf from the 15-day disabled list.
During his two weeks with the big league club, Bass allowed nine earned runs on nine hits in 6 1/3 innings. He walked eight and struck out four. Bass is expected to pitch out of the bullpen for Indianapolis.
Other Minor League notes of interest:
Both Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez went deep in Indianapolis' 8-1 win on Friday. The home run was Alvarez's ninth of the season, and his two-hit day bumped the third baseman's average this month up to .333. He has driven in 21 runs since the start of May. Walker still leads the International League in hits (46).
Right-hander Michael Crotta picked up the win for Indianapolis on Friday after allowing one earned run and seven hits in seven innings. The start was Crotta's third since being promoted from Double-A, and he went seven innings deep in all three. Since Indianapolis became affiliated with the Pirates in 2005, no Indians pitcher has pitched at least seven innings in each of his first three starts.
Marte may require left hand surgery
CHICAGO -- Outfield prospect Starling Marte has been shut down with a left hand injury that may require surgery.
According to director of player development Kyle Stark, Marte is scheduled to see a hand specialist on Monday to determine the reason behind recent issues he has had with his left hand. Surgery, Stark said, might be necessary.
Marte, 21, entered the season ranked as the organization's sixth-best prospect by Baseball America. Marte began the season with high Class A Bradenton, where he hit .283 with 12 RBIs, 17 runs scored and nine stolen bases in 26 games. He last started for the Marauders on May 10.
The organization has described Marte, who was signed out of the Dominican Republic when he was 18, as a five-tool talent. After spending two seasons playing the Dominican Summer League, Marte made his debut in the states last season. He hit .312 with 41 runs scored, 17 extra-base hits and 24 stolen bases in 54 games with low Class A West Virginia.
CHICAGO -- Outfielder Andrew McCutchen became the first Pirates player to record five hits and score five times in a game since Sept. 16, 1975, when Rennie Stennett went 7-for-7 with five runs scored in a 22-0 win at Wrigley Field. ... In his first three games against the Cubs this year, McCutchen is 9-for-11 with four RBIs. ... Outfielder Ryan Church returned to the starting lineup for the first time since being hit on the right wrist by a pitch on May 7. ... The 10 runs scored by Pittsburgh on Friday came just as the "You score as the Bucs score promotion" kicked off. For every run scored by the Pirates during this series, $1 will be taken off the price of the $24 left- and right-field box seats during the May 21-23 series against the Braves at PNC Park. Friday's offensive outburst has already knocked that price down to $14. A limited number of tickets are available as part of this promotion and will be available for purchase after Sunday's game.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.