CINCINNATI -- For the first time in six games, manager John Russell penciled in Pirates third baseman Andy LaRoche's name into the starting lineup. But Russell wasn't quite ready to yank newly-recalled Neil Walker, who's played third the past two days, from the lineup. So, he sat second baseman Aki Iwamura, moved shortstop Ronny Cedeno into the leadoff spot for the first time this year and started Walker at second base.
The most important news for Pirates fans, though, is that LaRoche's stiff back has loosened enough for him to play. Russell will make sure to keep a close watch on him.
"He did a lot of running around [Wednesday] and looked pretty good," Russell said. "He took BP. He's good to go. Hopefully, he stays healthy. We'll have to keep an eye on it and see if he's starting to favor it again. We thought we had it out there the first time, but it came back."
Since the Pirates are in the middle of a stretch of 20 games in 20 days, Russell also said he wanted to give Iwamura, who had been bothered by a sore hamstring, a rest on the bench while keeping Walker (3-for-8 in his first two games since he was recalled) in the lineup.
Cedeno feeling comfortable at plate
CINCINNATI -- Earlier this season, before his 17-game streak of reaching base had begun, Pirates shortstop Ronny Cedeno's approach at the plate would change constantly each time he stepped into the box.
With Cedeno's batting average dropping -- it got as low as .203 earlier this month -- Pittsburgh's coaching staff knew a change needed to be made. Enter hitting coach Don Long, who taught Cedeno a new tactic to employ during his at-bats.
"Donny has been trying to get him in a more solid position at the plate, in his set-up and the way he goes to the ball," Russell said. "Ronny had a tendency of changing from at-bat to at-bat and sometimes pitch to pitch. He'd put his hands different or put his feet different and was just very inconsistent.
"They've worked really hard on trying to find that one setup, that one approach where he sees the ball the same way and his approach to the inner-half and the outer-half stay the same. Instead of having to do something different every at-bat, he's keeping the same approach. Now, his bat head is getting to the ball more consistently. It's really paid off for him."
Since May 1, Cedeno's average has risen 49 points to .252, and during the period where he's reached base in 17 straight games, he's hitting .306 with an on-base percentage of .383. It's clear Cedeno, with his new stance, is feeling more comfortable in the batter's box.
"I'm playing more consistently and recognizing the strike zone," said Cedeno, who was scheduled to bat in the leadoff position Thursday for the first time this season. "Donny is trying to put me in a real strong position to hit with not too much movement. Just right to the ball. That's what he wants me to do, and it's helped me out a lot. I've dropped my hands a little bit and dropped my body down, too. I just go right to the ball and attack the ball."
He's also seeing breaking balls more clearly, and when he's batting with two strikes, he's even more effective.
"All year, he's been very good with two strikes," Russell said. "Whether he's gotten a hit or not, he's really battled. Now, being in a better position, he's not panicking when he gets there. He feels like he's still in it, and that he can still get a hit."
Bucs could see phenom Strasburg
CINCINNATI -- Various media outlets reported Thursday that pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg might make his big league debut vs. the Pirates when Pittsburgh meets Washington in a June 8-10 series.
Before Thursday's game vs. the Reds, Pirates manager John Russell was asked about the possibility of welcoming Strasburg to the Major Leagues and if Pittsburgh would have to change its approach, while preparing for a pitcher the team has never faced and doesn't have much knowledge about.
"I don't know what you can do," Russell said. "You have to go prepare for the game. He's pretty good, and there will be a lot of media and fan attention. But you get that when you face [Tim] Lincecum and [Chris] Carpenter in St. Louis. It will be an exciting day, but you just prepare for the game."
Josh Katzowitz is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.