PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Church's bases-clearing double on Friday might not have been enough to help the Pirates halt their losing streak, but the outfielder is certainly hopeful that it will kick-start him personally.
Before drilling that seventh-inning double, Church had just six hits and three RBIs in 68 at-bats since May 6. Most recently, he was mired in a 2-for-37 funk. This slump came after Church began the season with a .288 average, seven extra-base hits and seven RBIs in his first 19 games.
The outfielder dealt with a bruised right wrist through much of May before being stricken with the stomach flu for almost a week earlier this month. Through it all, manager John Russell continued giving Church fairly regular starts in order to get the outfielder going. Church finally rewarded Russell's persistence and patience, as well as his own, on Friday.
"I feel great," Church said. "I'm confident. It's almost there. It's about ready to click. It's all about staying positive. We've all been there. We've all struggled. It's just how you go about it. I've been working my butt off to get back in there. It's starting to come around. I'm starting to get some better swings on some balls. I'm starting to hit it on the barrel.
"Hopefully, this will translate into some good things."
With the Indians starting left-hander David Huff on Saturday, Church was not in the lineup. He'll likely be back in there for the series finale on Sunday, though, with Cleveland sending a right-hander to the mound.
Duke to miss start with elbow stiffness
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates left-hander Zach Duke will skip his scheduled start on Tuesday after being bothered by stiffness in his throwing elbow during his previous outing.
Duke felt a little discomfort in the muscle close to his elbow during the fourth or fifth inning of his start on Wednesday. The lefty ended up finishing 5 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits and five runs in the game.
"I realized my pitches were the way they usually are," Duke said. "The velocity was down. The location was down. I just want to get it taken care of before it turns into something worse."
Both Duke and manager John Russell described the decision to hold Duke back as purely precautionary given that no one expects the lefty to miss any extended period of time. The Pirates' medical staff believes that the ailment is nothing more than a mild strain, and Duke is scheduled to throw a side session on Wednesday. If all goes well with that, he will jump back into the rotation to face Oakland next weekend.
"If it goes without a hitch, Saturday would be the day," Duke said. "But if for some reason I don't feel right, I'm not going to risk anything."
Duke said he hadn't had any problems with his elbow at any point earlier this season, though he did experience similar discomfort in 2007. He tried to pitch through it, though that didn't last long. The lefty ended up being shelved from June 28 to Sept. 15 with left elbow tendinitis.
"I don't want to go through that again," Duke said. "Lesson learned."
Because of an off-day on Monday, the rest of the rotation can stick in order even with Duke skipped. That means that Ross Ohlendorf, Paul Maholm and Jeff Karstens will now face the Rangers.
In 14 starts this year, Duke is 3-8 with a 5.49 ERA. He has won just once since April 20.
Alvarez notches first hit, RBI in Majors
PITTSBURGH -- A first hit. A first RBI. A first win. Pedro Alvarez got to experience all three in the Pirates' 6-4 victory over the Indians on Saturday.
Alvarez ended an 0-for-11 start to his Major League career with a double that bounced into the left-field stands in the fifth. The ground-rule double scored Lastings Milledge, who turned out to be the deciding run in a streak-snapping victory.
"He didn't hit that ball very well, and that's the kind of power he has," noted Pirates manager John Russell.
"I was just trying not to do too much, keep my eyes on the ball and put a good swing on it," Alvarez said. "I was very confident it was going to come. My main concern is trying to contribute to the team and win."
With numerous family members and friends among the 38,008 in the stands, Alvarez received a resounding ovation afterward, much like the one the third baseman heard when he stepped to the plate for his first big league at-bat on Wednesday.
"It's flattering to get such support and such an ovation," Alvarez said. "What more can I ask for? Ever since I got here, these people have embraced me with open arms and there is no greater feeling than that."
An usher was able to exchange a few autographed items to retrieve the ball for the 23-year-old Alvarez. He expected to have the ball in hand before leaving the ballpark on Saturday night.
"He has arrived finally," teammate Andrew McCutchen said. "I know how it feels to get the one out of the way. Hopefully, he just continues to learn from that one and go from here."
It had been only three days, but given the hype surrounding Alvarez's arrival, his hitless start has garnered some attention. By the time he stepped to the plate in the fifth, Alvarez had already struck out six times.
Left-hander Jack Taschner refused the Pirates' Minor League assignment and elected to become a free agent. Taschner was designated for assignment on June 8 as the Pirates made a pair of roster moves to make room for outfielder Jose Tabata and pitcher Brad Lincoln. ... Bobby Crosby earned the start at shortstop over Ronny Cedeno for the third time in the team's past four games. The switch has not been due to injury. ... Steve Pearce started for the Bradenton Marauders on Friday night in his second Minor League rehab appearance with the high Class A club. The first baseman finished 2-for-4 with a double, RBI and run scored. Pearce has now joined Triple-A Indianapolis to continue his rehab assignment. ... Right-hander Charlie Morton will take the mound for Indianapolis on Saturday in his third Minor League rehab start with the club. Morton has combined to pitch 9 2/3 innings in his previous two outings. He's allowed five earned runs on 13 hits and three walks and struck out nine.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.