CLEVELAND - While Pedro Alvarez is making progress with his rehab work in Bradenton, Fla., the progress is coming so slowly that it appears unlikely that the third baseman will be back in Pittsburgh before the All-Star break.
Alvarez, who has been on the disabled list with a right quadriceps strain since May 21, is currently able to do only "limited" physical activity, manager Clint Hurdle said on Saturday. That limited activity includes nothing game-related.
Alvarez had played in a few extended spring training games earlier this month before he was forced out of a June 7 contest when his quad tightened up again. The third baseman has not played in a game since.
While the Pirates are not offering a guess as to how much longer Alvarez will be sidelined, it's safe to assume that he will need to participate in Florida camp games before going on a Minor League rehab assignment to get a bulk of at-bats. Working through those steps prior to the All-Star break -- which begins three weeks from Monday -- would seem to be a stretch.
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Pirates weighing options for Trade Deadline
CLEVELAND -- Sitting three games out of first place and one game above .500 in the second half of June is a place unfamiliar to the Pirates in recent years. And it has left many wondering if the Pirates will consider becoming buyers -- not sellers -- at the Trade Deadline next month.
With 36 games remaining until the deadline, much can (and will) change in those standings. Any changes could clarify whether the Pirates can stay in a pennant race late into the season. In the meantime, though, the club is seeking ways to improve its offense.
"There's not many days that go by where [general manager] Neal [Huntington] and I don't have conversations about what we can do to make our club better -- short term, long term," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We had another [conversation] today. We're trying to think about the creative side, the patient side, the challenging side, the roster side. We've had that conversation."
Those conversations have included internal options (i.e. Alex Presley, Chase d'Arnaud) as well as external ones. With Pedro Alvarez still weeks away from returning from a quad injury, perhaps the Pirates will focus their attention on a corner infielder, given that first baseman Lyle Overbay has been underachieving all year, too. An upgrade at the catcher position continues to be explored, as well.
Management has said that it will spend money to add pieces when the time is right. The challenging part in getting a deal done, though, is determining whether the Pirates are willing to part with prospects or even a starting pitcher to improve an offense that ranks 14th in the National League in runs scored and 15th in total hits.
Hurdle employing methodical shift vs. Tribe
CLEVELAND -- No, the Pirates are not changing their minds when manager Clint Hurdle calls for Josh Harrison to leave his spot at third base midway through an at-bat and join Neil Walker and Lyle Overbay on the right side of the infield. There is, actually, very much a method to the apparent madness.
Hurdle has not been shy to employ a shift -- where one infielder stays on the left side of the infield while three take their places on the right side -- against a number of left-handed hitting opponents this year. What has been interesting, though, is the timing of that shift.
As was seen numerous times against Cleveland on Friday night, the Pirates did not employ a shift until after a strike had been thrown. Waiting until after strike one lessens the likelihood that the batter will attempt to take advantage of the shift and drop a bunt down the third-base line.
"They've shown that they have [bunted] in the past," Hurdle said of the Indians. "We get video like everybody else. There are guys that have taken the early shot at the bunt. Not many of them do it with one strike, and obviously none of them are going to do it with two strikes."
While some clubs shift a shortstop to the right side of second base and move the third baseman to the shortstop position during an infield shift, the Pirates have opted to leave Ronny Cedeno at short and move Harrison over to where the second baseman usually plays. Walker has then set himself up in short right field.
Harrison's experience playing second base has the Pirates more comfortable putting him on the right side of the infield rather than at the shortstop position.
Heredia set to begin season in Gulf Coast
CLEVELAND -- Sixteen-year-old pitcher Luis Heredia highlights the roster for the Pirates' rookie Gulf Coast League club, which is set to open its season on Monday.
The Pirates made a significant splash last August when they paid $2.6 million to acquire Heredia's rights from a team in Mexico. Now, the Mexican-born right-hander is set to make the rare jump to the GCL as a 16-year-old who never played in the Dominican or Venezuelan Summer League.
Pirates director of player development Kyle Stark said Heredia will be on a very specific and limited workload throughout the summer. Since participating in Minor League Spring Training, Heredia has been working on specific aspects of his development in a controlled environment at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
"He has made significant improvement as he continues to grow and develop at a very rapid rate, due to how young he is," Stark said. "He's got really good feel for many things and is a sponge. We're very encouraged by the progress he has made -- personally and professionally."
MLB.com ranked Heredia the Pirates' sixth-best prospect coming into 2011.
Right-hander Michael Crotta (right elbow posterior inflammation) tossed a scoreless inning for Double-A Altoona on Friday. The outing was Crotta's first in a Minor League rehab stint with the Curve. He allowed one hit and struck out one.
Asked about the Pirates' start to the season, Indians manager Manny Acta directed plenty of praise to first-year manager Clint Hurdle. Said Acta: "I think Clint is a big part of what they're doing. He's a very energetic type of guy. He brings experience from the Rockies and expects a lot out of those guys. They're putting together a good nucleus of young guys. Their draft picks from the past few years are coming up and showing up in the big leagues. I can see how they're on the verge of playing better than the last 18 years."
Garrett Jones served as the Pirates' designated hitter again on Saturday after going 2-for-4 in the series opener. The only change Hurdle made to the lineup was shifting Jones into the cleanup spot and dropping Neil Walker to the fifth hole. That move, as Hurdle explained, was designed to split up the left-handed hitting Jones and Lyle Overbay, who is batting sixth.
Walker entered Saturday riding a 13-game road hitting streak. He has driven in 12 runs during that span. Third baseman Josh Harrison has hit safely in eight straight games and needs a hit on Saturday to tie Atlanta's Freddie Freeman for the longest hitting streak by a National League rookie this season.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.