PITTSBURGH -- From Day 1, everyone around the Pirates -- staff, uniformed personnel, fans -- knew the team would be best off the day Pedro Alvarez began hitting like a cleanup hitter.That day became Saturday, when Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle validated Alvarez's remarkable turnaround by inserting him into the four-hole against the Reds. Alvarez went 0-for-2 with a pair of walks in a 3-2 victory. "When I first took this job, I envisioned the day we'd have Pedro at cleanup," Hurdle said. "You try to find the right spot, at the right time. The traction he has put down the last two weeks got us to this point to have the best lineup." After seven months and 188 games on the job, Hurdle finally got to write Alvarez's name into the four-spot for the first time. Alvarez was hitting .067 on the morning of April 21. He has gone 17-for-45 [.378] since -- with five homers and 13 RBIs in 12 games -- to raise his overall average to .253. The start on Saturday was Alvarez's first in the cleanup spot since being listed fourth for 10 games as a rookie in 2010. "This is not a day-to-day thing," Hurdle said. "We're putting our foot down, committing to it. We'll see where it take him, and us. I'm optimistic about it, I really am. I talked to [Alvarez] beforehand, and he's ready to go. He was smiling." Concurrently, Neil Walker, the Pirates' primary cleanup hitter before Saturday, was elevated into the No. 2 hole and hit a two-run homer. That does not figure to be as permanent, as Alex Presley, who became the No. 2 hitter when Jose Tabata took over at leadoff -- but mired in a 1-for-25 slump before Saturday -- hit a pinch-hit homer in the seventh inning.
As closers fall, Hanrahan's value goes up
PITTSBURGH -- Major League closers are going down like shooting-gallery ducks, most with injury, some with ineffectiveness. When possible replacements for needy clubs are discussed, Joel Hanrahan's name is never far from the top of the list.So, has the Pirates closer given any thought as to how the attrition rate might affect his status? Whether chances of him being moved go up every time another closer goes down? The question hardly caught Hanrahan off-guard. "Some of my teammates have been giving me a hard time about it," Hanrahan said prior to earning his fifth save in Saturday's 3-2 victory over the Reds. As in, "Will you car fit in the garage in New York?" or "Do you know how far is it from Boston's Logan Airport to Fenway Park?" The Yankees' incomparable Mariano Rivera was the latest casualty, tearing the ACL in his right-knee in an outfield mishap on Thursday. The Red Sox's Andrew Bailey was the first to go down, undergoing surgery for a torn left-thumb ligament the day before the season opener last month. In-between, Drew Storen (Nationals), Ryan Madson (Reds), Brian Wilson (Giants), Kyle Farnsworth (Rays) and Joakim Soria (Royals) suffered long-term injuries. "I haven't really thought about it," said Hanrahan, who has converted 45 of 49 save opportunities since the start of the 2011 season. "My goal here is to go out and get through this season, and be here and help this team win. "I know why you'd ask that question. That's just the history we've had here. But last year kind of changed the history a little bit. We went out and got a couple of guys [outfielder Ryan Ludwick and first baseman Derrek Lee], instead of trading away guys like we had years before. "Hopefully times have changed here, and that will be again the case this year, because I really enjoy being here." Hanrahan agreed to a one-year, $4.1 million deal last winter to avoid salary arbitration. He will be eligible for free agency following the 2013 season.
Andrew McCutchen was back in the lineup after missing most of the previous three games while fighting stomach flu; he went 1-for-3, reaching base for the 21st time in 25 games this season.
Jason Grilli, whose strikeout of Brandon Phillips with two on and two out in the eighth may have been the biggest play of the game, now has 20 strikeouts in 11 innings.
Saturday night's crowd was considerably bigger than the 20,445 that attended Friday night's game, and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was asked whether he was bothered by the notion that Zambelli Fireworks may be a bigger draw than the Bucs.
"I don't count people -- we win baseball games," Hurdle said. "I love our fan support." The Last Word: "Hey, it's Cinco de Mayo. It was either bootleg, or brainstorm." -- Hurdle, tongue-in-cheek, on his decision to insert Pedro Alvarez into the cleanup spot.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.