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06/30/10 8:45 AM ET

Valdez presents a challenge for Bucs

If the Pirates felt they were getting a big break by hosting a Chase Utley-less Phillies squad over the next four games, they might want to think again.

That's largely due to the efforts of utilityman Wilson Valdez, who's turning into quite the super-sub this season.

Valdez originally signed with the Phillies via a Minor League contract last November. He hit .313 this spring and then began the year with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. That didn't last long, as he was recalled and added to the 40-man roster on April 14 when Jimmy Rollins hit the disabled list for the first time. He appeared in 18 games before being designated for assignment when Rollins returned.

He wasn't claimed, so Valdez headed back to Triple-A, only to be summoned a few days later when Rollins landed back on the DL. He's been with the big club ever since, filling in at short when Rollins was out, at third to spell an ailing and now disabled Placido Polanco and now at second base with the Phillies' All-Star on the shelf. All along, the 32-year-old veteran has been a solid contributor with the glove, committing just two errors while moving among the three infield positions with aplomb.

"My job is to help the team win," Valdez said. "Go home with a win. I don't want to go home with a loss. I can't sleep when we lose. I like to win."

Somewhat surprisingly, Valdez has been helping the Phillies win with his bat of late. A career .230 hitter, Valdez went just 12-for-52 (.231) in his first stint up, helped by a four-game hitting streak right before Rollins returned. Since he came back up, he's hit a much more solid .277 (23-for-83) while providing some unexpected pop and run production. Valdez drove in 13 runs in June and hit three homers over his past nine games, including in back-to-back contests June 19-20. His homer and four RBIs on Tuesday helped keep the Phillies in the game, eventually won, 9-6, in the 10th inning.

"I'll take it," Valdez said of his career-high four RBIs. "But at the same time, it's bad because we lost two good players. We lose Chase and we lose Polanco. But the game goes on. We have to move forward and win more games."

The Pirates would love to win more games, too, with just six wins over the month of June. They'll send Daniel McCutchen, still looking for his first win of the season, to the mound on Thursday, as the right-hander fills in for the injured Zach Duke. Pittsburgh will miss facing Roy Halladay this time around, as the ace lost to Cincinnati on Wednesday afternoon. Of course, it was Duke who outdueled Halladay the last time these two teams met on May 18.

Phillies: Hamels hopes to get back on track
Cole Hamels is coming off his worst start in quite some time, a four-inning, five-run outing against Toronto. The lefty said he never felt in sync.

"Unfortunately, this game, from the very beginning, it was tough," Hamels said after the start. "I wasn't able to work through it. It's just something where it's going to happen. But you have to do better. I know that I can do better."

He had been throwing very well -- 4-3 with a 2.91 ERA in nine starts from May 4 to June 19 -- and he could get back to that against Pittsburgh. In three career starts against the Pirates, he's 1-0 with a 3.79 ERA over 19 innings of work. Hamels got a no-decision in his one previous start at PNC Park, but it was a gem: he tossed eight shutout innings last August, a 4-1 Phillies win.

Pirates: Russell waxes nostalgic
Back when Pirates manager John Russell donned the uniform as a player, the Bucs and Phillies were in the same division. The combination of that and the Pennsylvania connection always made meetings between the two teams more than just a typical regular-season series. Not that it's never intriguing these days. When the Phillies visited Pittsburgh last year in August, the Pirates took two of three in three of the better games the Bucs played all year. But those instances are fewer and farther between now that the two teams don't play each other as much.

"I know when I played in Philly, playing the Pirates was always a big rivalry," said Russell, who played for the Phillies for parts of five seasons in the 1980s. "It was a great series both ways. I miss that."

Worth noting
Thursday marks the one-year anniversary of Garrett Jones' debut with the Pirates. In 158 total games spanning 596 at-bats with Pittsburgh, Jones has hit .289/.364/.511, with 31 homers, 91 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. ... After Wednesday's 4-3 loss, the Phillies are 12-5 against NL Central opponents and finished June an even 13-13.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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