© 2010 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

09/10/10 6:08 PM ET

Pirates brace for Volquez's return in Cincy

In a perfect world for the Reds, Edinson Volquez would give the same type of boost to the starting rotation that Aroldis Chapman has provided the bullpen.

The reality is that Volquez, who is 13 months removed from Tommy John surgery, remains a work in progress. That work will be on display Saturday when he takes the hill against Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton.

His return could not come at a better time.

The Reds lead the NL Central by six games and Volquez could still be the difference down the stretch. The right-hander's "stuff" is there: His fastball is still clocked in the mid-90s mph and his curveball has become a valuable weapon. But Volquez's command has yet to return. Some could argue that it was never pinpoint in the first place.

But Volquez could be better and here's why: He went 3-2 with a 6.17 ERA in eight starts for Cincinnati when he returned to the big leagues after the All-Star break and was eventually sent to Class A Dayton to hone his craft. In his two starts for Dayton, he went 0-0 with a 1.38 ERA. He allowed four runs (two earned) on 11 hits with four walks and 19 strikeouts over 13 innings.

"The last two games I pitched in Dayton were good, too," Volquez said. "I was more consistent at throwing strikes."

As for Morton, he lasted only 3 2/3 innings in his past start and hasn't finished four innings in half of his 12 starts this season. The Pirates were resilient Friday, but were still topped by the Reds, 4-3, in extra innings.

"We needed to pick up that game bad," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Hopefully, we pick up some more this weekend."

Don't expect the Pirates to just roll over Saturday. They are still competing and the September additions have provided energy and depth. In fact, Baker spent part of Friday trying to learn about the Pirates' extended roster. His lineup card had notes scribbled on front and back because he knows being a September callup is a big deal.

"You learn as much as you can about them," he said. "I was a September callup three times. I knew what it was about. You try to do something to impress your team. You're trying to impress your parents, home folks. One at-bat is huge or one pitch, one inning. It's big."

Pirates: Alvarez finding his groove
Pedro Alvarez has hit safely in six consecutive games and has six RBIs in his past 10 games. ... The Pirates have had one extra-base hit in 23 consecutive games, a new season high. They also have home runs in 12 of their past 14 games. ... Triple-A Indianapolis manager Frank Kremblas, pitching coach Dean Treanor and hitting coach Jeff Branson have joined the big league ballclub.

Reds: Nix uncertain on return date
Outfielder Laynce Nix (sprained left ankle) was eligible to be activated from the disabled list Friday, but is still unable to run. His return date is unknown. ... Shortstop Orlando Cabrera (left oblique) missed his third consecutive game because of some soreness. He could return to action next week. ... Aaron Harang, who was originally scheduled to pitch for the Reds on Saturday, was moved to the bullpen. ... Francisco Cordero was named the Reds 2010 nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award presented by Chevrolet. ... The Reds will celebrate the 25th anniversary of Pete Rose becoming baseball's hit king with a tribute Saturday. ... The club has spent 87 of the past 117 days in first place or tied for first place.

Worth noting
The Reds are 29-39 against teams with a .500 record or better and 51-22 against teams with a record below .500. ... The Reds are 991-1,025 all-time against the Pirates. ... The Pirates have used a club-record 50 different players this season.

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