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Late lead erased as Pirates fall off Cards' pace

Bucs three games back after Cole tagged for three runs in seventh

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ST. LOUIS -- J-Hay got in the first lick and kept jabbing all afternoon. Jay punched back early and landed a late roundhouse.

The Monday battle thus went to the Cardinals' Jon Jay over the Pirates' Josh Harrison, as St. Louis outlasted the Bucs, 5-4, in the Labor Day clash between National League Central foes.

Josh Harrison went 2-for-5 to take the lead in the NL batting race, but Jay tripled and scored the winning run in the seventh long after his hustling first-inning catch had aborted a potentially big inning for the Bucs.

"At the end of the day, that play by Jay in the first inning might have won the game," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had to concede, even after three hours of spills, chills, ups and downs in a typical game in a typical NL Central race.

Labor Day, of course, represents the conclusion of the summer's last big Holliday Weekend.

That is not a typo. Matt Holliday's seventh-inning single scored Jay with the decisive run, and his earlier two-run double into the opposite-field gap had begun the Cardinals' comeback and earned Gerrit Cole's admiration.

"He's probably the strongest human in world," marveled Cole. "You jam him, and he hits it to the warning track in right-center."

The loss dropped the Bucs three games out of the National League Central lead behind the Cardinals, who are alone in first place for the first time this season following the Brewers' simultaneous loss to the Cubs.

The division standings are as tight as possible. So are the games being waged by the Pirates, who are two games out of a Wild Card spot. "Waged" is correct, because "playing" doesn't connote as much tension.

This was the Bucs' fourth consecutive one-run game, bringing their season total atop such tightropes to 53.

Andrew McCutchen, for one, thinks they'd better start handling the heights a bit better.

"It's another game we should have won," said McCutchen, whose 454-foot solo homer in the seventh had been the Bucs' final salvo. "There's certain situations in the game that good teams have got to key on, and it's something we've got to do. We've gotta keep battling, and not let these games slip out of our hands, because it's September and we gotta get going."

There would have been more breathing room Monday if not for Jay. The Bucs already led, 2-0, on Neil Walker's two-run double off 14-game winner Lance Lynn, when Starling Marte blistered a pitch to dead center with two men on base and running with two outs. Playing at medium depth, Jay had to race the ball to the wall -- and won, with an above-head catch.

"Without question," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said when asked whether he considered that a game-changer. "They were putting some good swings right from the top. You could tell they were feeling good, and Lance was fighting to find a real nice feel for the good pitches in the bottom of the zone. They were making him pay."

Harrison had begun the opening rally with a single, and after doubling in the fourth owned an average of .313, two points higher than league runner-up Justin Morneau. Harrison finished 2-for-5 and at .311, still a point ahead of Morneau (still in late action at home).

"I'm not really worried about it," Harrison said. "Still a lot of games left. Gotta keep grinding."

Holliday sparked the Cards to their second impressive comeback in as many days. They had overcome a 5-0 deficit to the Cubs on Sunday. In its last three games, St. Louis has scored 27 runs; Holliday has driven in 12 of them.

"That's what he does, why he hits in the middle of the lineup," Hurdle said. "He puts himself in good position to drive in runs with good at-bats."

Or, as Cole saw it, "You have to execute. You have to be on your game when you face these guys."

Asked to carry a load becoming familiar to the Pittsburgh rotation -- an early, but frozen, lead -- Cole was about to cross the seventh-inning finish line with it when Kolten Wong tripped him up with a pinch-hit, game-tying two-run homer with one out in the seventh.

Cole went ahead of Wong to an 0-2 count on 95- and 96-mph fastballs. Then he wasted an 88-mile slider, and came back with another 96-mph cutter Wong deposited in the home bullpen for the Cardinals' first pinch-homer of the year.

Speed-wise, it was the same 1-2 pitch that two batters earlier had caught Daniel Descalso looking at strike three. Location-wise, this 1-2 pitch was inferior.

"Yeah," Cole said, "I executed that pitch [to Descalso], but I didn't get it in there [to Wong]. Threw it right in his wheelhouse."

The tone had been established. Jay followed with an opposite-field liner that, instead of curving into the boxes in the left-field corner, rattled around two bars of the railing before bouncing away from Marte for a triple. Soon thereafter, Holliday pulled his game-winner off reliever John Axford.

After the Pirates had made it 3-0 on Andrew Lambo's RBI double in the second, Lynn barred home plate, an unsettling reminder of Pittsburgh's last two games. Jumping into a quick lead has not been a problem for the Bucs. Adding on some runs has.

A 3-0 first-inning lead on Saturday survived for a 3-2 win over the Reds, but a 2-0 second-inning lead on Sunday over Cincinnati became a 3-2 loss.

As soon as Lynn departed, having surrendered eight hits and those three runs in six innings, McCutchen rousted the Pirates from that late-game funk. He turned Kevin Siegrist's 3-1 pitch into a leadoff homer in the seventh, setting the lead at 4-2.

McCutchen's 21st home run was no cheapie. At an estimated 454 feet into the third deck, it was the second-longest by a visiting player in the nine seasons of Busch Stadium III (Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt hit one two feet farther).

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Bucs expand roster -- and T. Sanchez's skill set

Catcher, who has been working at first, returns with Pimentel, Cole

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Bucs expand roster -- and T. Sanchez's skill set play video for Bucs expand roster -- and T. Sanchez's skill set

ST. LOUIS -- Catcher Tony Sanchez, right-hander Stolmy Pimentel and, at least technically, Gerrit Cole on Monday led off the gradual influx onto the Pirates' expanded roster.

Sanchez was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis, Pimentel (sprained right ankle) came off the DL and Cole was recalled from Rookie-level Bristol.

The trio of moves increased the clubhouse head count to 28. With Indianapolis concluding its season on Monday -- and, at 73-70 , no playoffs in sight -- more arrivals are expected on Tuesday.

As was the case with Cole, who started Monday afternoon's game here, lefty Jeff Locke will be recalled from Triple-A to start the second game of this key series against the Cardinals. He will have company.

"I anticipate some more guys joining us [Tuesday]," manager Clint Hurdle said.

The most intriguing member of the first wave is Sanchez, a principal in the Bucs' first seven weeks of the season, while Chris Stewart and Russell Martin both served DL time. Sanchez then returned to Indianapolis to work on his catching -- and wound up August working out at first base.

"Could it be another position where he can post-up to provide an opportunity for the bat to play? Can't see why not," Hurdle said.

Sanchez, accustomed to being involved in every pitch as a lifelong catcher, did not sound enthusiastic about the new position.

"I hate it," Sanchez said, softening the impact of those words with a bemused smile. "Extremely boring. I'm out there like a dog playing fetch, trying to go after every ball. It'll take more than a couple weeks of taking ground balls for them to even consider me an option at first base."

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Locke looks to help Pirates climb closer to Cardinals

Alone in first place, Redbirds tab ace against Pirates lefty Locke

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In a division race as tight as the National League Central this season, every game seems to have a magnifying glass on it.

The Cardinals and Pirates are both hoping that magnifying glass doesn't burn them during their three-game series in St Louis. The Redbirds grabbed sole possession of first place on Monday for the first time this season and enter Tuesday's game one game ahead of the Brewers and three in front of the Pirates.

"We can't ignore the standings," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "With a lot has been said around us, about us, whether it's the individuals or the club as a whole, I love that about our club. They thrive on that stuff. It brings out something."

The Cards are in a particularly important position, as they will play four games in Milwaukee after their series with the Pirates.

Fortunately for the Cardinals, they have their ace ready to continue their winning ways after a comeback victory on Monday, even if he has had a rough time lately.

Adam Wainwright has struggled since the All-Star break, going 3-5 with a 4.68 ERA in 50 innings. The St. Louis ace said that could be attributed, at least in part, to arm fatigue.

"Baseball is a weird, funny game. It can be very frustrating," Wainwright said. "Over the last however many starts it's been, if it's not one thing, it's another. Really, my arm has felt better. I have been going through a dead-arm phase, and everybody does. But you have to find ways to get outs.

"You look at your season as a whole, if you stay out of those big, crooked innings, usually your season ends up OK and usually you win a lot of games. As ugly as it is, and whatever it may look like, I'm still holding us in the game and I know that we're close."

The Pirates' starter on Tuesday has been trending in a different direction.

Jeff Locke, who missed the first month of the season with an oblique injury, went 4-0 in August with a 2.90 ERA, and is looking to get September off to a hot start.

"I've just been focused since returning here on being strong and healthy down the stretch, to give this team a chance to move forward," Locke said.

Pirates: Bucs continue roster expansion
With the expansion to 40-man rosters on Monday, the Pirates added catcher Tony Sanchez and pitchers Gerrit Cole and Stolmy Pimental to the active roster, but they are not done yet.

With Triple-A Indianapolis finishing its season on Monday, more players are expected to arrive Tuesday.

The Pirates still have 12 roster spots they could fill, and manager Clint Hurdle expects them to be taken shortly.

"I anticipate some more guys joining us [Tuesday]," Hurdle said.

Cardinals: Carpenter gets day off
Few things are assured, but for most of this season, Matt Carpenter's name in the lineup has been one of them.

The third baseman had played 133 of the Cardinals' 136 games before Monday, when Matheny gave him a day off.

"I know he's been pushing and kind of just grinding through right now," Matheny said. "After the game, he was wiped. I made the decision last night. I think he slept a little better."

However, the Cardinals expect Carpenter to be back in the lineup on Tuesday.

"He's going to continue to [be productive], but to keep throwing him out there, I think, is really almost putting him in a position where we could potentially get him hurt," Matheny said. "He's never one of the guys that would come in and ask for a day. That's just our job. We have to keep our antennae up to see who needs it."

Worth noting
• The Cardinals are moving Justin Masterson, whom they acquired on July 30, to the bullpen after six starts with the team. Masterson had a 2-3 record with a 7.90 ERA in those six starts.

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Morton could step into limited relief role for Pirates

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ST. LOUIS -- Charlie Morton's one rehab start, on Thursday with Double-A Altoona, reflected his last three months with the Bucs: The results looked a lot better than how he felt.

Even while dealing with his sports hernia, Morton allowed two runs in four innings while exhibiting sharp command (one walk vs. six strikeouts).

Afterward, the righty and Pirates staff concurred that he didn't experience sufficient physical progress to make his return to the rotation a consideration.

Which brings up the question: Why would Morton be down for a simulated game, of up to 75 pitches, here on Tuesday?

Most obviously, the Pirates want Morton to keep his arm sharp, just in case.

It is also possible that the club would consider adding him to an expanded bullpen and use him in relief. Morton has no history in that role -- his only relief appearance came as a rookie with the Braves in 2008. But he acknowledged that the discomfort from the hernia grows the longer he pitches, both "from the ups and downs as a starter, and from pitches thrown."

In a very limited role, the sinkerballing Morton would pair with Jared Hughes to give manager Clint Hurdle a second September option when he needs someone to come out of bullpen to throw a double-play pitch.

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Bucs beat by long ball as 'pen can't shut down Reds

Early HRs from Harrison, Mercer don't hold up in Liriano's strong start

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Bucs beat by long ball as 'pen can't shut down Reds play video for Bucs beat by long ball as 'pen can't shut down Reds

PITTSBURGH -- Many factors have kept the Pirates from stringing together five straight wins this season. On Sunday, it was Chris Heisey's bat and the familiar right arm of Johnny Cueto.

Heisey homered twice -- including the game-winner in the ninth against reliever Jared Hughes -- generating all of the Reds' offense in a 3-2 win at PNC Park. Cueto went eight innings and notched his fourth win against Pittsburgh this season.

The Bucs still won the series, 2-1, but their streak of four consecutive wins, which tied a season-high, was snapped, and their six-game homestand was bookended with losses.

"I think we threw 137 pitches on the day, and two of them ending up costing us," Mananger Clint Hurdle said.

Hurdle was five pitches short of the actual count, but his sentiment holds true, and his team fell two games behind the Brewers and Cardinals for first place in the National League Central and the second spot in the NL Wild Card standings. They open a three-game series in St. Louis on Monday.

A game with 2014 playoff implications was a rematch of last year's NL Wild Card game, and Cueto was able to get the best of Francisco Liriano and the Pirates.

The Pirates struck against Cueto as fast as possible, as Josh Harrison took the first pitch from the right-hander over the left-field wall. Jordy Mercer added a solo shot in the second inning, but it came after Starling Marte got picked off first base following a single.

Cueto tossed eight innings, striking out six and giving up nine hits. But, much like their opposition, the Pirates capitalized on just two swings of the bat.

"He's a good pitcher, and you got to get to him early," Harrison said of Cueto. "He stuck around and got out of some jams when he needed to."

Cueto ran into trouble in his final inning as Harrison and Andrew McCutchen were on base with singles and one out. Cueto got Neil Walker to ground out, and with the go-ahead run 90 feet away, third baseman Kristopher Negron made a phenomenal diving grab in foul territory to retire Ike Davis and end the inning.

The infamous "Cue-to" chants from the 2013 playoff game floated around PNC Park throughout the afternoon, gaining steam whenever the Cincinnati ace looked to be in trouble. However, it didn't bother Cueto, whose season ERA against the Pirates is 1.89 and career record in the Steel City improved to 10-2.

"When I'm on the mound, I just have to do my job and I concentrate on my job," Cueto said through a translator. "The fans, I love that they stay there. You know what? Every time I come here, I throw eight innings."

Cueto got his 16th win of the season because of Heisey's decisive solo home run in the ninth, which came on a 1-1 sinker and wrapped around the left-field foul pole. It was the third of three sinkers in a row Hughes threw Heisey, who fouled off a the 1-0 pitch at the plate.

"The pitch before the home run was a little bit out over the plate," said Hughes, who fell to 6-5 on the season. "The next pitch was in, off the plate. And I think he just brought his hands in and hit the pitch well."

Liriano turned in seven frames, and a fifth-inning changeup he left up to Heisey for a two-run shot to left resulted in the only runs against him.

Liriano gave up five hits, walked three and struck out five in his seventh quality start in his last eight chances. The left-hander, who led off the homestand by tossing six scoreless frames, did not allow a hit until Todd Frazier singled in the fourth. No Pirates starter (Liriano, Edinson Volquez and Vance Worley) allowed a run in the first three innings against Cincinnati in the three-game series.

"I had a tough fifth inning, but other than that, everything was working down," Liriano said. "I was using both sides of the plate down and in, everything was down. Just made a mistake in that fifth inning."

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After stint at Triple-A, Polanco to return Tuesday

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PITTSBURGH -- Gregory Polanco will be back with the Pirates in St. Louis on Tuesday after spending a week in Triple-A.

So far, that week for Polanco hasn't been superb -- the touted prospect has gone 4-for-19 with four singles, two walks and three strikeouts in five games entering Sunday -- but he has been able to get consistent at-bats. And that's what the team wanted.

Polanco, who made his anticipated Major League debut on June 10, had just one hit in his last 30 at-bats and was benched for four games in favor of hot-hitting Travis Snider before Polanco was sent down.

"After the four-day layoff where Travis was swinging the bat so well and deserved to continue to play, Gregory looked a little rough," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday. "... Most importantly, he's been out and competing. We look forward to getting him back. If we're going to play October baseball, Gregory Polanco is going to have a hand in that."

The 22-year-old is batting .241 with a .657 OPS in 64 Major League games this season.

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Huntington hints at surprises when rosters expand

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PITTSBURGH -- On the last day of August, the Pirates weren't tipping their hand for what they plan to do on Monday when Major League rosters can expand to 40 players.

Pittsburgh will bring some pieces into its clubhouse as it looks to reach the postseason for the second year in a row. But neither manager Clint Hurdle nor general manger Neal Huntington wanted to disclose who might be wearing black and gold later this week.

"I'll be happy to speak to why we call certain guys up and why we don't when we get to that point in time," Huntington said. "There will be some surprises, there will be some people scratching their heads."

Why will there be surprises? Huntington noted some players who seem deserving won't be called up because of their fit on the roster. With the Pirates close in the National League Central and NL Wild Card, Huntington said the team needs to have players who can be plugged in and help the Bucs win down the stretch.

"Our first three, four, even five years here, September callups were about opportunities and reward, guys who were getting a chance to see if they belonged on next year's club," Huntington said. "This year's September callups and last year's September callups are about getting a player skill set Clint can use to win a game."

Some of the moves are guaranteed. Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke, Monday's and Tuesday's starters, respectively, were optioned this weekend to make room for Andrew Lambo and Brent Morel. Morel and Lambo were added as insurance players with Travis Snider (left hamstring) and Pedro Alvarez (left foot) injured.

Cole and Locke never left the Pirates clubhouse, and injured reliever Stolmy Pimentel as well as right fielder Gregory Polanco -- who was sent to Triple-A at the beginning of the week to get at-bats -- will all be with Pittsburgh early next week. Polanco can't return until Tuesday, the day after the Triple-A season ends.

Catcher/first baseman Tony Sanchez was also in the Pirates' clubhouse after a 3-2 loss to the Reds on Sunday, preparing to travel with the team to St. Louis.

As far as bringing any outside help through a waiver deal, Huntington didn't make it sound like that was much of a possibility.

"There are not a lot of players that we feel are significant additions for us available that have cleared waivers, or have got to us on a waiver claim situation," Huntington said. "It hasn't been a lack of effort, hasn't been a lack of interest, but nothing imminent at this point."

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Walker leads way as Worley shuts down Reds

Including big homer, three of Bucs' four hits come in first inning

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Walker leads way as Worley shuts down Reds play video for Walker leads way as Worley shuts down Reds

PITTSBURGH -- How the Pirates are ending August has much to do with their starting pitching.

Pittsburgh starters have left with the lead in all five starts the last time through the rotation, a trend Vance Worley continued Saturday afternoon. Worley's 6 1/3 productive innings and Neil Walker's three-run homer pushed the Bucs to a 3-2 victory against the Reds at PNC Park.

With Worley's showing included, the team's starters have a 1.35 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in their last five outings, yielding just five earned runs, 19 hits and 11 walks over the course of 33 1/3 innings during the homestand.

"It's a game within a game. We're trying to one-up each other and push each other to do better each outing," Worley said of the intra-clubhouse competition.

The win was the Pirates' seventh in nine tries, and it marked their third consecutive series victory against a division opponent. It also moved them within a game of the Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot, after St. Louis split a doubleheader with the Cubs on Saturday night. The Pirates also put themselves two games back of the Brewers for the division lead, after Milwaukee lost at San Francisco.

Worley was charged with two runs, one of which was earned. He struck out four, walked a pair and surrendered three hits. The right-hander lowered his ERA to 3.01 in the process and snapped a streak of three consecutive starts in which he gave up at least four runs and nine hits.

"I was able to get the ball down in the zone to start the outing," Worley said. "The last few outings, I was up in the zone, runs came in and I was working behind. ... I was able to get my angle on the ball again."

The only earned run Worley surrendered came when Todd Frazier belted a home run to the deepest part of the ballpark, putting a 3-1 offering a few rows deep over the left-center-field notch.

"You can't miss those," Frazier said of one of Worley's few mistakes. "Sometimes you foul them off, but when you get them, you have to take care of them."

Worley got in trouble in the seventh, when he hit Devin Mesoraco and gave up a single to Brayan Pena with one out before being pulled for left-hander Justin Wilson.

Another run scored, but it was no fault of Wilson's. He struck out Jay Bruce and then got Zack Cozart to loft a popup into shallow right field. First baseman Ike Davis, right fielder Andrew Lambo and second baseman Walker all converged on the ball, and it was a hesitant Davis who made a stab at catching it over his shoulder.

The ball dropped, Davis was charged with an error and Mesoraco scored. But Wilson kept Worley in line for the win, striking out Skip Schumaker to end the inning.

Manager Clint Hurdle turned setup man Tony Watson loose for the fourth game in a row, and the lefty pitched a perfect eighth. Mark Melancon then shut the door in the ninth for his 26th save.

Watson and Melancon have both been used regularly in the last week as the Pirates have had a handful of close leads late in games. However, the rest of the bullpen has certainly been able to stay fresh with the way the team's starters have worked.

"If our starters keep grinding like they are, it's going to put us in a good place," Hurdle said.

All of the Pirates' run production came four batters into the game as Walker hit his career-best 18th home run. The pair of Andrews batting in front of him -- Lambo and McCutchen -- singled and walked, respectively.

McCutchen's free pass came on five pitches, which Walker said made him expect a strike -- and he drilled the first pitch he saw to deep right-center field.

"When he walked [McCutchen], I felt like the first thing he'd want to do was get ahead of me," Walker said. "I felt like being aggressive was the right approach to go with. I could've easily hit that into a double-play ball, but I didn't. That's how baseball works."

Russell Martin added a double in the inning, and Josh Harrison singled in the second, but that would be all the Bucs' bats could do against Reds starter Alfredo Simon."Big Pasta" settled in and went seven innings, walking two hitters and striking out seven.

The Pirates have won two games this weekend while scoring in just two innings and going scoreless in 16 others (their two eighth-inning runs lifted them Friday night). Hurdle made sure to point out this rarity, and Walker made sure to credit what he saw as the reason for the wins.

"That's a testament to our pitching staff, honestly," Walker said. "Those guys have been fantastic, top to bottom -- starters, relievers, closer. Those guys are what kept us in games."

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Morel called up to aid ailing Bucs; Locke optioned

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Morel called up to aid ailing Bucs; Locke optioned play video for Morel called up to aid ailing Bucs; Locke optioned

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates recalled infielder Brent Morel from Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday, providing manager Clint Hurdle with another option off the bench as Pedro Alvarez and Travis Snider work through injuries.

Left-hander Jeff Locke was optioned to Indianapolis, but that move doesn't mean anything, as Locke will be back on the Bucs' roster after it expands on Monday and will make his scheduled start against the Cardinals on Tuesday.

It's the second move in as many days for the Pirates, who brought up Andrew Lambo on Friday. Alvarez (sprained left foot) and Snider (left hamstring discomfort) were both out of the lineup Saturday, missing their third and second consecutive games, respectively. Hurdle said he did not have a health update on either player as of Saturday afternoon, but mentioned on Friday that both players could be unavailable all weekend against the Reds.

Morel has appeared in 12 games for the Pirates this season, and he has three hits in 21 at-bats (.143 average).

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Injured hip not progressing quickly for Morton

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Injured hip not progressing quickly for Morton play video for Injured hip not progressing quickly for Morton

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates starter Charlie Morton said his injured right hip didn't feel as good as he hoped it would after a rehab start for Double-A Altoona on Thursday. A Major League return this season is uncertain for Morton, who has been dealing with hip trouble since June 2 and was placed on the disabled list with a sports hernia on Aug. 17.

"I had hoped it would feel really good," Morton said Saturday. "But at this point in the year, with what's going on, I don't think it was realistic to have those expectations. I didn't really have those expectations, but I did hope to feel better -- a lot better. My arm feels good, the rest of my body feels really good."

It's just the hip that is bothering the right-handed sinkerballer. The injury has been an issue for more than two months, but Morton pitched through it before going on the DL two weeks ago, hoping time off would help calm inflammation in his hip and be otherwise beneficial.

Morton threw four innings and 73 pitches for Altoona, in what will be his last chance to pitch in the Minors as affiliates' seasons draw to a close. Morton, who had a 6.58 ERA in his last five starts before going on the DL, said he may try to throw a simulated game at some point, but there is no next step set in stone.

After being placed on the DL, Morton said he wanted to be able to rejoin the Pirates down the stretch. He reiterated that wish on Saturday, even if it is in a bullpen role -- which he said he is open to. Though, just as he learned Thursday, goals following injuries don't always come to fruition.

"My hope is that I can contribute. And that means me going out and doing a good job on the field," Morton said. "It doesn't mean just me going out there. It's the kind of thing where I have to get the job done."

Morton, 30, has dealt with hip issues before. He had surgery on his left hip after the 2012 season to repair a torn labrum. Morton said he is keeping "all options on the table" in regards to surgery on this hip, but he knows the challenges undergoing surgery in the offseason can bring, and he would prefer to avoid them.

"I really, really don't want to go through another surgery," Morton said. "It's not fun in any way, shape or form. It doesn't allow for a relaxing offseason. It's just one of those things where I've already gone through it."

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Harrison, Volquez take center stage in Bucs' win

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Harrison, Volquez take center stage in Bucs' win play video for Harrison, Volquez take center stage in Bucs' win

PITTSBURGH -- His shoulder wrapped in ice, Edinson Volquez was on his way to the trainer's room when he shouted a message to Josh Harrison, who was fielding questions from a group of reporters.

"M-V-P!" Volquez yelled.

Harrison was undoubtedly that on Friday night, willing the Pirates to a 2-1 win over the Reds at PNC Park. Harrison repeatedly backed Volquez with his glove at third base, so it was only appropriate that he ended up there after the biggest swing of the game. His triple in the eighth inning tied the score, and he crossed the plate with the game-winning run when Jose Tabata chopped a grounder through the left side.

But Volquez -- who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning -- wasn't talking about Harrison being the most valuable player just on Friday. Or in the Pirates' clubhouse, for that matter.

"He can do everything. To me he's the MVP of the league," Volquez said of the All-Star utility man, whose breakout season becomes more brilliant as the calendar inches closer to September.

"The way he's playing right now is unbelievable."

The victory, the Pirates' fifth in their past seven games against divisional opponents, moved them within three games of the National League Central-leading Brewers and 1 1/2 behind the Cardinals for the second NL Wild Card spot.

Harrison was the recipient of Pittsburgh's Heart and Hustle Award before the game. It was an honor that made the rest of his night seem scripted.

With the leather, Harrison saved multiple runs with diving stops on three occasions. With the bat he went 3-for-4, came within a homer of the cycle, and his triple off reliever Jonathan Broxton caromed off the right-field wall to score Friday callup Andrew Lambo.

The offensive performance raised Harrison's average to .308 and finally got the Pirates on the board after seven frustrating innings against starter Mike Leake.

"You can watch a lot of Major League baseball games, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better all-around game than Josh had tonight on both sides of the ball," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Fantastic on defense, and every time he came to the plate, he put the barrel on the ball."

Said Harrison: "I'm trying to help any way possible, and I got presented with a lot of opportunities tonight. That's just how baseball is."

The rare times Volquez was in trouble, Harrison's defensive intuition got his starter out of the tough spots.

In the sixth inning, with speedster Billy Hamilton 90 feet from home, Brandon Phillips shot a line drive down the third-base line. Harrison slid to his right and snagged the ball before it hit the ground.

An inning later, Volquez's no-hitter was broken up when Devin Mesoraco snuck a ground ball between the shifting middle-infield combo of Neil Walker and Jordy Mercer. That hit was followed by Jay Bruce's single, putting two on with no outs. The next batter, Kristopher Negron, made the mistake of grounding a ball near Harrison.

The 27-year-old Harrison, who only recently became an everyday third baseman, dived to his right, fielding the grounder and slapping third base with his hand for the first out. He threw across the diamond for out No. 2, and Volquez ended the frame two batters later.

"As I dove -- and I knew I was getting [the out at third] -- it was just instincts," Harrison said. "My right hand was closer, and I knew it would have taken me a lot to turn around, step on the bag or hit it with my glove."

Volquez, who dueled all night with Leake, enjoyed the competition and the back-and-forth zeros on the scoreboard. Volquez didn't get the win, as the Reds' lone run in the eighth was charged to him after he exited with 114 pitches, three hits, three walks and six strikeouts on his line. But the 31-year-old, acquired for $5 million in the offseason, has a 1.65 ERA in his last five starts.

Volquez's previous start against the Reds -- his former team -- was a disaster, as he gave up eight runs in just 2 1/3 innings. He credited Friday's performance to a sharper focus.

"I was more concentrated on what I was doing," Volquez said. "I was able to get to that tonight and got pitches in their strike zone. The whole game I didn't even look in their dugout -- I don't want to get funny over there. I was really serious about what I was doing."

Volquez left with two runners on base with two outs in the eighth, but Mesoraco hit a bloop single off reliever Tony Watson to give the Reds the lead.

The play could have resulted in another run, as Phillips tried to take advantage of a Starling Marte error in left-center and a bobbled relay throw. But as Phillips broke for home with the ball bouncing away from Mercer, it was picked up and thrown home to cut down a run at the plate and end the inning.

Who made that play? Harrison. Of course.

Harrison backed Volquez one last time in the bottom of the eighth inning by getting him out of the loss column. And as he celebrated the game-tying hit, some in the crowd broke into a chant -- the same one Volquez cried out after the game.

Those three letters are nothing new to PNC Park. But this time they weren't directed at Andrew McCutchen, the current owner of that title.

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Snider confident a few days' rest will do the trick

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Snider confident a few days' rest will do the trick play video for Snider confident a few days' rest will do the trick

PITTSBURGH -- Neither outfielder Travis Snider nor first baseman Pedro Alvarez was in the lineup on Friday, as both left games early with injuries earlier in the week.

Alvarez sprained his left foot while diving after a ground ball on Tuesday. He was removed from that game in the seventh inning and was unavailable on Wednesday.

Snider left Wednesday's game after tweaking his hamstring on the basepaths. Snider, who has taken over in right field since Gregory Polanco went into a slump and was sent to Triple-A, underwent treatment on Thursday's off-day.

"Going into today, [I'm] doing some baseball activities and seeing where we're at. Whether I'll be able to pinch-hit tonight or the next night or two will be decided on how things progress through practice and how I'm feeling afterward," Snider said on Friday.

Despite having just two hits in his last 21 at-bats, Snider is hitting at a .328 clip in his last 16 games, with three homers and nine doubles. He noted that he's had similar injuries in the past and hopes that a few days of rest -- though he didn't have an exact timetable -- would set up a healthy return.

"I've dealt with these types of injuries in the past where if you can limit the exposure over the first couple of days, it puts you in a good position to be healthy in the coming weeks," he said. "I'm not putting a date or time on anything, but really [just] understanding how my body reacts to these kinds of things and doing everything I can in the next however many days it takes to get ready to go."

{"content":["injury" ] }

Harrison honored with Heart and Hustle Award

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Harrison honored with Heart and Hustle Award play video for Harrison honored with Heart and Hustle Award

PITTSBURGH -- Josh Harrison was announced as the Pirates' Heart and Hustle Award winner, and he was honored at PNC Park prior to the series opener with the Reds on Friday.

Harrison, 27, has been a jack of all trades for the Pirates, manning multiple positions and doing so at an All-Star level in his first season as an everyday player in the Majors. He has settled in at third base and is hitting .304, with 47 extra-base hits -- 23 of which have come after the All-Star break to lead the National League.

Manager Clint Hurdle believes Harrison has as good a case as any to win the league-wide Heart and Hustle Award, which will be announced in New York on Nov. 18.

"You talk about heart, you talk about hustle, he embodies both," Hurdle said. "If you want to watch a player, you put your eyes on Josh Harrison and watch him play the game. I think you'll walk away with some lessons learned."

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No marked improvement for Morton after rehab start

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No marked improvement for Morton after rehab start play video for No marked improvement for Morton after rehab start

PITTSBURGH -- Charlie Morton threw four innings in a rehab start for Double-A Altoona on Thursday, but manager Clint Hurdle noted that the right-handed sinkerballer "didn't feel significantly better" than he did in his previous start.

Morton has been on the disabled list since Aug. 17 with a sports hernia in his right hip, an injury that has bothered him since a start against the Padres on June 2. The hernia affected him between starts as well as on the mound, and after conferring with doctors, the plan was to give him a few days off to calm inflammation in the hip.

Morton's start on Thursday was his first in 13 days, and he threw four innings (73 pitches), giving up two runs on four hits, with half of the 12 outs he got coming via strikeout.

Hurdle had yet to speak directly with Morton but spoke of the reports he received.

"He executed pitches. I liked the number of strikes he was able to throw, he pitched out of the windup and the stretch," Hurdle said. "He didn't feel significantly better than the last time he took the ball, so we're going to take his feedback and decide what step is next."

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Pirates recall Lambo from Indianapolis

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Pirates recall Lambo from Indianapolis play video for Pirates recall Lambo from Indianapolis

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates recalled outfielder/first baseman Andrew Lambo from Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday. Right-hander Gerrit Cole, whose next scheduled start comes on Monday, after the active rosters expand to 40 players, was temporarily optioned to Bristol of the Rookie League to make room.

The Bucs are dealing with injuries to both first baseman Pedro Alvarez and outfielder Travis Snider, making Lambo a helpful addition to the bench.

"We have two left-handed hitters [who might not] be available this weekend," manager Clint Hurdle said. "[Lambo has] continued to work hard to get ready for an opportunity, and it's presented itself now."

Lambo soon had an opportunity to make an impact. Pinch-hitting in the eighth inning, he reached on a single and scored the game-tying run in the 2-1 win.

In 61 games for Indianapolis this season, Lambo, 26, hit .328 with 11 homers, 42 RBIs and a .952 OPS. He had six home runs in his last eight games before the promotion, touting a 1.326 OPS in that time. He made his Major League debut for the Bucs last season, hitting .233 in 18 games between August and September.

Cole will be activated before Monday's afternoon contest in St. Louis to make his third start since coming off the disabled list. In two starts since straining his lat on July 4, he has a 2.77 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 13 innings.

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Hurdle loses challenge in opener with Reds

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PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates lost an eighth-inning challenge on Friday after Brandon Phillips was hit by a pitch and the call stood.

Phillips was plunked on the hand by Edinson Volquez's 114th pitch of the game, though manager Clint Hurdle thought the ball might have caught the knob of the bat.

Volquez, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, was pulled after that pitch. Left-handed reliever Tony Watson came on and gave up an RBI single to give the Reds a one-run lead, though the Pirates would tie the score and go ahead in the bottom of the frame for a 2-1 win.

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{"content":["replay" ] }

Garvey provides precedent for Alvarez's move to first

Legendary Dodgers first baseman can relate to throwing issues at the hot corner

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Garvey provides precedent for Alvarez's move to first play video for Garvey provides precedent for Alvarez's move to first

PITTSBURGH -- Between games of a doubleheader against the Reds at Dodger Stadium on June 23, 1973, iconic Dodgers manager Walter Alston approached Steve Garvey in the clubhouse.

"Have you ever played first base?" Alston asked his onetime third baseman.

Los Angeles' No. 1 pick in the 1968 First-Year Player Draft, Garvey broke into the Dodgers' infield two years later. He was quick and could pick it with the best of them, but after he got the ball, there was no knowing where it would wind up next.

"I airmailed a few throws," Garvey, chuckling, told MLB.com from his Arizona home on Wednesday.

Garvey's arm was still feeling the effects of a partial shoulder separation in high school freshman football, so he couldn't control his throws.

Garvey had started 155 games at third base for the Dodgers and made 47 errors, mostly on throws. In those starts, 28 of his errors came in only 73 starts in 1972. Garvey would never again play third base, and he had done nothing but pinch-hit in the first 11 weeks of the 1973 season.

"Oh, sure," Garvey lied to Alston that day, knowing "that might be my chance to start again."

"OK, you're in there tonight," Alston said, before he walked away.

"The rest," Garvey said Wednesday, "is history."

It is a glorious history of 10 All-Star selections, five World Series, a National League MVP Award in 1974 -- and four Gold Gloves at first base.

So, obviously, Pirates erstwhile third baseman Pedro Alvarez isn't breaking new ground by getting chased across the diamond by a thrower's block -- 23 throwing errors of a total of 25 miscues in 95 hot-corner starts. He is following in the footsteps of numerous others -- but the ironman Garvey, who holds the NL record of 1,207 consecutive games played and is recalled by most as only a first baseman, offers the best precedent.

"Alvarez should be able to adapt well," said Garvey, who was fully aware of Alvarez's situation. "Things fell quickly in place for me, and there are a lot of similarities between us. The biggest wrinkle for a right-handed first baseman is learning how to throw more sidearm. You do have to have a quick, accurate arm.

"It was a good fit for me, because the one thing that came naturally, I was able to dig the ball out of the dirt," added Garvey, who obviously called the nightcap of that twin bill on June 23, 1973 "the turning point of my career."

The change may not be as profound for Alvarez. The Bucs can't let go of the fact he was an All-Star third baseman last year, and they recognize that he still burns with a desire to excel there. So Alvarez's switch could be ephemeral, only for the rest of this season, merely a temporary way to get his bat in the lineup.

When trying to make that call, there definitely are two sides to the coin: Josh Harrison may have become immovable at third; then, No. 3 prospect Josh Bell is in the early stages of switching to first base, and the club's 2015 plans for Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez are up in the air.

"It's been a good fit so far," manager Clint Hurdle said of Alvarez's apprenticeship. "With his dedication, he wants to be the best he can be. With his athleticism, either corner is a good spot for him. I'm happy that the hard work he's doing [at first] is paying off."

Oddly, although it's a new position with different challenges, Alvarez may feel less defensive burden than he did at third, where the throwing issues weighed on him, and that may have contributed to his offensive surge. Prior to going on day-to-day status with a sprained left foot, he had homered three times in 10 at-bats -- after not having gone deep since July 11.

"Yeah, that was one of the reasons we asked him to move," Hurdle said. "To lighten his load, mentally. We'll see how it continues to play out."

Garvey knowingly addressed the quandary arising from Alvarez's switch: How do you juggle three first basemen?

"As a manager, you've got to go with the hot hand," Garvey said. "Next spring might be a little crowded. There could be a little competition there."

Hurdle is familiar with Garvey's personal history, and he attributed his flawless transition from third to first to "perseverance, dedication and hard work."

"Through the rest of the 1973 season and then in the following Spring Training," Garvey said, "I worked my behind off every day. Now, Alvarez is probably adequate; some things, you have to pick up with experience.

"He'll come to realize, and appreciate, that you can save games at first base. I got as much pride from digging balls out of the dirt to save runs as I did from driving them in."

Coming from a guy who drove in an average of 104 runs from 1974-80, that's a testament worth keeping in mind.

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Davis' big blast backs brilliant Locke in series finale

Bucs inch closer to Cardinals in division race after winning home set

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Davis' big blast backs brilliant Locke in series finale play video for Davis' big blast backs brilliant Locke in series finale

PITTSBURGH -- A year ago, Jeff Locke was on his way to pitching himself off the Pirates' postseason roster. Now, he is doing his best to pitch the Bucs into another postseason.

A year ago, Ike Davis was swinging for himself, with the rest of the New York Mets sitting more than 20 games out of a postseason spot.

This stretch-drive figures to unfold in heavy traffic, with lumps-in-the-throat laps. The Bucs will need steady hands on the wheel, icy veins on the mound -- and big swings from the batter's box. Once again on Wednesday, Locke and Davis filled those requirements.

Locke held St. Louis to six hits and a run through 7 1/3 innings to make Davis' two-run homer off Adam Wainwright stand up for a 3-1 victory in PNC Park under afternoon sunshine.

"It's hard when you're mathematically eliminated," said Davis, who raised the curtain Wednesday afternoon the same way he had lowered it Tuesday night, with his pinch-hit three-run homer in the eighth of the Bucs' 5-2 win. "You hit a homer, it still makes you feel great ... but you kinda also feel like it didn't really matter. If you're still in it, it definitely feels a little sweeter."

The win kept the Bucs within 1 1/2 games of the second National League Wild Card spot in the Giants' current possession, and also inched them 4 1/2 games behind NL Central leader Milwaukee and 2 1/2 games behind second-place St. Louis.

If Davis feels resurrected from baseball's depths, Locke feels like he has come back from an even deeper chasm. Going 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA after the All-Star break last season not only left him out of the Pirates' playoff plans, it squeezed him out of the team's 2014 plans.

Locke got an early sense of that. With the added hindrance of an oblique strain, he felt like a forgotten man in Spring Training.

"Absolutely," Locke said Wednesday. "I felt I'd earned a position on this team last season, but because of the way things ended, I didn't feel like I was going into this season where I wanted to be.

"I expected to be in the rotation when camp broke. I did get hurt, but I don't know if I would've been in there regardless of whether I was hurt or not. We had too many options -- and it's never a bad thing to have starting pitcher options. It was just one of those circumstances you have to tough out if you want to have any kind of career."

Locke, who had never before pitched past the seventh inning, did so for the fifth time this season, which did not begin until his June 8 recall from Triple-A Indianapolis. He made a strategic exit after retiring Randal Grichuk for the first out in the eighth -- so Tony Watson could take over against Holliday -- and left to a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd of 29,905.

"At this point last year, I was probably shaping up to finish the season real soon," Locke said. "Ever since coming back [from Indianapolis], I've just been focused on being strong and healthy down the stretch, to give this team a chance to move forward. That was my biggest takeaway from last year -- it wasn't the ups and downs, but not being here at the end and not being able to contribute. I've really focused on changing that this time."

To Davis, one of his newer teammates, this was a typical day for Locke.

"He keeps hitters off balance," Davis said. "Paints corners -- every time he has the ball, you have a chance to win."

"He was making good pitches on the third-base side. I've never seen so many strike-three freeze calls," said Mike Matheny, the Cardinals manager who also spent considerable time behind the dish as a big league catcher. "He was below the zone with the offspeed pitches when he needed to be. He was back and forth all day long."

Matt Holliday drilled a solo shot in the third, but the Bucs got that one back in the bottom of the inning on Andrew McCutchen's sacrifice fly.

Wainwright manned up to his biggest threats to keep the game tight, limiting the damage to a minimum in a pair of bases-loaded jams. The most opportunistic came in the third, with none out, when, following the McCutchen scoring fly, Wainwright fanned both Neil Walker and Russell Martin. After the Bucs reloaded the bases with two outs in the fifth, Wainwright escaped on Davis' sharp liner at second baseman Daniel Descalso.

"I take pride in the fact that I'm still getting those tough outs," Wainwright said.

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Hamstring discomfort forces Snider from finale

Right fielder to get treatment on Pirates' off-day before series vs. Reds

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Hamstring discomfort forces Snider from finale play video for Hamstring discomfort forces Snider from finale

PITTSBURGH -- Travis Snider left Wednesday's game against the Cardinals in the third inning with left hamstring discomfort.

Snider reached on a bunt single, but he looked to be in pain while taking a lead off first base. Outfielder Jose Tabata pinch-ran for Snider two batters later and took over his post in right field. Snider plans to get treatment on the hamstring Thursday during the Pirates' off-day, and he will be reevaluated before they open a three-game series with the Reds on Friday.

The 26-year-old has been playing regularly in the last two weeks, and the team sent slumping rookie Gregory Polanco down to Triple-A Indianapolis to work on his swing. Snider has a .311 average in his last 17 games entering Wednesday, but his bunt single was just his second hit in his last 21 at-bats.

Snider was the third Pirates player to be removed for injury reasons in the last two games. Andrew McCutchen (rib) and Pedro Alvarez (right foot) were both taken out of Tuesday night's 5-2 win. McCutchen returned to the lineup Wednesday, but Alvarez did not, and was unavailable in Wednesday's game.

{"content":["injury" ] }
{"content":["injury" ] }

Cutch returns after sustaining left rib injury

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Cutch returns after sustaining left rib injury play video for Cutch returns after sustaining left rib injury

PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen was back in the Pirates' lineup Wednesday, a day after he tweaked an ailing rib in his left side. However, Pedro Alvarez -- who also left Tuesday's game -- was out of the lineup to nurse his sprained left foot.

A fractured rib put McCutchen on the disabled list for the first time in his career earlier in August, and he was pulled after five innings in a game in which he hit his back on the center-field wall while making a leaping catch in the third inning. He also looked to be in some pain after taking swings in that game.

"I'm not going to be passive; I'm going to keep playing like I play," said McCutchen, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award winner. "If my body says, 'No,' my body says, 'No.' But it's nothing big. This takes time to heal, and there are going to be days like this. We just want those kinds of days to be miniscule."

Alvarez injured his foot while diving for a ball in the sixth inning of Tuesday night's 5-2 win against St. Louis. He was wearing a walking boot following the game and on Wednesday morning, and Alvarez said there was discomfort between his toes.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle did not have an update on Alvarez on Wednesday morning, and he met with reporters before posting the lineup for the afternoon's series finale against the Cardinals.

{"content":["injury" ] }
{"content":["injury" ] }

McCutchen OK after exiting; Alvarez sprains foot

Sore ribs not expected to hinder outfielder; infielder to be evaluated Wednesday

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McCutchen OK after exiting; Alvarez sprains foot play video for McCutchen OK after exiting; Alvarez sprains foot

PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen was removed from Tuesday's game vs. the Cardinals in the sixth inning due to left rib discomfort. However, concern about a serious aggravation of the rib injury that recently had McCutchen on the disabled list quickly dissipated upon his postgame sighting.

McCutchen acknowledged feeling "just sore," but also said he left the game to "take a little break" that will allow him to return for Wednesday's 12:35 p.m. ET series finale against the Cardinals.

Following the Pirates' 5-2 victory over St. Louis, in fact, McCutchen looked even more at ease than he normally does after playing full games -- when he moves around the clubhouse wearing an ice "corset." He got the ice treatment upon his removal Tuesday, and was unencumbered by the time the game ended.

Looking less comfortable, however, was infielder Pedro Alvarez. The slugger also departed the game with left foot discomfort and was seen leaving the clubhouse in a walking boot.

Alvarez told reporters he hurt the foot diving for Kolten Wong's shot down the first-base line with two outs in the sixth -- which went into the right-field corner for a double, the Cardinals' first hit off Gerrit Cole.

Manager Clint Hurdle referred to the injury as "a left foot sprain ... between a couple of his toes. We'll have to wait and see."

McCutchen had exited two innings after making a spectacular catch on Matt Carpenter's drive to dead center.

"It didn't help, jumping into the wall and some of the other stuff," said McCutchen, who had struck out on a mighty swing in the bottom of the third. "I'm not 100 percent, and I realize that. The body will tell you when you need to take a break.

"I don't want to keep pushing it. We're just being smart. So I just took a little break to be ready for the early game tomorrow."

"I think today just caught up to him a couple of different ways, a little bit all over," Hurdle said. "We're working through uncharted territory with him [due to lack of case studies on recoveries from avulsion rib fractures].

"He's trying to give it everything he's got and go out there with everything he's got from time to time. Tonight got to be a point where I didn't think we needed to push it any farther than we did."

With two outs in the top of the third, Carpenter lofted a fly to deep center. McCutchen backtracked for the ball and caught it with a minor jump, slamming back-first against the padded barrier when landing.

McCutchen, clearly jarred by the impact, grimaced and stayed stooped over for a few seconds before jogging off the field. He took his turn at bat in the bottom of the inning, striking out swinging.

"The plan is to play [Wednesday]," he said. "Some days, I need to take it a little easy. Something like this takes a long time to completely heal. Today, it was just more sore than some of the other days. But I can play with it."

McCutchen was activated a week ago after spending 15 days on the disabled list with the avulsion injury, which involves cartilage, to the 11th rib on the left side.

{"content":["injury" ] }
{"content":["injury" ] }

Ike's pinch-hit homer lifts Bucs over Cardinals

First baseman capitalizes on opportunity; Cole takes no-no into sixth

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Ike's pinch-hit homer lifts Bucs over Cardinals play video for Ike's pinch-hit homer lifts Bucs over Cardinals

PITTSBURGH -- Ike Davis is used to being in and out of the starting lineup, so his eighth-inning pinch-hit at-bat on Tuesday was certainly not uncharted territory. What's unfamiliar for Davis is making a difference in a game with playoff implications late in August.

With two outs and two runners on base, Davis crushed a 2-2 Seth Maness changeup deep into the right-center-field seats to lift the Pirates to a 5-2 win over the National League Wild Card-leading Cardinals. It was just Davis' third at-bat since Aug. 19, as his playing time has decreased in the wake of fellow left-handed-hitting infielder Pedro Alvarez being shifted to first base.

PNC Park was deflated after the Pirates coughed up a late lead for the second night and briefly spoiled a commanding performance from Gerrit Cole. But the crowd was rejuvenated when Davis connected on a ball that neither he nor the 25,521 in attendance doubted would clear the fence.

"This game has a tendency to switch. The switch can flip at any time, you got to stay ready, you never know when your next opportunity is going to come," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Davis' preparation on the bench. "Right when we needed it, he put a beautiful swing with a couple runners on base."

The victory keeps the Bucs just 1 1/2 games back of the Giants for the NL's second Wild Card spot. It was also one of the most memorable moments in a Pittsburgh uniform for Davis, who spent his first four seasons in the Majors with the Mets before being traded in April.

"Every game means something. It's exciting to come to the ballpark every day, even if you're not playing," Davis said. "I know I'm going to be in a huge situation at some point in the game. And I've never been there. It's new territory for me, and I'm really liking it."

Even with left-hander Randy Choate up in the bullpen, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny stuck with Maness, a right-hander, against Davis.

"The majority of that decision goes into the fact that they pull [Davis] pretty fast," Matheny said. "They still have two righties [Jordy Mercer and Chris Stewart] on the bench. Both of them hit lefties very well."

Before Davis put the home side back on top, the Pirates had a 2-0 on Clint Barmes RBI forceout in the fourth and a solo homer from Josh Harrison in the fifth. That was more than enough for Cole, who was hanging zeros despite constantly being in a battle with Cardinals hitters. Nearly everyone the right-hander saw worked the count, fouling pitches off and taking anything on the fringe of the strike zone.

Cole, who carried a no-hitter until two outs in the sixth inning, earned the 18 outs he got -- half of which were strikeouts. It took Cole 104 pitches to get through six innings, however, and the right-hander wished he was more efficient.

"I kind of ran out of bullets there toward the end," Cole said. "I have to pound the zone a little better earlier. I made good, quality pitches late. But it goes to show why it's imperative to make quality pitches early."

Cole went back out for the seventh, with Hurdle pointing to the fact that an off-day last Thursday gave Cole an extra day off, so he felt comfortable with the righty running his pitch count up to 115. However, it got to just 108 as the Cardinals opened the seventh frame with back-to-back hits -- a Matt Adams double and a Jhonny Peralta single -- which ended Cole's night.

"It seemed like the right pitch," Cole said offering to Adams. "But then he hits it and you see the swing, and you're just like 'Ah, man, he was waiting for that one.'"

A Jon Jay sacrifice fly and strikeout of A.J. Pierzynski made it look like All-Star lefty Tony Watson was going to shut the book on the seventh with just one run crossing the plate. But Oscar Taveras' broken-bat single advanced Peralta to third, and the Pirates' lead, as well as Cole's win, evaporated when pinch-hitter Randal Grichuk singled on a line drive to center.

Watson came back and pitched a scoreless eighth, while Mark Melancon came on in the ninth to nail down his 23rd save after Davis' homer. Though he didn't get a win, Cole was strong in his second start back from a strained right lat, which sidelined him for more than a month. Since returning, he has a 2.77 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 13 innings.

"The punchouts play, they always elevate your count. He finished with nine of them," Hurdle said of Cole. "A really good mound presence. Really good poise, rhythm, pace, all of it. Just a real strong outing."

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{"event":["prospect" ] }

Touted trio among eight Bucs set for Fall League

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Touted trio among eight Bucs set for Fall League play video for Touted trio among eight Bucs set for Fall League

PITTSBURGH -- Right-handers Tyler Glasnow and Nick Kingham and outfielder Josh Bell will get a chance to further their careers in the upcoming Arizona Fall League.

Glasnow and Bell, ranked No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, among Pirates prospects, received word of their selection to the blue-chip offseason league in the wake of their selections as Pitcher and Player of the Year in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. Kingham, No. 5 on the prospects list, is wrapping up his first Double-A season.

The trio will be among eight Pirates prospects playing in the six-team league for the Scottsdale Scorpions, who will be managed by Jeff Banister, the Major League club's bench coach.

Catcher Elias Diaz, a fast riser in the organization, is one of five other farmhands chosen to participate in a loop commonly referred to as a "finishing school" for top prospects.

The others are right-hander Adrian Sampson, lefties Joely Rodriguez and Tom Harlan, and infielder Dan Gamache.

Glasnow, a fifth-round choice in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, dominated the FSL this season, pitching shutout ball in half of his 22 starts. In 118 1/3 innings, he notched 148 strikeouts and held batters to an average of .167.

The AFL assignment is the latest recognition of Bell's affirmative comeback from a knee injury that all but wiped out his first pro season in 2012. The second-round pick in 2011 -- right after Gerrit Cole -- also represented the Bucs in the 2014 Futures Game in Minnesota.

Bell earned his Player of the Year honors despite leaving the league in a promotion to Double-A Altoona at the Minor League All-Star break. After hitting .335 in 84 games with the Marauders, he batted .287 in 24 games with the Curve before landing on the DL a week ago with a left knee contusion.

Kingham, a 2010 fourth-round pick, is another big arm in the Pirates' system. He has split the season between Altoona -- where he had an odd 1-7 record despite a 3.04 ERA -- and Indianapolis, where he is 5-4 with a 1.03 WHIP.

{"event":["prospect" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ] }

Top position prospect Bell shifting to first base

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Top position prospect Bell shifting to first base play video for Top position prospect Bell shifting to first base

PITTSBURGH -- In response to what is already being called their "dream outfield," the Pirates are moving top position prospect Josh Bell to first base.

Bell, freshly named the Florida State League's Player of the Year as an outfielder, has been working out at first base since his mid-July promotion to Double-A Altoona.

Bell has yet to play at the new position, but he will do so in the upcoming Arizona Fall League for the Scottsdale Scorpions -- who will be managed by Jeff Banister, the Major League club's bench coach.

"It's a good situation," said Pirates general manager Neal Huntington. "Jeff will be able to keep an eye on how this goes and keep us updated."

Rated No. 3 among Pittsburgh prospects, Bell has a high ceiling, but perhaps little chance of reaching it at his original position with the Bucs. Despite Gregory Polanco's recent return to Triple-A Indianapolis, the Pirates figure to be set for years with an outfield of Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen and Polanco.

"He'll first go to the instructional league after the season and continue working there," Huntington said of Bell, "then he'll get his first game action at the position in the AFL.

"It's an opportunity for him to get at-bats in a very competitive environment, and to give first base a go. We just want to see how he takes to it and whether that can become an option for him."

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Hurdle confident Pirates' best yet to come

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Hurdle confident Pirates' best yet to come play video for Hurdle confident Pirates' best yet to come

PITTSBURGH -- The 2014 Pirates have circled the .500 mark all season and still find themselves in the scrum for a postseason spot despite not ripping off a substantial winning streak.

"All it means to me is, we got one coming," said manager Clint Hurdle, calling on personal experience.

Hurdle's 2007 Colorado Rockies offer a pretty good precedent for what the Bucs hope to pull off.

Those Rockies bottomed out at nine games under .500 and peaked at seven games over until Sept. 16, when they took off on an 11-game winning streak that lit a fire not doused until a World Series loss to Boston.

These Pirates bottomed out at eight below, topped out at nine above and have yet to win more than four straight. They are one of only two National League teams to not have won more than four in a row (also the Mets' longest winning streak, with the D-backs' longest streak at three).

"In Colorado, we never had a big streak then caught fire late -- very late," Hurdle recalled. "We haven't yet gotten to the point where we played those complete games you need to put together a streak. I'm confident we've still got one in front of us."

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Prospect McGuire racks up four hits in win

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Catcher Reese McGuire, the Pirates' No. 7 prospect, collected four hits and drove in three runs Tuesday, helping Class A West Virginia defeat Lexington, 8-2.

McGuire, ranked No. 77 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, finished the night 4-for-5 and scored once. It was his first four-hit game of the season and matched his season high for RBIs.

Center fielder Austin Meadows, whom the Pirates selected five picks before they took McGuire in the first round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, went 1-for-3 with a walk and scored three runs in the victory.

Except for the first half of this season, which Meadows spent on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, the Pirates have kept Meadows and McGuire together. They began their careers in the Gulf Coast League and made a brief appearance with short-season Jamestown before advancing to West Virginia this year. Now, the 19-year-olds are even working on matching six-game hitting streaks.

Meadows, the Pirates' No. 4 prospect and No. 48 on the Top 100, has played 33 games with the Power since coming off the disabled list. He is hitting .318/.382/.465 with two home runs. McGuire is hitting .268/.313/.333 with two home runs in 93 games this season.

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Bucs can't capitalize on Liriano's strong start

Lefty settles for no-decision, while Alvarez, Cutch hit solo homers

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Bucs can't capitalize on Liriano's strong start play video for Bucs can't capitalize on Liriano's strong start

PITTSBURGH -- Francisco Liriano took the mound on Monday night, with a chance to make up for what has been a personally frustrating and disappointing season. With September around the corner and the Cardinals on the field, it was a perfect time to "play for now," as the Pirates like to say.

That, Liriano did. But John Lackey, who has been pitching for the postseason a lot longer, wouldn't let him enjoy it.

Lackey hung tough in their pitchers' duel until the seventh when, with Liriano out of the game, pinch-hitter Jon Jay singled for the tying run and Matt Holliday singled in the two go-ahead runs to rally St. Louis to a 3-2 win at PNC Park.

The Pirates dropped six games back in the NL Central race with the Brewers' 10-1 win over the Padres, but they are just 1 1/2 back in the Wild Card standings.

The Bucs' last two games have a lot more in common than just being one-run losses. As in Sunday's 4-3 loss at Milwaukee, Andrew McCutchen brought his team within a run with a homer in the ninth.

The night after homering against Francisco Rodriguez and claiming to feel "good enough to hit a homer in the ninth off a closer," McCutchen felt good enough to tee off on St. Louis' Trevor Rosenthal.

"I need to start doing that with runners on," McCutchen said, managing a weak smile. "A very, very frustrating game. It was in our hands, and we can't let games like that slip away."

More accurately, it was in Lackey's hand, and he didn't lose his grip.

"He's a big-game pitcher, we knew that," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It was part of the plan when we got him, knowing that he's a guy who thrives in these situations and every game is so meaningful right now, and will be the rest of the way. I thought he got better as he went, too. Still, 90-91 pitches in after the seventh, that's a great day."

Pedro Alvarez had homered to slightly left of center for a 1-0 lead in the second, only the fourth time in the last 17 games that the Pirates scored first.

Then, every inning that Lackey turned away the Bucs merely turned up the heat on Liriano. There was the unmistakable sense that either he would win 1-0, or not at all.

"He's a great pitcher," Liriano said of the night's adversary, "and he went out there tonight and had pretty good location, too."

Note the "too." If this is the Liriano who will keep showing up for the stretch, the Pirates have one less thing to worry about.

"His fastball was terrific," manager Clint Hurdle said. "His velocity was firm, he was able to get it to both sides. A couple jams, he was able to get out of. I thought it was a real good game from Frank. A real good effort. Solid, strong."

Liriano got pulled back from the ledge once, in the sixth. It took a stellar play by second baseman Neil Walker to retire leadoff man Peter Bourjos, but then Holliday doubled and Matt Adams and Jhonny Peralta both walked to load the bases. Pall was about to blanket PNC Park -- before Oscar Taveras bounced the ball to Josh Harrison, whose peg home initiated a 5-2-3 double play.

Still, Liriano was set up for a fall. Lackey gave him no chance to catch his breath from that high-pressure inning, retiring the Pirates in order on seven pitches in the bottom half. Hurdle apparently saw it that way, removing Liriano when Kolten Wong began the seventh with an infield single to deep short.

Wong wasn't a factor in what ensued, because Jared Hughes picked him off first base. The Cardinals started over again, with a Tony Cruz single on an 0-2 pitch.

"I definitely didn't get it where I wanted it to be," Hughes said. "I left it a little up-middle, and he was able to put enough wood on it to get it in the outfield and get on base."

Lackey's two-strike sacrifice bunt moved up Cruz, and a four-pitch walk of Matt Carpenter led to Jay and to Holliday and to crisis.

Until that game-turning event, this was a "Back to the Future" game with everything but the DeLorean.

• A first-inning single had been McCutchen's first hit in PNC Park in a month, since July 23.
• Alvarez's home run was his first at home in nearly two months, since June 29.
• Both Jose Tabata and Clint Barmes were back in Pirates uniforms for the first time since June 24 and July 3, respectively.
• And, of course, Liriano dealt as he did much of 2013, when he won 16 games and Comeback Player of the Year honors.

Liriano was charged with four hits but no runs in his six-plus innings, thus adding another layer to his vexing season. This was his 23rd start. He still has only three wins. This was the sixth time he had gone at least six innings without allowing more than two runs -- and without winning.

"It's tough. But that's baseball. You gotta keep pushing," Liriano said. "I feel great. Everything feels good, so we just gotta continue playing the way we're playing -- put this behind us and come back ready tomorrow."

In winning his second National League game since his non-waiver Trade Deadline acquisition from Boston, Lackey dodged seven hits and a walk in seven innings. He struck out three, and also got the Pirates to bounce into three double plays. Reliever Pat Neshek induced a fourth twin-killing in the eighth.

"Sharp ground ball turned into a double play in the first, we hit into a couple more double plays," Hurdle said. "It was a well-pitched game by both sides, both starters. Not much wiggle room for error."

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Bucs send struggling Polanco to Triple-A

Outfielder Tabata recalled from Indianapolis; Barmes reinstated from disabled list

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Bucs send struggling Polanco to Triple-A play video for Bucs send struggling Polanco to Triple-A

PITTSBURGH -- Gregory Polanco's continuing struggles have prompted the Pirates to make the one move they hoped to avoid upon his June 10 promotion: The highly regarded rookie outfielder has been optioned back to Triple-A Indianapolis.

Outfielder Jose Tabata was recalled from Indianapolis on Monday to fill Polanco's spot.

The brief Minor League timeout is a chance for the 22-year-old outfielder to rediscover his hitting ability and confidence. Manager Clint Hurdle said Polanco will rejoin the Pirates on Sept. 2 -- the first day he is eligible to return as Indianapolis' season wraps up the day before.

Prior to being benched in favor of Travis Snider on Aug. 19, Polanco had been in a 1-for-26 slump. He returned to the lineup for Sunday's series finale in Milwaukee, but he struck out all three times at the plate. It left Polanco in a 1-for-30 swoon that included 11 strikeouts.

"The timing is off on his swing, and I don't think the best way to spend the next week is to be sitting on the bench every day," Hurdle said of Polanco, who turns 23 next month. "We'll give him the opportunity to get down, get some at-bats, get out of the spotlight that's been here for a week and find his way. I believe he will and come back and help this ballclub in September in a very positive fashion."

Polanco turned his highly anticipated Major League debut into a historic one, beginning his career with an 11-game hitting streak and in the process blowing past the previous club record of seven straight to begin a career. Once that flourish ended, however, Polanco's average began a steady decline, and it stood at .241 on Monday.

In his first 27 Major League games, Polanco hit .299 with a .787 OPS and 32 hits. In 37 games since then, he has a .197 average and .557 OPS, tallying 28 hits. The Pirates were 17-10 in Polanco's initial 27 contests, and have gone 19-18 in Polanco's last 37 appearances.

The demotion was foreshadowed when manager Clint Hurdle made an unusual move in the ninth inning of Sunday's game: With a right-hander (Francisco Rodriguez) on the mound, he pinch-hit one left-handed hitter (Travis Snider) for another.

Polanco's return on Sunday had been preceded by days of thorough work meant to get his swing back to a productive place. But now, Polanco won't have down time, but rather be down a level. Hurdle noted brief demotions have happened to "many great hitters" over the years and views the next week as a chance to get "unplugged."

"We told him we expect him to go down and bundle those at-bats, keep it simple, get your foot down early, get the barrel to the ball, hit it hard where it's pitched and come back here September 2 and help us," Hurdle said. "I think he was in a good place as far as understanding what our desires are and why we were doing it."

For the next week, Polanco's work will take place in Indianapolis, under the watch of Indians batting coach Mike Pagliarulo.

Tabata returns to the 25-man roster after spending the last two months in Triple-A. Tabata, 26, hit .289 with a .327 on-base percentage and a .331 slugging percentage in 62 games with the Bucs before being sent down.

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Tabata returns to Pirates after stint in Minors

Outfielder finds hitting stroke over last three weeks with Triple-A Indianapolis

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Tabata returns to Pirates after stint in Minors play video for Tabata returns to Pirates after stint in Minors

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates didn't have a place for Jose Tabata shortly after Gregory Polanco was called up in June. But Polanco is going back to Triple-A to refine his swing in the next week, and after two months with Indianapolis, Tabata returned to the Bucs' clubhouse on Monday.

Tabata, 26, has spent parts of five seasons with the Pirates, but he was sent down when the club chose to hang onto Travis Snider as the fourth outfielder following Polanco's debut. Tabata, who had made 464 Major League appearances entering Monday's series opener with the Cardinals, said he stayed in contact with a few Pirates players, including Francisco Liriano and Starling Marte. But until Monday, he had to have those conversations from afar.

"It's difficult because when you play in the big leagues and go [to Triple-A] it's different, it's not the same," Tabata said. "At the same time, you have to be strong. You say, 'I have to get out of here soon, I got to do my job. I got to work more, 100 percent, 200 percent, whatever.' It's frustrating sometimes, but you have to be strong."

Tabata initially struggled after the move, hitting just .190 in his first 17 games. However, in the last three weeks, Tabata hit .362 with an .872 OPS and has had multi-hit games in nine of his last 15 Minor League contests.

Before being sent down, Tabata hit .289 with a .658 OPS and five extra-base hits over the course of 62 games (142 at-bats). Tabata is a career .275 hitter and aided the Bucs in their National League Wild Card playoff berth last season, hitting .320 in his final 28 games of the 2013 regular season.

"Tabata proved himself to be a very good bat off the bench while he was here this year, even last September played a pivotal role in what we were able to do," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He went down, went about his work in a professional manner, he's coming off a very good, solid week -- last two weeks -- swinging the bat."

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Surprise hits make for inspiring stories

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Surprise hits make for inspiring stories play video for Surprise hits make for inspiring stories

One of the best parts of any baseball season is the surprise stories. Sometimes, it's the kids who burst onto the scene and do great things. Other times, it's the guys who've fought through all kinds of adversity, refused to give up and finally come out on the other side as big-time contributors on good teams.

Another thing that's part of any baseball season: Virtually every team that makes a nice postseason run gets at least a few contributions from places it never expected to get them.

Sometimes, it's the kids. Sometimes, it the comeback stories. But while good teams count on their stars performing at a high level, there's a reason general managers spend so much time sorting through reports and asking scouts the same question over and over.

"Can this guy help us?"

That's been true again this season, and as baseball sprints toward the September stretch run, there are surprising -- some inspiring -- stories here, there and everywhere.

Here's my fave five:

Chris Young, Mariners starter: There are sweet stories, and then there are stories that are almost too good to be true. That's what Young represents. His resume includes seven organizations, three surgical procedures and a relentless will to keep going when there seemed almost no reason to. Young had a 7.88 ERA in seven Triple-A starts for the Nationals last season. He got his release after being told he wouldn't make the club in Spring Training. Seattle needed a starter and believed Young was healthy. He has been an absolute godsend, with 12 victories, 150 1/3 innings and a 3.17 ERA. Young hasn't thrown a 90-mph fastball in years, but he's smart, aggressive, has pinpoint control and has an ability to change speeds and keep hitters off balance. "If he's not the Comeback Player of the Year, I don't know who could possibly be," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said. Score one for the good guys.

Josh Harrison, Pirates utilityman: In three big league seasons before this one, Harrison had 532 at-bats and a .250 batting average. The Bucs valued him because he can play every position. What they couldn't have known is that Harrison would become one of their most valuable players this season. When manager Clint Hurdle began giving him chances to play, he took advantage of them, starting games at five positions. Harrison was named to the National League All-Star team and is hitting .303.

Dellin Betances, Yankees reliever: Once upon a time, Betances was the undisputed star of the Bombers' farm system and tabbed a future anchor of the rotation. And then everything went wrong. Injuries. Poor performances. The Yanks placed him in the bullpen this season as something of a last resort. Now 26, Betances has become a star. The imposing 6-foot-8, 260-pound right-hander has been one of baseball's best relievers, compiling a 1.42 ERA in 57 appearances. In 76 innings, he has 20 walks and 113 strikeouts. Betances is pure power, with a 97-mph fastball and an 87-mph slider.

J.D. Martinez, Tigers outfielder: Martinez's season began with the Astros releasing him near the end of Spring Training. Detroit signed him to a Minor League deal and summoned him to the big leagues in late April. Martinez found a comfortable level in a lineup with Miguel Cabrera and Torii Hunter that he never had with Houston. His batting average has been above .300 virtually the entire season, and at 27, he's becoming almost exactly the player the Astros once thought he'd be.

Kole Calhoun, Angels outfielder: Calhoun began this season with 247 career at-bats in the big leagues, and this season, it figured to be another year in which he would fight for playing time and be shuttled back and forth between Los Angeles and Triple-A Salt Lake. He injured his right ankle in mid-April and returned five weeks later, and on May 25, he was hitting .205. But then Calhoun began to take advantage of every opportunity. He hit .346 in June and .287 in July. Calhoun began Monday hitting .318 this month. In a lineup with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, etc., Calhoun has made his presence felt with 25 doubles, 13 home runs and a very nice .827 OPS.

Honorable mention: Jake Arrieta, Alfredo Simon, Collin Cowgill and Tanner Roark.

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