Notes: Maldonado makes first start

Notes: Maldonado makes first start

PITTSBURGH -- In order to spot catcher Ronny Paulino a day of rest, Pirates manager Jim Tracy opted to start the recently promoted Carlos Maldonado behind the plate on Sunday.

Though Maldonado made eight appearances (six starts) as a September callup last season, Sunday's start was the first for him in the big leagues this year.

Tracy's scouting report of Maldonado went like this: "He's an excellent receiver. He's got a feel for what's going on from pitch to pitch. The throwing arm, the release, it's all just average stuff. There's nothing overwhelming for me to sit here and talk about except the fact that his hands, in my opinion, are a bit overwhelming."

Tracy spoke with confidence about Maldonado's pitch-calling and ranked his hands and receiving ability with the top-of-the-line receivers in the league. And he emphasized that within those two facets lay the reason why Maldonado was called up when Ryan Doumit landed on the disabled list, even though Maldonado isn't much of a threat at the plate.

"He's somewhat offensively challenged, but that's not why he's here," Tracy said of Maldonado, who hit for a .219 average in 46 games at the Triple-A level this season.

With that to consider, Tracy inserted Maldonado in the eighth spot in the lineup and moved Jack Wilson up to the No. 2 hole for Sunday's game against the Phillies.

Tracy's decision to go with Maldonado over the better offensive catcher, Josh Phelps, was out of respect for a speedy Philadelphia lineup that ranks third in the league with 98 stolen bases. While Phelps has been putting in extra throwing work lately, his long arm motion and slower release impede his ability to throw out runners.

Grabow resting: Pirates left-handed reliever John Grabow was unavailable on Sunday as he's still dealing with some stiffness in his left elbow. Grabow hasn't pitched since Wednesday and hasn't been able to throw any side sessions since then.

"We're not going to push that until we get to the point where we feel like he is over the hump," Tracy said. "I don't think it's anything to red flag just yet, but it's something to obviously keep an eye on."

Grabow's availability in the Pirates' upcoming seven-day road trip will be assessed on a day-to-day basis.

Fantastic Freddy: After Freddy Sanchez looked ugly swinging at two head-level pitches on Friday -- one of which he somehow managed to make contact with -- he rebounded by leveling out his swing a day later. It resulted in a 3-for-5 game, which included his career-high eighth homer of the season.

"The thing about Freddy is that I'm sure he was aware of it [Friday] night," Tracy said of Sanchez's unusual swings. "When you become the type of hitter that he's become, you can step away from something and realize what he wasn't doing or should have been. He got right back to doing what makes him and very, very good offensive player."

Sanchez has been doing something right for a while now. Already with eight multi-hit games this month, Sanchez will be looking to extend a streak of 20 straight games in which he has reached base. Sanchez's .386 average this month has him ranked seventh in the league, though there is a little friendly middle-of-the-infield competition going on, as Wilson ranks fourth with a .406 mark.

Nady passes test: Though Tracy had not planned on using Xavier Nady in back-to-back games this weekend, Nady was back in the lineup on Sunday, with the Pirates looking to keep a hot offense rolling.

"We'll keep an eye on it," Tracy said of Nady's ailing left hamstring. "If we get involved in a game when the situation doesn't make sense for him to be out there any longer, we'll take him out. We have to be smart about it. He has to be smart about it."

Nady reported playing with minimal discomfort in the outfield on Saturday, which marked his first start back in the field since July 31. Fortunately, the Phillies didn't force Nady to overexert at any point in Saturday's game, which kept his from having to uncomfortably strain the hamstring.

And a 2-for-3 day with three runs scored wasn't a bad way to ease into the lineup, either.

"If anything, I got a little tired," Nady joked afterward.

Bucs bits: Chris Duffy continued his rehabilitation work in Bradenton, Fla., by playing in another Gulf Coast League game on Saturday. Duffy is now 3-for-6 in two games with the GCL Pirates. ... Nyjer Morgan began a rehabilitation assignment in Bradenton as well, going 0-for-3 on Saturday in his first game action since May....Triple-A Indianapolis lefty Michael Tejera improved to 8-3 on the season with the Indians' win on Saturday. Tejera allowed two runs in six innings in the start.

On deck: The Pirates will open a four-game series against the Rockies at Coors Field on Monday at 9:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Matt Morris (7-8, 4.65 ERA) will once again look for his first win in a Pirates uniform as he faces righty Ubaldo Jimenez (2-2, 5.28).

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.