Hacker has thirst for big league action

Hacker has thirst for big league action

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates completed their callups on Tuesday by summoning shortstop Brian Bixler, catcher Robinzon Diaz and right-hander Eric Hacker from Triple-A Indianapolis. Left-hander Donnie Veal, who had been on a rehab assignment with the Double-A club, was reinstated from the disabled list. And righty Jeff Karstens returned to Pittsburgh after rehabbing in Indianapolis, and he will come off the DL on Wednesday.

When Karstens is added back to the active roster prior to the Pirates' series finale against the Cubs on Wednesday afternoon, Pittsburgh will have a clubhouse of 32 active players. Seventeen of those players are pitchers.

"It's just to make sure we have enough coverage and to give some of these guys an opportunity to pitch a little bit," manager John Russell said of the influx of pitchers. "It gives us an option if we do need the extra options, we have them."

The Pirates do have a stretch of 18 games in 17 days to end the season.

Of the group that joined the Pirates on Tuesday, Hacker was the only one who hadn't been with the big league club in Pittsburgh before. In fact, the 26-year-old Texan will be making his Major League debut whenever he makes his first game appearance.

"Obviously as a kid, this was your dream goal to get to the big leagues," he said. "It hasn't quite set in with me yet until I actually step onto the field, and it's game time. I'm just excited to be here, be a part of the team. Hopefully I can contribute."

Though Hacker, who the Pirates received when the club traded reliever Romulo Sanchez to the Yankees in mid-May, pitched exclusively as a starter in both organizations this year, Russell ruled out using him in that role during these final few weeks of the season. Hacker will be available only out of the bullpen and likely used just sparingly.

"This just gives him an opportunity to be here and be around [pitching coach] Joe [Kerrigan] and the staff the rest of the year," Russell said. "We're not going to make a big evaluation on him in September, but just to get him here and get him acclimated to the system."

Hacker went 5-5 with a 4.02 ERA in 21 starts with Indianapolis, though he finished the season by allowing just five runs in his final four starts. A 23rd-round pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, Hacker's biggest accomplishments over the past three seasons may not be the improvement of his four-pitch arsenal, but just the fact that he's been able to stay healthy.

Already having missed his senior football season because of a broken foot, Hacker missed the entire 2004 (Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery) and '06 (right shoulder injury) seasons as well. Since returning from that shoulder injury, though, Hacker has had no other significant injury setbacks.

"I guess I always reminded myself that this is a long-term goal and not a short-term goal," Hacker said of dealing with the injuries. "I just went to the ballpark every day telling myself that it didn't matter where I've been or where I'm at right now, this is where I want to go. That's what got me through all the hard times. I definitely always reminded myself every single day that I wanted to pitch in the big leagues. I wasn't going to let anything stop me."

Pitching matchup
PIT: RHP Kevin Hart (4-5, 4.67 ERA)
The command that Hart showed while with the Cubs earlier this season continues to come only in short spurts with Pittsburgh. Hart was chased after allowing seven runs (five earned) in 5 2/3 innings his last time out. After going 3-1 with a 2.60 ERA in four starts with the Cubs, Hart has gone 1-4 with a 6.35 ERA in six starts with the Pirates, and he has given up six home runs.

CHC: RHP Carlos Zambrano (7-6, 3.80 ERA)
While Zambrano hasn't won a game since July 22 at Philadelphia and has spent a session on the disabled list with muscle spasms in his back since that victory, he showed in his last start he may be rounding back into form. He was 0-2 in two starts since coming off the disabled list before he pitched six innings of three-hit baseball and yielded only a solo home run in a no-decision against the Mets at Citi Field on Sept. 4. He has faced the Pirates only once this season. He gave up two runs, one of which was earned, on seven hits over 6 1/3 innings in a no-decision on May 27 in Chicago. He's 6-1 lifetime at PNC Park.

Bucs bits
Right-hander Jose Ascanio (right shoulder inflammation) is expected to pitch off the mound within the next week and has suffered no setbacks as he returns to pitching. The Pirates are still optimistic that he'll be able to contribute out of the bullpen before the end of the season. ... The Pirates' high Class A affiliate in Lynchburg plays its first game of the Carolina League playoffs on Wednesday night. The Hillcats are taking on the Royals' Class A team in the best-of-five series. ... Having gone 5-for-51 in his past 13 games, Delwyn Young was given the day off on Tuesday. He's expected to be back in the lineup and playing second for Wednesday's series finale.

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Up next
• Thursday: Off-day
• Friday: Pirates (Charlie Morton, 3-7, 5.43) at Astros (Bud Norris, 4-3, 6.05), 8:05 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Pirates (Ross Ohlendorf, 11-9, 3.97) at Astros (Brian Moehler, 8-10, 5.10), 7:05 p.m. ET

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