On the Pirates: The long and short of it

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When Josh Harrison arrived in Indianapolis after the Pirates sent him down July 21, he found guidelines for improvement from the major league staff waiting for him. • First on the list: start his swing earlier.

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"It's not even your swing," he said the staff told him; the swing was fine. Just get it off the ground quicker.

Since he returned Aug. 13, he put that advice to work. He was 7 for 24 (.291) entering the weekend, including his first major league home run Tuesday, a five-game hit streak and doubles in three out of four games.

"Just be more consistent, get my timing, lay off of those borderline pitches," he said of his approach.

He hit the ball farther -- his slugging percentage climbed 65 points -- but manager Clint Hurdle said he needs to improve hitting the ball shorter.

"He's got to be able to play small ball," Hurdle said. "He's got to be able to move runners. He's got to be able to get bunts down."

Wednesday, Harrison's sacrifice bunt advanced Jose Tabata to third. Tabata eventually scored in the Pirates' 2-0 win against the Milwaukee Brewers.

"When you focus on getting the bunt down, you're obviously going to bunt a good pitch instead of worrying about where the pitch is," Harrison said.

Depending on what the Pirates choose to do with Pedro Alvarez, who is currently playing in Indianapolis, Harrison will play third base for the foreseeable future, although Brandon Wood and Chase d'Arnaud will see some time as well.

Push the tempo

Just as Harrison needed to move things along with his swing, Ross Ohlendorf will step on the pedal as well: He said he's working on decreasing the time he takes between pitches.

"I can get in more of a flow, get more relaxed, more reactive," he said. "I get in trouble when I'm thinking too much and taking too much time."

Ohlendorf, who allowed seven runs -- four earned -- on 11 hits Tuesday, his first start since April 8 after a long time on the disabled list because of a shoulder strain, worked Thursday with pitching coach Ray Searage to speed his work on the mound as well as command of his slider.

"You got to get the ball, get back on the rubber, get the sign, here we go, let's go," Searage said. "You have to work fast, you have to throw strikes, you have to change speeds, you have to control the running game and you have to field your position."

Ohlendorf's lack of fastball command troubled him, he said, especially on the right side of the plate. Searage told Ohlendorf to keep his slider grip on top of the ball, giving it a sharper break, as opposed to the side of it, which causes the pitch to flatten.

Those things can happen after a long absence. Ohlendorf, who won a $2.025 million salary in arbitration in the offseason despite a 1-11 record last year, said he thinks a brighter remainder of the season lies ahead.

"I definitely think things will be better.".

Looking ahead: September call-ups

Hurdle said he would like to carry around 35 players on the team when rosters expand Thursday.

"There's been probably a dozen names in conversation," Hurdle said. "I'd like to keep the roster manageable."

Hurdle has spoken often with director of player development Kyle Stark and the staff at Indianapolis regarding which players could help the team in September as well as which players he would like to reward for good performances.

Indianapolis pitchers Jeff Locke, Daniel Moskos and Aaron Thompson are on the 40-man roster, as are catchers Eric Fryer and Jason Jaramillo. Alvarez, Pedro Ciriaco and outfielder Gorkys Hernandez are the only others on the 40-man roster.

Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick also will rejoin the team after they come off the disabled list without a necessary corresponding move, and Evan Meek, rehabbing with Class A Bradenton, Fla., could join the team at some point.

Hurdle said they may call up some players Thursday and others after the conclusion of Indianapolis' season Sept. 5.

First baseman Matt Hague could force his way up due to his offensive performance. Hague, a ninth-round pick in the 2008 draft, was hitting .308 with 12 home runs and 70 RBIs entering the weekend.

"He's definitely done enough to warrant consideration," Hurdle said. "He's had solid offensive campaigns every level he's been."

Tabata on a tear

Jose Tabata spent nearly two months on the disabled list, stopping and starting rehabilitation assignments and experiencing multiple setbacks. Since his return, though, none of the health issues have reappeared.

Even better: He returned to his early-season form. Tabata hit .354 through April 15 and was at .289 April 23, but his average fell into the .260s by June before a strained left quadriceps sent him to the DL. Since he returned Aug. 16, he has hit .357 with five multi-hit games.

"All the time I trust myself because I know I can hit," he said.

"I'm hitting good the last couple days. I got my routine with my hitting coach. See the ball, swing at a good pitch."

Rather than remove pressure from Tabata, his new six-year, $15 million contract only motivated him. Some players, he said, get complacent after signing a new deal.

"I'm thinking differently," he said. "I'm thinking I need to be more consistent every day."

ON THE WEB: Join Bill Brink in the PG chat room to discuss all things Pirates Tuesdays at noon at www.post-gazette.com.

First Published August 28, 2011 4:00 AM


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