Pedro Alvarez matched his career high in one big offensive category Saturday. And he's closing in on another milestone.
Alvarez crushed a three-run home run Saturday in the loss to the Diamondbacks. It was the 30th home run of the season for the power-hitting third baseman, matching a career high he set last season. And with three RBIs in the game, Alvarez now has 81 on the season -- just four shy of his career high, also set last season.
He said he is not paying attention to Arizona slugger Paul Goldschmidt, who also hit his 30th home run of the season Saturday.
While Alvarez's 30 home runs are tied for the most in the National League, so, too, are his 146 strikeouts, which has always been a trademark of the free-swinging left-hander. He is striking out an average of once every 2.8 at-bats. In his three previous seasons in the major leagues, Alvarez finished each season having struck out an average of once every 2.9 at-bats.
But he is homering far more frequently.
Alvarez is hitting a home run an average of once every 14.2 at-bats and is driving in a run an average of once every 5.3 at-bats. Both are the best marks of his career.
Alvarez said he can't pinpoint anything he has done differently to improve his home run rate, but another year of seeing major league pitching never hurts.
"I was pretty confident last year, too," Alvarez said. "It's just coincidence I guess."
Cole back to normal routine
After taking an extra couple days rest between his past two starts, Gerrit Cole will return to a five-day pitching schedule for at least the next couple weeks, manager Clint Hurdle said.
The Pirates are monitoring Cole's pitch count as a precaution against injury for the rookie pitcher. An off day last week gave the Pirates an opportunity to give Cole extra rest.
The Pirates don't have another off day until Aug. 26.
"I'm anticipating that we will go back to a five-man rotation in succession from this point until the next off day," Hurdle said.
Jason Grilli continues to make "good progress" in his rehabilitation from a flexor strain, Hurdle said.
Grilli threw long toss from 100 feet Saturday and will have a day off from activity today. He is scheduled to throw from 120 feet Monday in San Diego, and if he responds well to that, the Pirates might consider having him throw off a slope or a mound shortly thereafter.
If all goes well in his recovery, Grilli could rejoin the active roster Sept. 1.
More sacrifice flies
Through July 28 this season, the Pirates hit just 12 sacrifice flies, the fewest in the major leagues. At one point, they went more than two months without hitting a sacrifice fly to the outfield.
But since July 29, the Pirates have been much more productive in that department.
In the past 19 games, the Pirates have hit nine sacrifice flies, good enough to move them out of MLB's cellar in that category. The Pirates have hit so many in the past few weeks that Hurdle at one point joked that it has become a weapon for them.
The Pirates-Diamondbacks game Saturday was the Pirates' 14th sellout this season, five shy of the PNC Park record set in 2001. Including the game today, the Pirates have 18 home games remaining this season.
Michael Sanserino: email@example.com, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino. First Published August 18, 2013 4:00 AM