SAN DIEGO -- Brian Bixler, in his fourth big-league plate appearance and his second swing of the season, after flying out the previous at-bat, knocked a two-run double into right field.
That right there equaled his entire RBI output from a 108 at-bat last season: two.
"Good," Bixler said after this 8-3 Pirates romp at Petco Park yesterday. "Hopefully, I keep adding to it."
Upon rejoining the Pirates after being summoned from Class AAA Indianapolis once Jack Wilson was placed on the disabled list late Saturday due to a sprained middle finger on his left, catching hand, Bixler found himself in the starting lineup yesterday. Found himself fielding five ground balls. Found himself in the middle of two double plays to erase Padres baserunners. Then found himself thumping an eighth-inning double to give starter Ross Ohlendorf and the Pirates breathing room in winning their third series in a row.
"Happy to get the opportunity," said Bixler, who struggled to a .157 batting average and eight fielding errors in 50 games while Wilson was injured last season. "I'm feeling good, ready to play."
Pirates manager John Russell said Bixler will receive "quite a bit of playing time," though most of the starting shortstop duties during Wilson's 15-day stay on the disabled list will go to Ramon Vazquez, who started at second base yesterday to give Freddy Sanchez his first day off this season.
"I think obviously he'll have a better outlook up here than he did last year. More confidence," Russell said of a Bixler who toiled through the offseason, the Instructional League and spring training to improve his game. "He had a tough go" in 2008.
On a team with three players placed on the disabled list in the previous five days, the latest on-deck potential candidate was feeling better and upgraded by manager Russell from day to day to "a couple of days" away from returning.
Nate McLouth strained his right oblique muscle in batting practice Friday and was scratched from each of the three Padres games. In a week when catcher Ryan Doumit (wrist surgery), reliever Craig Hansen (shoulder and neck) and Wilson (sprained middle finger) were grafted to the disabled list, Russell talked about avoiding the same fate for his Gold Glove center fielder.
"It's coming around," Russell said. "He is making progress. That is a good sign."
• Phil Dumatrait, still making that long recovery from surgery in August, has shoulder soreness and has been pushed back from his next start in extended spring training. He is scheduled to be re-evaluated today. Said Russell: "We're very pleased with the progress that he made. Tremendous progress. He's been pushing it pretty hard. Some pitchers get to the dead-arm stage in spring training, this could be one of those issues for him. He's going to have some minor setbacks, and I think this is just one of them. It's nothing major."
• Forget that 0-for-18 start. Andy LaRoche yesterday extended his hitting streak to a career-high 10 games with a 2-for-5 performance, as both brothers -- notorious slow starter Adam was hitting .288 after ending an 0-for-8 run (not counting five walks) with two homers -- are hitting in the mid- to high-.200s.
• The Pirates were still buzzing a day later about the national anthem sung Saturday by Uncle Junior of television's "The Sopranos," actor Dominic Chianese.