Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez warms up prior to Thursday's game at PNC Park.
By Colin Dunlap Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When Pirates manager Clint Hurdle tacked his lineup to the clubhouse wall Thursday, it had an unfamiliar look even for a team that had used six combinations in 11 games before this matchup with the Milwaukee Brewers.
The top three spots were the same, but right fielder Matt Diaz was the cleanup hitter, Steve Pearce was making his first career start at third base and batting fifth and first baseman Lyle Overbay was dropped to sixth from his usual No. 4 spot.
Also, regular third baseman Pedro Alvarez -- 3 for his past 19 at-bats and without a home run this season -- was given the night off.
"A combination of things," Hurdle said of the shake-up. "There will be a number of times during the season that I pull a guy out of the lineup, and we will get specific with what we want to do with him that day."
Alvarez was on the field for early batting practice, going through a strenuous session.
Catcher Chris Snyder made his way back into the lineup after beginning the season on the 15-day disabled list with lower back stiffness that he experienced in spring training. He went through a rehabilitation stint in Class A Bradenton, playing six games and going 8 for 20 with a home run and eight RBIs.
"I was feeling good toward the end of spring training," Snyder said. "But just the process and the timing and everything, I wasn't able to play. ... I made the right move, got my reps in, got the endurance built up, now we are ready to go."
When Snyder was recalled to the majors, the Pirates optioned catcher Jason Jaramillo to Indianapolis, leaving Snyder and Ryan Doumit on the roster.
What will happen now with playing time for Snyder and Doumit?
"I haven't drawn anything up on paper," Hurdle said. "I know that we're not going to put the whip to Chris anytime soon. If he catches back-to-back days, I would envision he'd probably have a day off after that just until he can build up some endurance."
Out of the way
Watching the defensive evolution of second baseman Neil Walker -- in his first full season playing the position -- is to see a player who can make you cringe when he stands in there so long while turning a double play. With a runner barreling in on him from first, Walker is a player resolute while turning a double play, often absorbing firm hits from the sliding runner.
"We are working on that," Hurdle said. "He worked extremely hard on that all spring training. That time he spent with Bill Mazeroski was invaluable, and he is determined to, once he gets the ball, to get the throw off. ... You get rolled up a couple times and realize you only want to take a couple hits."
It was particularly noticeable in the recent series against the Colorado Rockies, when Walker took a few shots, including a big one from the hefty Ty Wigginton.
"It's a risk-reward type deal," Walker said. "With Maz, he taught me to stand in there as long as possible. He literally told me that he would stick his leg out there and let people slide into him. I respectfully disagree with him on that but I do stand in there.
"Maz was a different build than I was. He's a shorter guy, stocky with thick legs."
Mazeroski played at 5 feet 11, 183 pounds. Walker is 6-3, 215.
Still, Walker admitted that there are times -- even if the tough guy in him tells him "no" -- it might be better for the sake of career longevity to sidestep the man looking to slide into him.
"I don't mind contact," Walker said. "I like contact. I like when guys come in hard. It's the right way play the game. Just so you don't come in with your cleats first or come in too late, I'm fine with contact. But, as with a lot of things, I'm working to get better."
• Hurdle said Thursday was the last time Jeff Karstens would be available for bullpen duty before the four-game series that starts tonight at Cincinnati. It is likely Karstens will start Sunday against the Reds.
• When Snyder spent his rehabilitation stint in Class A Bradenton, he was impressed with what he saw from some of the organization's prospects in the Florida State League. "I've heard about the stocked minor league system with all the talent down there," he said. "That was the first time I was able to see it first hand. And, they are dead on with that. ... It should be fun to see in the years to come."