If Pedro Alvarez becomes the power hitter he was drafted to be, Wednesday might be the day he started to turn around his career.
As the Pirates (8-10) split a doubleheader with the Colorado Rockies (9-9) at PNC Park, Alvarez hit two home runs and a double in eight at-bats and had another well-hit ball caught for an out 390 feet away from home plate in left-center field.
It was his best day at the plate in more than a year.
"I'm encouraged enough that I keep putting him in the lineup," manager Clint Hurdle said. "You want to see tangible evidence. We all do. He does.
- Rockies seventh: C.Gonzalez walked on four pitches. Tulowitzki infield single to third, C.Gonzalez to second. On Ja.McDonald's wild pitch, C.Gonzalez to third, Tulowitzki to second. Giambi hit a sacrifice fly to center fielder McCutchen, C.Gonzalez scored, Tulowitzki to third. Cuddyer struck out. Rosario struck out. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 1 left on. Rockies 1, Pirates 0.
- Pirates seventh: Colvin in as first baseman. Fowler in as center fielder. P.Alvarez homered to center on a 1-1 count. Barmes singled to left. Barmes was caught stealing, catcher Rosario to shortstop Tulowitzki, Barmes out. McKenry grounded out, shortstop Tulowitzki to first baseman Colvin. Navarro pinch-hitting for Ja.McDonald. Navarro walked on four pitches. Mat.Reynolds pitching. On Mat.Reynolds's wild pitch, Navarro to second. Presley struck out. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Rockies 1, Pirates 1.
- Rockies eighth: Resop pitching. Nelson struck out. E.Young pinch-hitting for Mat.Reynolds. E.Young was hit by a pitch. Scutaro singled to center, E.Young to third. Watson pitching. Colvin hit a sacrifice fly to right fielder Tabata, E.Young scored. Scutaro to second. C.Gonzalez grounded out, second baseman Walker to first baseman McGehee. 1 run, 1 hit, 0 errors, 1 left on. Rockies 2, Pirates 1.
- Pirates fifth: Morton flied out to right fielder Cuddyer. Presley doubled to right. McLouth doubled to left, Presley scored. McCutchen singled to left, McLouth scored. G.Jones homered to right on a 1-0 count, McCutchen scored. P.Alvarez homered to right on a full count. Navarro flied out to right fielder Cuddyer. Barmes struck out. 5 runs, 5 hits, 0 errors, 0 left on. Pirates 5, Rockies 0.
- Rockies seventh: Helton grounded out to first baseman G.Jones. Cuddyer grounded out, shortstop Barmes to first baseman G.Jones. R.Hernandez homered to center on a 1-0 count. J.Herrera singled to right. Colvin pinch-hitting for Putnam. Colvin grounded out, shortstop Barmes to first baseman G.Jones. 1 run, 2 hits, 0 errors, 1 left on. Pirates 5, Rockies 1.
"Today was a very good day for him."
He went 1 for 4 with a home run to center in the opener, a 2-1 Pirates loss, and 2 for 4 with a home run and a double in the second game, a 5-1 Pirates victory.
It marked the first time he had multiple extra-base hits in one game since April 21, 2011, when he went 3 for 4 with a double and a home run against the Florida Marlins.
"Try to keep it as instinctual as possible, and I think when you go out there and you just try to trust your abilities and just play the game, everything takes care of itself," Alvarez said.
His double in the seventh inning of the second game off reliever Rex Brothers marked his first hit against a left-handed pitcher this season.
In his past 20 at-bats, Alvarez is hitting .300 with three home runs and five RBIs. He leads the team with four home runs -- all of which came on offspeed pitches from right-handed pitchers. He said there is no specific reason his production has improved, other than he is "competing" every chance he gets.
It has helped that the Pirates have faced seven right-handed starters in their past eight games -- and Alvarez has started each game.
"Everything with this game is about repetition," Alvarez said. "The more looks I get, the more comfortable I will be able to get."
But, even with the offensive outburst, Alvarez is hitting .156 -- a testament to how much he struggled at the start of the season and how committed Pirates management was not only to keep him in the majors but keep him on the field.
"We've got patience," Hurdle said. "It takes courage to have patience in challenging times, whether it comes to an individual, whether it be with our offense, whatever it might be. We live in a very reactive society. This game can be very reactive. You've got to believe in what you believe in."
Though Alvarez had a good day at the plate, the Pirates squandered a strong start from James McDonald in the opener when the right-hander took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning.
The Pirates tallied nine hits in the loss, but stranded six runners and had a handful of miscues on the bases that cost them chances to score.
McDonald was trying to be the first Pirate to pitch a no-hitter since Francisco Cordova and Ricardo Rincon teamed for the only combined extra-innings no-hitter in MLB history in 1997. In a strange twist, McDonald ended a perfect-game bid by San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain April 13 with a ground-ball single.
Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki broke McDonald's no-hitter with an infield single that bounced off the glove of a diving Alvarez. The next batter, Jason Giambi, broke up the shutout with a sacrifice fly to deep center to score Carlos Gonzalez from third, giving the Rockies a 1-0 lead.
"Once I was in the dugout, then I was like, 'I had a no-hitter. Two more innings was all I needed,' " McDonald said.
Though he kept all but one of the batters he faced from getting a hit, he did not keep them off the bases. He struggled with his command at times, walking three batters and hitting another. He threw 48 of his 101 pitches for balls and tossed a wild pitch in the dirt in the seventh that moved Gonzalez from second to third, which set up Giambi's sacrifice fly.
"He didn't throw a very good number of first-pitch strikes," Hurdle said. "Had a large number of three-ball counts. But, in between all that, he was efficient. He was sharp. He was very, very good.
"That's going to be a big building block for him moving forward."
McDonald lasted seven innings, allowing one earned run and one hit with eight strikeouts.
While the offense squandered McDonald's solid outing, they backed up Charlie Morton's quality start in the second game -- sparked by back-to-back home runs by Garrett Jones and Alvarez in the fifth.
Morton allowed one earned run and six hits in seven innings, striking out two batters in his best outing this season.
The Pirates did not score or allow more than five runs in either game, setting a record for the longest such streak to start a season in major league history at 18 games. The 1943 Detroit Tigers owned the previous record (17).
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 or on Twitter @msanserino.