Pirates notebook: Alvarez gets some time off to rediscover swing

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MILWAUKEE -- For 10 games, it looked as if Pedro Alvarez finally had found the form of the player the Pirates drafted him to be.

He crushed five home runs in that span, posting a .417 batting average with 11 RBIs and a .944 slugging percentage.

But every time it appears Alvarez has turned a corner, he takes another hard left.

He is hitting .138 in 25 games since that offensive outburst, with one home run and a .230 slugging percentage. He has nearly three times as many strikeouts (35) as hits (12) in that span.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle did not start Alvarez Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers, giving the third baseman at least a two-day break from the game that will continue through the off day today. It could last longer, Hurdle said.

"It always comes back to me that we've got to clear the mind before we talk about the swing," Hurdle said.

"We have a tendency in today's game to talk about mechanics. But what starts your mechanics? I really think it's a first thought. We've got to clean the deck."

Alvarez declined to speak with reporters.

Hurdle said he has suggested that Alvarez -- prone to overworking himself when he slumps -- not swing a bat in his down time other than for regular cage work. He said Alvarez put in a lot of extra work when he struggled last season, likely doing more harm than good.

But that part of Alvarez's character is "gone," Hurdle said.

"That's anxiety," Hurdle said. "I've felt it. I've done it. To help him through that, it's just -- unplug."

The two talked Sunday before the lineup that featured Casey McGehee starting at third was released.

They talked about Alvarez's splits between batting fifth, where he has a .467 average, and fourth, where it is .140.

Hurdle said teams are pitching him differently in the No. 4 spot but added that Alvarez is not connecting with hittable pitches.

"That's what I'm more concerned with than anything else," Hurdle said.

A big part of Alvarez's time off will be used to study that 10-game stretch where almost everything went right for him -- to notice the mentality, the routine, the focus.

Hughes learns lessons

The Brewers gave Pirates reliever Jared Hughes what seemed to be a bitter pill heading into the offseason, tagging him for four earned runs in one inning over two outings in late September.

Instead, it turned out to be good medicine.

Those games were the first big setbacks for Hughes, who had made his major league debut earlier that month. He used the setback to push himself to work harder in the offseason -- extra repetitions in the gym, a few more feet in long toss.

"Any time you fail, you've got to use it," Hughes said. "You've got to have a short-term memory, but you've got to use it as motivation."

His return to Miller Park was much more successful. He pitched 12/3 scoreless innings over two games while allowing one hit and striking out one.

Winning while juggling is key

Hurdle has to perform a bit of a balancing act while finding playing time for his role players, some of whom have become consistent contributors recently, and returning struggling starters to the lineup.

Two of the team's hottest players have been Matt Hague and Josh Harrison.

Hague had an eight-game hitting streak snapped Sunday. Harrison has eight extra-base hits in his past 15 games. His .264 batting average in that span is among the best marks on the team.

Hague started a ninth consecutive game at first base Sunday while Harrison was out of the starting lineup for a second consecutive game.

Garrett Jones' playing time decreased with Hague's recall, but he is hitting .364 with three home runs and five extra-base hits in his past six games.

Shortstop Clint Barmes and infielder Casey McGehee are trying to find similar success after struggling much of the season.


First Published June 4, 2012 12:00 AM


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