Cruz prepared to join fluctuating bullpen

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Juan Cruz took another step toward returning to a bullpen that might stay in a prolonged state of turnover.

Cruz, who is on the 15-day disabled list because of right shoulder inflammation, was scheduled to pitch one inning Thursday night in a rehabilitation game for Class AA Altoona. He went through his warm-up routine Wednesday.

"We used him in a simulated bullpen situation where we actually had him throw his pitches, get hot and then sit down," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.

Cruz threw 25 pitches in a rehabilitation outing Monday, allowing two runs on four hits in a third of an inning for Altoona. Seventeen of those 25 pitches were fastballs.

Cruz went on the disabled list July 21, retroactive to July 18, and is eligible to come off at any time. The bullpen personnel may change again before he returns.

The Pirates called up Jeff Locke to provide a long reliever after Kevin Correia's spot start Wednesday. Correia is not available in relief until Sunday, and if Locke pitches enough that he is not available, Hurdle said, the Pirates might add a fresh arm from the minors.

"It's just to keep him here to have opportunities to pitch and help out with length," Hurdle said. "We're going to factor through what's next."

The five mainstays in the bullpen -- Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli, Tony Watson, Jared Hughes and Chris Resop -- each had between 42-46 appearances this season, part of a conscious effort by Hurdle to keep them fresh. Cruz pitched in 37 games before going on the DL.

Hurdle said he had found that relievers sometimes faltered after the 40-game mark, but "catch their wind" once their appearances crept toward 50.

"Especially for some guys who have gotten to those numbers in back-to-back seasons," he said.

Hanrahan and Resop each had at least 70 appearances last season. Split between the minors and majors last season, Grilli had 56, Hughes had 47 and Watson had 69.

Alvarez sits again

Pedro Alvarez was not in the starting lineup Thursday for the third time in eight games in August. Josh Harrison started at third base.

"Right now I'm just looking at the quality of the at-bats," Hurdle said.

Alvarez was hitting .213 without a home run in his past 14 games entering Thursday.

The Pirates faced Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander Joe Saunders on Thursday. Alvarez also sat against Cincinnati Reds right-hander Homer Bailey on Sunday and Diamondbacks left-hander Wade Miley on Monday.

Minor leaguer suspended

Class A West Virginia left-hander Zack Dodson was suspended for 50 games Thursday for his second violation involving drug abuse. Major League Baseball did not identify the drug.

"We are extremely disappointed in Zack's actions and have expressed this disappointment to him," general manager Neal Huntington said in a statement. "We are working with him to help him understand that he has to make better choices for his own well-being and to remain part of the Pirates organization."

Dodson, 22, was a fourth-round draft pick in 2009. He was 6-6 with a 4.86 ERA in 21 starts this season.


Bill Brink: and on Twitter @BrinkPG.


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