One game after benching him against a tough right-handed pitcher, manager Clint Hurdle dropped Pedro Alvarez in the batting order from fourth to sixth last night against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Not that it made much difference -- as Francisco Liriano has another meltdown and the Pirates went on to lose, 9-3 -- but it's about time.
Overlooked in the midst of the captivating pennant race in which the Pirates are immersed and the fact he still leads the National League in home runs is this:
Alvarez is stuck in another long-term slump that has turned him from an asset to a liability for the Pirates.
After a breakout first half, which earned him a spot on the National League All-Star team, Alvarez has reverted to the player who has drawn so much criticism during his brief MLB career -- the occasional home run mixed in with too many outs and too many strikeouts.
These are the numbers going into last night's game, in which he was hitless in four at bats with two strikeouts.
First half: .250/.311/.516 -- .827
Second half: .200/.267/.412 -- .679
Those numbers are a clear indication of the declining value of Alvarez.
His OPS is 11th on the Pirates in the second half and that does not include the recently acquired players. He trails, among others, Josh Harrison, the much-criticized Gaby Sanchez and Garrett Jones and the notoriously light-hitting Clint Barmes.
Nor is he holding up his end in home runs, despite still leading the league. His home runs per at bat have dropped from 12.7 in the first half to 21.3 in the second half. His RBIs have dropped from one every 4.9 at bats to one every 7.1.
Alvarez was hurting the Pirates in the No. 4 spot. He held that position because, until recently, Hurdle had few legitimate options. With the acquisitions of Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau, it was only a matter of time before Alvarez was dropped in the lineup.
The question to be asked today is this: How soon before he is removed entirely from the batting order?
This is not, of course, to suggest a permanent benching of Alvarez. He has too much potential value to the team for anything that extreme. But considering the way Harrison has been playing in a limited role, maybe he deserves a chance to start for a few days and give Alvarez a chance to sort out his offensive problems.
Harrison has never shown himself to be anything but a fringe major leaguer. But he has upped his game a notch or two this season and is having a particularly effective second half. In limited playing time, 56 at bats, he's hitting .304 with a .500 slugging percentage and an .828 OPS.
Imagine that! Josh Harrison is outslugging Pedro Alvarez.
But it's no laughing matter. Alvarez is vital to the Pirates hopes. It's unlikely they can achieve their goals with him playing in the manner he has for the past seven weeks.
Replacing Alvarez at such a critical juncture in the season -- a three-game series against second-place St. Louis begins tomorrow night -- would seem crazy. But considering how poorly Alvarez has been playing and the magnitude of the series, that might be exactly why he should be given some days off.
After a 1-2-3 first inning, in which he had two strikeouts, Liriano gave the Brewers seven runs on seven hits and two walks in the second and third and was hit hard. He was pinch-hit for in the fourth inning.
Liriano has been two different pitchers in his past seven starts. In four of those starts, he has pitched 31 innings and has a 0.29 ERA. In the other three starts, he pitched 9 1/3 innings and has a 20.25 ERA.
Jason Grilli made his first appearance since July 22. He pitched the eighth inning and allowed one hit while striking out two batters.