Pirates notebook: Cole-Strasburg matchup enticing

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They are two of the best young pitchers in baseball, two power pitchers who were the No. 1 overall picks in the draft. Tonight at PNC Park, they will pitch against each other for the first time.

The Pirates will send right-hander Gerrit Cole, the first pick in 2011, to the mound; the Nationals will counter with right-hander Stephen Strasburg, the first pick in 2009.

Cole, 23, provided the Pirates with a jolt last year after he was called up from Indianapolis and pitched so well he earned the Game 5 start in the National League Division Series with the season on the line.

Strasburg, 25, missed a full season because of Tommy John surgery, but has been spectacular at times — he set a Nationals record by striking out 14 in his debut in 2010, a win against the Pirates. He pitched 150-plus innings in 2012 and 2013 and was an NL All-Star in 2012.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said the opportunity to watch two of the most-talented pitchers in the game battle should be exciting for fans and him.

“It is one of those marquee matchups. I’m excited for the game and I hope it all plays out because the guy over there [Strasburg], I have a ton of professional respect for. He has already had some challenges but he brought a quick burst of energy to the league, to the game, let alone the team that he pitches for,” Hurdle said.

“And our guy [was in a] similar situation last year, a burst of energy to baseball, to the league, to Pittsburgh. To see those two go toe-to-toe, yeah, that could be very entertaining, and it is the type of the game you say, ‘Yeah I hope this is going to be a good one.’ ”

Martin, Grilli back

The Pirates activated catcher Russell Martin Thursday after his stint on the 15-daydisabled list (left hamstring strain). He had to serve a one-game suspension for his part in an April 20 brawl with Milwaukee, so his return to the lineup was delayed until Friday.

Right-handed pitcher Jason Grilli also returned to the 25-man roster after being on the DL (left oblique strain). To make room for Grilli, the Pirates sent catcher Tony Sanchez, leading NL rookies in hitting (.278), back to Class AAA Indianapolis.

Hurdle said that while Grilli is back and available, he won’t jump right back into being the closer because he needs time to work through some rust.

“It wouldn’t be fair to him,” Hurdle said when asked why Grilli isn’t going to start closing games immediately.

Alvarez bats sixth

When Hurdle unveiled the lineup for the game Friday night, it had one significant development — third baseman Pedro Alvarez was batting sixth, not fourth as he has most of this season.

The move is not too surprising as Alvarez had slumped to .212 before the game. Hurdle said it is not likely to be a short-term move as Alvarez needs some time to work through his hitting problems.

And there is this: Alvarez is a career .250 hitter when he bats sixth; a .192 hitter from the fourth spot.

“It has been seven weeks now and, for the opportunities that have been there for him and his production, they haven’t matched up,” Hurdle said of Alvarez.

Hurdle said using Ike Davis as the cleanup hitter is similar to when he used Justin Morneau as the cleanup hitter late last season.

“I’m not even looking for power there, I’m looking for quality at bats,” Hurdle said. “Pedro has had some historical success batting in the sixth spot.”

Honored guest

Hurdle has accepted an invitation to attend the graduation at Franklin Regional High School. His role in the June 6 ceremony has not been defined, but he said it is a huge honor for him because of the April 9 stabbings of 20 students by a classmate. He explained that [it] is special because “this is the year that [the graduation ceremony] will always be remembered.”

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.

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