Pirates notebook: New order works for Ike Davis, Pedro Alvarez

Ike Davis is the Pirates' new cleanup hitter after manager Clint Hurdle decided to take some pressure off struggling Pedro Alvarez by moving him down in the order. Davis has experience as a No. 4 hitter and he's swinging a hot bat, but Hurdle made it clear hitting home runs is not a prerequisite for keeping the job.

"We've really backed off the impetus of [him] being the guy who had to hit home runs," Hurdle said. "In his own way he has calmed some things down. I think the security that comes with knowing he's going to get at-bats, not wondering if this is his last at-bat, has helped."

Davis, a first baseman, struggled to hold down a starting job with the Mets before the Pirates acquired him in a trade April 18. Since the trade, Davis has received consistent playing time and he has responded with consistent production.

Entering Saturday, Davis was hitting .338 in May and .375 at PNC Park.

"Now, getting to watch our team and the lineup configuration, I think he truly understands he doesn't have to be the guy. He just has to be a guy. The spot he's in, he has to take ownership of it and give us a good quality at-bat. His confidence level has spiked at the plate."

Davis, who was 2 for 4 with two runs scored Friday night in the No. 4 spot, will not change his approach upon being moved up in the order.

"All you're looking for is solid contact and having a good at-bat," Davis said. "Anywhere from 3 to 6 [in the order] there's not much difference. It just depends on how you're swinging the bat. As long as you're having good at-bats, if I'm batting 6, 5 or 4, to me it seems the same."

Alvarez makes changes

Alvarez was more productive as a No. 5 or No. 6 hitter in 2013. In the No. 6 spot Friday, he hit a two-run home run, his first since May 5.

Hurdle said Alvarez has tweaked some things with hitting coach Jeff Branson, but he indicated the biggest issue for Alvarez might be his mental approach.

"There might be something said for his comfort level in the lineup," Hurdle said. "I've had more conversations with this guy than any other position player that we've had here about what he's seeing, how he's going about his work. He's a cerebral kid who cares a lot. We kind of remind him to not overcook things."

Closer role in flux

Hurdle used Jason Grilli in the closer's role Friday, the same day he was activated from the disabled list after missing time with an oblique injury. Hurdle said Grilli will eventually return to that role full time, but he did not say when that would happen.

Grilli and Hurdle's two top left-handed relievers -- Tony Watson and Justin Wilson -- were not available to pitch Saturday night because of their recent workload.

"I'm curious to see how he'll feel [today] because it was a very aggressive workload with the two simulated games, a day off, an inning [Friday night]," Hurdle said. "We want to make sure we monitor his health. He threw some good pitches. His command has some room for growth. His velocity showed up. He's in a very good place. Our goal is to get him back at the end. The timing of that is something we'll still have a conversation about."

Quick hits

* Clint Barmes made a second consecutive start at shortstop. Entering the game he was batting .333 and had raised his average to .220. It was the 13th start of this season for Barmes.

* The Pirates have won the most one-run games in MLB. They have 13 wins and own a 10-6 record at home in such games. Of the Pirates' 47 games, 32 had been decided by two runs or fewer. They were 17-15 in those games.

* Reliever Mark Melancon had the longest current streak of innings pitched without allowing a home run in MLB. Melancon's streak of 85 innings spans more than a year (April 14, 2013 against Joey Votto of the Reds).

Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rayfitt1.

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