DENVER -- The Pirates have faced a gauntlet of left-handed pitching since the All-Star break, with Saturday marking the sixth time in eight games they squared off against a southpaw.
By the end of the weekend, the Pirates will have seen left-handed starters in seven of nine games out of the break.
There are some obvious lineup decisions that can help manage the schedule quirk, but beyond that it's all about recreating spin in the batting cage and seeing the pitches.
"We did lot of prep at home with a lot of left-handed spin on the machines," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We still have the machine with us on the road so we're still able to recreate spin in a cage environment setting."
It's also just about making it through an at-bat or two to see what's coming.
"It's seeing the guys and seeing the pitches," Hurdle said. "The big thing that's always going to be with left-handers [is] that the focus more often than not needs to be able [to] block those balls off and hit them to the big part of the field, and hit them the opposite way."
The Pirates were stymied by Brett Anderson Friday night, getting just two hits in 61/3 innings.
"The challenge comes when you get a guy like Anderson who had really firm command and kept pounding the ball to inner third, to inner-off and then use that outside part on occasion," Hurdle said. "That's just a challenge whether it's right-handers or left-handers."
Another tool for players is to cue up video and see what went well or poorly the previous time against a specific pitcher.
"You can prep watching maybe previous at-bats against the pitcher," said third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who historically has better numbers against right-handers. "But there's nothing better than actually getting the experience and actually facing guys. We try to get ready as best as we can by watching films and doing the drills you can do to get ready for the game."
Alvarez is likely to return to the starting lineup Monday when the Pirates head to San Francisco to face the Giants in a three-game series.
Gregory Polanco was bumped down from the leadoff position to No. 7 in the lineup Saturday. His splits against left-handers have not been good, and Hurdle said he hopes the change of scenery will be beneficial.
Polanco has hit just .125 against left-handers this season, with a .176 on-base percentage.
"I'm hoping it's just a temporary deal just to change the scenery," Hurdle said. "Really, the numbers are what they are. The batting average and the on-base percentage. Maybe this can help him relieve a little pressure leading off, hitting down the lineup, getting to see everybody hit one time through."
Hurdle said it also will give an extra at-bat to Jordy Mercer, who hit No. 2 in the order behind Josh Harrison and before Andrew McCutchen.
"It'll give somebody else the extra at-bat as we work our way through the lineup," Hurdle said. "Maybe take a little bit of the pressure off [Polanco] that he might be putting on himself."
Cole working back
Gerrit Cole will pitch in at least two minor league rehabilitation starts before he is activated and rejoins the team.
Hurdle said the thought is for Cole to reach up to 100 pitches by his second minor league start. He is slated to pitch Monday for Class AAA Indianapolis and throw around 80 to 85 pitches.
Alvarez and Travis Snider were expected to be available off the bench Saturday.
The Pirates had some concerns about Snider's health. He apparently tweaked a hamstring laying out for a ball in left field earlier this week and was not available Friday night.
Jenn Menendez firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez.
First Published July 25, 2014 1:00 AM