PITTSBURGH -- Reasons behind the Pirates' late-May U-turn have been well chronicled, from the Andrew McCutchen-led offensive revival to A.J. Burnett's sudden invincibility. But somewhat overlooked has been the two-headed cleanup hitter: Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee.Since June 3, when Pedro Alvarez's ill-fated experiment in the four-hole was called off, the lefty-hitting Jones and right-handed McGehee have exclusively owned the cleanup spot. The Bucs took a record of 24-14 since that day into Friday night's game against Miami. "They've done a very professional job piggy-backing one another," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I'm very proud of both, considering neither had done a lot at cleanup before." Prior to this season, McGehee batted No. 4 in only six of 437 big league games. Jones had more experience in the spot, but little of it good. He went 2-for-19 in seven games last season as the cleanup hitter. As the main protector for No. 3 hitter McCutchen, Jones was batting .311 with eight homers and 29 RBIs in his first 34 games in the four-hole. As significant to the Pirates' surge has been the mutual lineup presences of both McGehee and Jones. For most of the first two months of the season, they were platooned at first base. Jose Tabata's return to Triple-A Indianapolis opened right field for Jones, with McGehee finding a home at first. With both in the lineup, the Pirates were 19-10 entering Friday's game. And when both began playing regularly, they lost that natural urge to one-up each other. "I think me and Garrett both felt we were trying to do too much when we were going back and forth," McGehee conceded. "I know he feels the same way, because we've talked about it: Any role we can fill to help this team, we're good with it."
Pirates making sure Marte fully ready when called up
PITTSBURGH -- The Starling Marte Watch continued on Friday -- more like the Marte Rhetoric, actually. The prospect's development and timetable have become daily topics, always with a fresh spin.Manager Clint Hurdle offered yet another perspective on the outfielder's status: He's paying his appropriate Triple-A dues. The Bucs are carefully logging Marte's Indianapolis at-bats and want to make sure he gets enough of them to provide a solid footing for his inevitable Major League debut. "We're not looking at a specific number of at-bats," Hurdle said. "But with experience [in Triple-A] comes more stability when they get here. Less experience, more challenges go with it." General manager Neal Huntington, even more than Hurdle, can call on some in-house examples as guides to how much Triple-A springboard is needed -- bearing in mind how individuals differ from one another. Though they have never publicly admitted as much, the Bucs may view Pedro Alvarez (426 plate appearances in Triple-A) and Jose Tabata (438) as having been rushed. Alvarez has only recently begun to recover from a sophomore swoon, and Tabata is back in the Minors. Andrew McCutchen had 881 Triple-A plate appearances under his belt prior to his arrival. Alex Presley was somewhere in between (672, excluding his demotion this season). Entering Friday, Marte had 400 plate appearances with the Indians. "You want to bring [Marte] up at the right time for the right reasons," Hurdle said. "And no, we're not afraid to bring him up in a pennant race. We just want to [make the move] at the right time."
"You know how many chickens I hung in AT&T Park when [Barry] Bonds came up to the plate?" -- manager Clint Hurdle, in a discussion of the advisability of intentionally walking dangerous hitters, referencing Giants fans' practice of hanging rubber chickens whenever the slugger was given four wide ones
It rained all day Friday in Pittsburgh but, if anyone somehow managed to stay dry, A.J. Burnett had that all taken care of: He entered the clubhouse early in the afternoon brandishing a squirt gun. The schedule for the Pirates' first preseason meeting since 2000 with their Altoona affiliate has been confirmed: The Bucs will drop into People Natural Gas Field on their way north from 2013 Spring Training, taking on the Curve in a 2 p.m. exhibition on March 30. Neil Walker's first-inning single on Friday gave him six straight hits in PNC Park. He went 5-for-5 against the Giants in the last game prior to the All-Star break, on July 8.
The Pirates improved their record to 10-4 in front of crowds of 30,000-plus in PNC Park, where they have won 19 of their last 23.
Rookie reliever Jared Hughes stranded both runners he inherited from Chris Resop in the seventh, and he has stranded 18 of 19 inherited runners this season.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.