PITTSBURGH -- Both as a player and as a manager, Clint Hurdle has participated in or witnessed some of the unique slump-busting activities for which Major League teams are known. Hurdle admitted "some of that is going on right now" with the Pirates, without suggesting "clothing-optional batting practice" is part of their routine.Clothing-optional batting practice? "I've had some group of guys carry it as far as sleeping in the clubhouse in the opposition city, taking batting practice late at night ... somewhat attired," Hurdle said. "I've also been on teams that used the same bat throughout the lineup, trying it Little League-style." Other known slump-busting team-wide tactics include burning bats or caps in a bonfire, or passing around apparel considered lucky. Whatever the Pirates are doing, they hope it improves their rank as the Majors' lowest-scoring (78 runs) team entering play Tuesday. That's 17 runs less than Minnesota, the lowest-scoring team in the American League, and 85 runs less than Atlanta, which led the Majors with 163 runs entering play on Tuesday.
Bucs working on making Hague more versatile
PITTSBURGH -- Whenever the Pirates have an unsatisfying offensive game, fans begin to clamor anew for the return of Matt Hague, the powerful corner infielder who smoked his way through the Grapefruit League.But there is a very good reason Hague remains in Indianapolis. Besides, that is, his very modest Triple-A production of a .272 average without a home run in 20 games. The Bucs want him comfortable, not to mention competent, at third base before considering a recall. Playing primarily at the hot corner for the Indians, Hague has four errors in 18 games at third. "It's tough to carry a right-handed first-base bat on the bench," said general manager Neal Huntington. "We're trying to add another way for Matt to impact the club. [Playing third] is an important step for him. He's still a work in progress there. We know he can swing the bat; we're trying to find another way for him to be used at the Major League level."
McCutchen rejoins starting lineup for opener
PITTSBURGH -- Andrew McCutchen returned to the Pirates' lineup for Tuesday night's game against Washington in a familiar home, the three-hole in the batting order. But there was still something different about the neighborhood: Neil Walker in front of him, Pedro Alvarez behind him.The Pirates began action Tuesday with a record of 1-0 when using that alignment. It is manager Clint Hurdle's intent to "stack some people in front of Pedro," right now the team's biggest threat. The Bucs beat the Reds, 3-2, when that lineup was unveiled on Saturday. McCutchen played all of that game, and also the first four innings of Thursday's game in St. Louis. That is a total of only 13 innings in the week since he came down with a nasty stomach flu, but McCutchen wishes he hadn't played even that much. Given Sunday off by Hurdle and Monday by the Pirates' schedule has made all the difference. "Yeah, definitely. That was some well-needed time off," McCutchen said. "I felt good today, woke up feeling really good. So I feel like my normal self, ready to go out and start playing again. "I lost a little weight, but I'm slowly putting it back on," he added. "I got my appetite back, so I'll be able to put it back quick."
Bucs name Honorary Bat Girl for Mother's Day
PITTSBURGH -- Angie Thompson, who never stopped being a full-time mom while waging a successful fight against breast cancer, has been chosen as the Pirates' Honorary Bat Girl for Mother's Day festivities this Sunday at PNC Park.Thompson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 while pregnant with her and husband Toby's third child. Even while undergoing chemotherapy treatments, and with her husband's assistance, she continued taking the kids to all their activities and looking after their education. A lifelong Pirates fan, Thompson now is cancer free. Like Major League Baseball's other 29 Honorary Bat Girls, Thompson will take part in Sunday's pregame activities, including recognition in an on-field ceremony, and will receive pink MLB merchandise and two tickets to the Pirates' game against Houston. MLB initiated the Honorary Bat Girl Contest in 2009 to raise additional awareness and support for the annual Going to Bat Against Breast Cancer initiative the sport celebrates on Mother's Day.
The Pirates' pitching cache in the Minors is getting a little ridiculous. Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon are on the rise, Justin Wilson was International League Pitcher of the Week for his no-hitter, and Rudy Owens was Triple-A Indianapolis' Player of April for his 2.12 ERA -- and now here comes Major League vet Jo-Jo Reyes, who ran his record to 5-0 with a 2.03 ERA with Monday night's three-hit shutout of Lehigh Valley. With interesting timing, the Nationals on Tuesday announced the signing of free-agent lefty Mike Gonzalez to a Minor League contract. Gonzalez, of course, had 24 saves as the Pirates' closer in 2006. We live and modern athletes play in the social-media world. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle has mixed feelings about many of his players, most notably Andrew McCutchen and Jason Grilli, thus connecting with fans. "I'm good with it," Hurdle said, "but there's a fine line between communicating with and embracing fans to give them a snapshot of what's going on, and having it become a distraction. And you might get stuff back you aren't anticipating. Once you engage, it's game on. I remind them, 'It's one person's opinion, not a brand on you.'" The Bucs are engaged in their 10th series of the season; Tuesday night's win was only their second in a series opener, the other coming on April 24 against the Rockies. ... The Bucs improved to 10-5 in games they homer, and to 9-1 when scoring at least four runs. The Last Word: "My six-year-old asked, 'Who do you guys play next?' and when I told him the Nationals, he says, 'Oh, you're going to play against Bryce Harper?' That's the first thing he said." -- Pirates catcher Rod Barajas
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.