PITTSBURGH -- While in the Indianapolis bullpen, working on regaining his 2010 National League All-Star form, Evan Meek stayed glued to the magic unfolding in Pittsburgh and daily thought, "Man, I wish I could be part of that."As of Saturday, he is. The Bucs recalled the 29-year-old reliever from Indianapolis to replace Juan Cruz, who went on the disabled list with inflammation in the right shoulder. Cruz's disablement is retroactive to July 18, the day after he issued two walks in a 2/3-inning outing in Denver. Cruz has dealt with discomfort in the shoulder since a pair of late-June outings in Philadelphia. The throbbing got worse during the All-Star break, and "got hot after the outing in Colorado," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I hope that Cruz is okay, but it's great to be here to help any way I can," Meek said shortly after pulling into PNC Park from Toledo, where the Indians are in the midst of an International League series. "Whether it's eating innings or getting outs." Meek rejoins the Bucs two months after his most recent option to Triple-A, in mid-May. In two earlier stints with the Pirates this season, he allowed 13 hits and nine runs in 10 2/3 innings, an ERA of 7.59. Beset by multiple injuries last season, the righty is trying to recapture the effectiveness that made him an All-Star two years ago, when he posted a 2.14 ERA in 70 appearances. With the Indians, Meek went 3-2 with a 2.27 ERA in 27 games and 36 2/3 innings. He also picked up one save. "I feel like I am back to where I was in 2010," Meek said. "No pain. I feel good, throwing strikes, with better velocity. I'm raring to go." Hurdle plans to use Meek in front of eighth-inning setup man Jason Grilli. After earning a job as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training, Cruz was extremely effective as the Bucs' primary setup reliever the first couple months of the season. He had struggled of late, however, posting a 4.32 ERA in his last 10 outings. In 37 games overall, the veteran right-hander has a 2.61 ERA, with 32 strikeouts in 31 innings. "I felt something like tendinitis in the arm [after the Tuesday outing against the Rockies], so they gave me two days to see if it felt better," Cruz said. "It didn't feel that good, so we decided to shut down before it got worse."
Unusual time out not ideal for hidden ball trick
PITTSBURGH -- In the seventh inning of Friday night's game against Miami, catcher Rod Barajas straightened from his squat behind the plate and began strolling toward the PNC Park mound and pitcher Jared Hughes.Nothing unusual about that: It was an optimal time for a battery to get on the same page, with the Pirates clinging to a one-run lead and Marlins runners at the corners with two outs. But then came the unusual: Barajas waved around the infield and within seconds all four infielders were crowded around Barajas and Hughes. You simply don't often see such a gathering without the pitching coach or the manager calling for it. A thought striking at least one observer: What a perfect time to revive the lost art of the hidden-ball trick. That thought was reinforced as first baseman Casey McGehee returned to his base with Emilio Bonifacio already into his lead. Bonifacio extended his lead as Hughes straddled the mound and ... ... No tricks. Hughes did retire Carlos Lee on a liner to right, on the way to the Bucs' 4-3 win. "I probably haven't seen [the hidden-ball trick] in 15 years," said manager Clint Hurdle. He slightly raised his eyebrows and added, "There's another thing that might show up before the end of the season." Hurdle intimated that baserunners do not like being victimized by the hidden-ball trick, which can lead to hostilities. However, McGehee pointed out that even though the Friday night situation seemed ideal for a little gamesmanship, the Pirates in fact could not have engineered the play since time had been called for the mound meeting. To sell the play, the pitchers has to go through the motions of being ready to deliver. But the umpire does not call time back in until the pitcher's spikes touch the rubber -- and doing so without the ball is balk. "So you can't do the hidden-ball coming out of a time out. Simple as that," McGehee said.
The last word
"We can't control his emotions. We can control his difficulty with getting us out."
-- Manager Clint Hurdle, before his Pirates went out to face excitable Marlins right-hander Carlos Zambrano in Saturday night's game at PNC Park.
The commemorative stamp of Pirates great Willie Stargell was formally dedicated in pre-game ceremonies at PNC Park prior to Saturday night's game. The late slugger's widow, Margaret, joined in the ceremony along with United States Postal Service representatives -- Postmaster General and CEO Patrick R. Donahoe, Western PA Acting District Manager Robert Cintron, Pittsburgh Postmaster Joe Meimann -- and Pirates club president Frank Coonelly. Andrew McCutchen (22 homers) and Pedro Alvarez (20) went into Saturday night's game as the first pair of Pirates with 20-plus homers 92 games into a season, and they also form only the second tandem in club history to reach 20 prior to game No. 100. In 1979, Bill Robinson clocked his 20th in No. 90, and seven games later Willie Stargell got his 20th. While Robinson hit only four more that season, Stargell ended it with 32.
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.