CIN@PIT: Hurdle on Irwin's start vs. the Reds

PITTSBURGH -- In discussing Phil Irwin's virtues and why the Bucs had chosen him to rise from Indianapolis to make his Major League debut in Sunday's start against the Reds, manager Clint Hurdle stressed his ability to throw to both sides of the plate.

What Hurdle really meant? Irwin's ability to throw inside.

Any pitcher can throw outside, the keep-away and thus safe part of the plate. But pitching inside, where you unease hitters, but also where mistakes wind up in the seats, is the challenge. And it is something the Pirates staff has emphasized to pitchers since the start of Spring Training.

"They've let guys know we have to go in, to tell the batters they can't be comfortable over the plate," A.J. Burnett said. "That's how guys get comfortable -- when you stay outside all day long. We're not trying to hurt people, just staying in with conviction. And that's a big difference."

The aggressive pitching philosophy was vividly apparent in Wandy Rodriguez's first start of the season: In pitching 6 2/3 innings of a 3-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs, he plunked two batters, compared to the three he hit through all of last season in 205 2/3 innings.

Entering Sunday's game, Pirates pitchers have held opponents to an average of .216 through 11 games, third-best in the National League.

"Our persistence in pitching inside has been paying dividends," Hurdle said. "It's been relentless all season long, and it's something we want to keep doing, even when we're not getting strikes. When you're feeling that ball in, as a hitter, it just isn't quite as comfortable."

Pirates to celebrate Jackie Robinson Day on Monday

MLB players reflect on Robinson's emphasis on team

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates will join Major League Baseball's celebration of Jackie Robinson Day when they meet the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday night at PNC Park.

Each Pirates player will take the field wearing Robinson's iconic uniform No. 42. In 1997, under the direction of Commissioner Bud Selig, Robinson's No. 42 was retired across all of Major League Baseball in an unprecedented tribute. One jersey will be autographed by every player and coach and auctioned off to benefit The Jackie Robinson Foundation.

The observance of Robinson breaking baseball's color barrier on April 15, 1947, is an annual tradition that never loses its significance to each new generation of players.

"It's definitely one of those things you take a lot of pride in, putting on that jersey," said Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen. "What [Robinson] went through, stepping up and being that guy to take that important step … it's something we need to always remember."

Pre-game ceremonies will salute winners of the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Jackie Robinson Art, Essay and Poetry Contest.

First number, last word

2.08: Mark Melancon's career ERA against National League teams, including his 2010-11 stint with the Astros and Interleague Play while with the Yankees (2009-10) and Red Sox (2012).

"It was one of the few times where everything actually slows down. I did feel like I was running on air. I could feel my heartbeat through my shirt. I could smell stuff I'd never smelled. All the colors were brighter. It was wild." - Hurdle, on his tour around the bases after hitting a home run in his Major League debut, on Sept. 18, 1977.

Worth noting

• The Bucs were winless in day games (0-4) entering Sunday's match with the Reds, partly because they were not getting Pedro Alvarez's usual daytime production. Alvarez, whose 18 sun-lit homers last season were a Pittsburgh high since Willie Stargell's 19 in 1971, was 1-for-13 in those first four day games.

• Right-hander Kyle McPherson went on the Triple-A seven-day disabled list with forearm tightness after leaving his Friday night start for Indianapolis with discomfort. McPherson, a Spring Training contender for a spot in the Pirates' rotation, is on his way to Pittsburgh to have his injury assessed.