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Pirates' Alvarez return detours through Indy

Pedro Alvarez finally is ready to play ball again — but he won't do so for the Pirates.

After being activated from the 15-day disabled list Saturday, Alvarez immediately was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. He started at third base and batted cleanup for Indy last night against Louisville.

Alvarez has been out since May 20 with a strained right quadriceps. In 36 games with the Pirates, he hit .208 with two homers and struck out once in every three at-bats.

"It would have been an aggressive move to put him back in the major leagues right away," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Before he was injured, Pedro wasn't where we needed him to be. Being out for an extended period of time, he needs to get his timing back and regroup."

Alvarez demonstrated his offensive potential last season by hitting 16 homers in 95 games. But Huntington said the Pirates' often narcoleptic offense — they rank 12th in the National League in runs and 13th in homers — is "irrelevant" to the timetable for Alvarez's return.

"The league has adjusted to Pedro, and he needs to adjust back," Huntington said. "When he drives the ball to left-center field, he's dangerous. But when (his swing) is too big, he's an easy out."

If Alvarez, who received a major league contract after being drafted second overall in 2008, spends more than 20 days with Indianapolis, he will have used his third minor league option.

Normally, players are limited to three options. But Alvarez should be eligible for a special fourth option next year because he will have used three options before completing his fifth full professional season.

Manager Clint Hurdle said sending Alvarez to Indy will remove distractions that make it difficult for a young player to pull out of a slump.

"Pedro's a big part of what we want to accomplish in the future," Hurdle said. "Sometimes you make a decision so the player can understand what's needed.

"We need him to be in a (physical) condition that's good to play, to run the bases, to hit. We need a volume of at-bats strung together that has nothing to do with home runs, OPS or slugging percentage. We need him to square up the ball and hit it hard where it's pitched."

While Alvarez is with Indy, Josh Harrison will get most of the playing time at third base for the Pirates. Harrison went into last night's game hitting .299.

"I'm very pleased, but there's still work to do," Harrison said. "It comes with getting consistent games there. The more reps you get, the more comfortable you can be."

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Pirates vs. Cubs July 9, 2011

Pirates vs. Cubs  July 9, 2011

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