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Presley looks to snap out of batting slump

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7:05 p.m. today, PNC Park

TV/radio: Root Sports/KDKA-FM (93.7), XM 184

Probable pitchers: Astros LHP J.A. Happ (2-2, 5.24) vs. Pirates RHP Charlie Morton (1-3, 4.61)

1:35 p.m. Sunday: Astros LHP Wandy Rodriguez (3-3, 2.14) vs. Pirates RHP A.J. Burnett (1-2, 6.08)

7:10 p.m. Monday: Pirates TBA vs. Marlins RHP Anibal Sanchez (2-0, 2.01)

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Friday, May 11, 2012, 6:52 p.m.

Alex Presley, mired in a batting slump, has been benched in four of the past six games. After batting .303 over the first 19 games, Presley went into last night's game in a 3-for-32 funk.

“I've gotten behind in the count a bunch, which makes it hard to hit,” Presley said. “Maybe I need to be more aggressive early on fastballs. It's one of those things where it kind of snowballs. I don't want to make too much out of it. It's more mental than physical.”

In addition to spending time in the batting cage, Presley has been studying video of his at-bats over the past two seasons.

Presley has a tendency to allow his bottom hand to become dominant as he swings. He also has a quick release — the better to utilize his speed — but sometimes lets go of the bat too soon with his bottom hand.

“It's nothing major,” Presley said. “Everyone's constantly making little adjustments.”

Still, Presley's mechanics are not the main problem. Manager Clint Hurdle wants to see sharper focus.

“It's not that he hasn't had any,” Hurdle said. “Sometimes it can get misguided, and he'll fall into the trap of trying to do something he hasn't normally done. His job at the top of the lineup is to get on base. He doesn't need to walk more or strike out less. He needs to hit balls that are in the zone — he needs to really strike those balls.”

• Right-hander Jeff Karstens (shoulder inflammation) threw a bullpen session Thursday — 36 pitches, fastballs and a couple of changeups — and is scheduled to throw another Sunday. Karstens will make the road trip with the Pirates next week to Miami, Washington and Detroit. After that, he'll likely make his first rehab start with Double-A Altoona, which plays at home May 18-24.

Nate McLouth, who last night started in left field, might begin making more frequent appearances in the lineup. “He's not your typical fourth outfielder,” Hurdle said. “He's played in an All-Star Game. He's won a Gold Glove. He's waited, he's been patient and worked hard. The first couple times he went out there, his mentality was, ‘If I hit a couple homers, I'll be in the lineup.' It usually doesn't work out that way. Now, I'm looking forward to seeing him play.”

• Going into last night's game, Pedro Alvarez was 0 for 15 with five walks since moving into the cleanup spot. Hurdle is not panicking. “It's not that he's taking (too many pitches) or that he's chasing,” Hurdle said. “He's hit some balls, and they've made some good defensive plays. He's taken his walks. As far as I'm concerned, I am pleased with the way he's approached his at-bats in the cleanup spot.”

— Rob Biertempfel

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