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Allie to begin infield career in rookie ball

| Saturday, June 16, 2012, 3:24 p.m.

CLEVELAND — Former pitching prospect Stetson Allie will start in rookie ball as he adjusts to his new role as a third baseman.

Allie likely will get his first game action with Bradenton in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He began this season as a starter for Low-A West Virginia, then was sent to extended spring training to deal with his control issues.

While he was at Pirate City, management suggested Allie stay off the mound and instead work in the batting cage to clear his head and try to eliminate his pitching woes.

“We were beginning to see the positive results,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “But at the same time, Stetson was enjoying swinging the bat again and taking ground balls. It reignited the position player in him.”

Allie was an infielder for most of his high school career. The Pirates, who drafted him in the second round in 2010, still believe in his offensive potential.

“He's got about as much raw power as anybody in our system, except Josh Bell,” Huntington said. “That puts a lot of pressure on the young man, but it shows he can hit. We're looking forward to seeing what he can do this summer.”

Allie turned 21 in March and has played only one pro season, 15 games last summer with short-season A State College. Huntington said the timing was right to try such a radical change.

“The later you go with a pitcher, waiting to convert him to a position player after not hitting for three, four or five years, you've got a big challenge,” Huntington said. “With Stetson, it's been two years, so we feel good with that. We feel good with what we've seen of him swinging the bat, and Stetson feels good swinging the bat.”

Planet of the aches

Jeff Karstens (hip flexor strain, shoulder inflammation) threw a 35-pitch bullpen Saturday without incident. The right-hander will make a rehab start Tuesday with Double-A Altoona. Manager Clint Hurdle expects Karstens to rejoin the Pirates' rotation July 1.

Reliever Chris Leroux (pectoral strain) likely will be ready to come off the disabled list by June 28. Leroux is out of minor league options, so the Pirates will have to add him to the major league roster or risk losing him through the waiver wire.

Mercer sits

Rookie infielder Jordy Mercer has played in just four games since being called up from Triple-A Indianapolis on May 29. There is less need for pinch hitters in interleague games, plus Josh Harrison is ahead of Mercer in the pecking order for playing time.

Hurdle hopes to slip Mercer into the starting lineup Sunday.

“Jordy gave us a nice little look in a short window of time when he first got involved,” Hurdle said. “He was much more comfortable on the field in his first big league appearance than I thought he was at any time in spring training, which was very good to see. If nothing else comes of it, the playing time he got has been very valuable experience. He's got a much better understanding of the game at this level now.”

McCutchen for MVP?

Entering Saturday's game, Andrew McCutchen's .321 batting average ranked seventh in the National League. He also ranked sixth in the league in batting average with runners in scoring position (.352) and was 10th in slugging percentage (.543). His .466 average against lefties was tops in the majors.

It's no surprise some national media have begun touting McCutchen as an early candidate for league MVP.

“That's neat, but we've still got a lot of games left,” McCutchen said. “That's cool to hear, but there still are a lot of things that need to be done. I'm just trying to stay consistent, offensively and defensively.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com.

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