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Pirates notebook: Bucs go to extremes to measure a catchers' value

| Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, 6:59 p.m.

CHICAGO — Manager Clint Hurdle mulled unplugging Rod Barajas for a few games as a way to jump the catcher out of his season-long batting funk. But the notion was scrapped when Hurdle factored in how his pitchers perform with Barajas behind the plate.

“A couple of our pitchers, especially A.J. (Burnett), appreciate working with him,” Hurdle said Friday. “Wandy (Rodriguez's) numbers tend to trend toward Barajas, as well.”

Pirates pitchers have a 3.58 ERA with Barajas and a 4.02 ERA with Michael McKenry. Because catcher ERA alone is not a reliable indicator, the Pirates developed a more comprehensive stats program.

“I'm not a 100 percent subscriber to any of it,” Hurdle said. “But I like to pay attention to it because everything does tell a little bit of a story.”

The Pirates' analysis considers variables such as length of innings, pitches per inning and what happens with runners in scoring position.

“Pace of game, time of pitch, that connection between pitcher and catcher — does it stay consistent or does it slow down? Who's that on, the pitcher or the catcher?” Hurdle said. “There's no perfect equation. But if you use your eyes, rely on some numbers and pay attention in a common-sense kind of way, there are other things to read into who should play beyond the catcher's batting average.”

• Neil Walker was used as a pinch-hitter Friday, his first appearance after missing 15 games with lower back pain. “He could be back in the starting lineup (Saturday),” Hurdle said. Walker said his rehab is focused on core- and leg-strengthening.

• The Hanshin Tigers are scouting first baseman Jeff Clement, who said he could consider playing in Japan next year. “When the season ends, I'll see where I'm at,” he said. “If I'm still on the Pirates' 40-man roster, that's ideal. If not, I'll keep all my options open. I'm 29 years old, so I'm going to go with the best opportunity.” Clement, a former first-round pick, missed most of 2011 while recovering from knee surgery and hit .276 with 16 homers this season at Triple-A Indianapolis.

• Recovered from a sore hip pointer, right-hander Jeff Karstens is available as a long reliever. “There might be a situation where you won't see him in a long-relief role,” Hurdle said. “If an opportunity arises, I won't think twice about getting him in.” Hurdle did not indicate when, or if, Karstens will return to the starting rotation.

• Pedro Alvarez was in the lineup Friday after missing a game with a sore right wrist.

— Rob Biertempfel

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