Pirates notebook: Irwin promoted to fill in for Rodriguez

Rob Biertempfel
| Saturday, April 13, 2013, 6:42 p.m.

Right-hander Phil Irwin will make a spot start Sunday in place of left-hander Wandy Rodriguez, who's sidelined by a sore left hamstring.

Irwin was brought up from Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday and was placed on the Pirates' “taxi squad,” meaning he can work out with the team but cannot be in uniform during the game. He can spend 24 hours with the club without a corresponding move being made.

Rodriguez strained his hamstring Monday during his start against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Saturday, Rodriguez played catch on flat ground.

“I can run, I can throw, I can do everything,” Rodriguez said. “I feel better ... but I still feel (discomfort) on my follow-through.”

Rodriguez still could end up on the 15-day disabled list, but manager Clint Hurdle said that is “an improbability right now.” Rodriguez said he expects to pitch Friday, which would be his next turn in the rotation.

In one start with Indy, Irwin pitched six innings, gave up one run on four hits, hit two, walked one and struck out five. He already was on the 40-man roster.

“Irwin can bring us the best package that we need right now,” Hurdle said. “He has command of the fastball on both sides of the plate, he has a breaking ball that he can throw for a strike and a very good changeup.”

Shifty strategy

It has become common for teams to shift their infield alignment whenever Garrett Jones is at the plate. Increasingly, however, even non-sluggers are seeing special defenses.

“Garrett is not the only one,” Hurdle said. “It's a trend that's gotten more dramatic over the past two seasons. You see multiple shifts, and it's not just (against) power hitters. You see it a lot.”

The reason is the vast amount of statistical data that's made available to every team. In 2008, the Pirates hired Dan Fox, a former numbers-cruncher for Baseball Prospectus, as their director of baseball systems development. He sends the coaching staff pages of information before every game.

Twenty years ago, some players had reputations for being pull hitters. Now, Hurdle can touch his iPhone and discover that Player X will hit a ball to a certain spot on the infield 88 percent of the time against a pitcher with a sub-90 mph fastball.

“You can't argue with the information,” Hurdle said.

That's why teams sometimes put their third baseman on the right side of the infield when, say, Travis Snider is at the plate. Statistically, it is a safe bet.

Of course, there is a way to beat the shift: hit — or at least bunt — the ball toward the open spot on the field. The Pirates worked on that often during spring training. The key is to not force the batter into doing something he's not comfortable with.

“We think there are times when we think it's good to take that shot and get on base, but we don't want it to freak them out,” Hurdle said. “When you start trying to direct the ball, most guys aren't capable of doing that. There are a few who can. It's something (Andrew) McCutchen is conscious of — the first baseman plays in the 3-4 hole and everybody else is on the left side of the infield. Everybody sees the hole. He's aware of it.”

Sometimes, a batter is too hesitant to bunt, even if he can see there's nobody at third base to field the ball in time.

“All you've got to do is beat the pitcher with it,” Hurdle said. “It's a touch-and-feel thing, and it can be one of the toughest things for a hitter to do. All you're looking for is that one time when it works, because then you've got a buy-in.”

Planet of the aches

Left-hander Francisco Liriano and right-handed reliever Jose Contreras are scheduled to make rehab outings Monday for High-A Bradenton.

After giving up seven earned runs in 1 23 innings Friday with Indianapolis, right-hander Kyle McPherson went on the disabled list due to forearm tightness. “He'll be evaluated in a couple of days, and we'll go from there,” assistant GM Kyle Stark said.

Right-hander Tim Alderson was promoted from Double-A Altoona to replace McPherson. With the Curve, Alderson worked 5 13 innings, allowed one unearned run on two hits and struck out five. Right-hander David Bromberg will take Alderson's spot with Altoona.

Phillips out

Cincinnati second baseman Brandon Phillips left the team Saturday to attend to a family emergency in Georgia. Reds manager Dusty Baker said there's a 50-50 chance Phillips will be back in the lineup Sunday against the Pirates.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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