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Pirates notebook: Alvarez starting to find his timing at plate

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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez watches his second-inning home run against the Braves on Friday, April 19, 2013, at PNC Park.
By Travis Sawchik and Karen Price
Friday, April 19, 2013, 8:09 p.m.

Braves starting pitcher Julio Teheran was about to hit his intended mark on the outside corner of the plate with a 91 mph fastball in the fourth inning Thursday until Pedro Alvarez's bat got in the way.

Alvarez smashed the ball to center for a 448-foot home run, his first of the season. On Friday, Alvarez sent a Tim Hudson offering into the right-field seats for his second home run.

The home runs were blunt signals that suggest the struggling Pirates third baseman is coming around. Alvarez entered Friday batting .104. But it is not just the results that are encouraging to the Pirates, it is the process.

Rather than trying to pull the pitch Thursday, rather than trying to do too much with the 0-1 fastball, Alvarez redirected the offering to the middle of the field.

“I'd say it's a good indication of going with the pitch and trying to not do too much,” Alvarez said. “It's just one of those where we are talking about the ball getting deeper a half an inch. It's just a matter of timing, letting the ball get a little deeper.”

It wasn't the only recent example of Alvarez using the opposite field. In Tuesday's rainout against the Cardinals, Alvarez hit a Jake Westbrook fastball left of center, the ball leaving his bat at 111 mph, the top exit velocity for a batted ball by a Pirate this season.

“(Using the opposite field) is one thing that's talked about,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “One of the things in this game that's funny is these guys will work all day on hitting the ball up the middle, the other way, then sometimes when the game starts they just go to a different a place.”

Hurdle hopes Alvarez will begin going to a different place more often: the opposite field.

For his career, Alvarez bats .392 on balls to center, and .379 when he using the opposite field, according to Alvarez hits .303 on batted balls to the pull side. But like most power-focused lefties, when he makes contact Alvarez usually hits to the right side of the field, which is the right approach when reacting to an inside pitch like Alvarez did Friday.

Said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez on Thursday: “It's scary when Alvarez is hitting .180. Can he wait four more days before he breaks out of it? You know the kid is going to hit.”

Morton finds more mph

Hurdle said the reports from High-A Bradenton pitching coach Justin Meccage on Charlie Morton's outing Thursday were “very encouraging.” The right-hander threw 44 pitches and an additional six in the bullpen to reach 50, his velocity ranged from 92-96 mph on his fastball, which he threw 28 times for 22 strikes. The sinker had good late life and the change-up had good arm speed and sink. Morton, who underwent Tommy John surgery in June, is expected to make three more rehabilitation starts before he is ready to rejoin the Pirates.

Off limits

Reliever Jared Hughes was unavailable Friday, and Hurdle said before the game he might also stay away from Justin Wilson, who pitched 1 13 innings and threw 30 pitches Thursday. Thirteen pitches came in Reed Johnson's at-bat.

“He continues to give us what we need in that role because it's not just a left-on-left matchup,” Hurdle said of Wilson. “He can handle some righties. Justin's got some good stuff.”

Travis Sawchik and Karen Price are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Reach Sawchick at or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib. Reach Price at or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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