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Pirates notebook: Search for offense continues

| Saturday, July 20, 2013, 5:42 p.m.
The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez strikes out against Reds starting pitcher Mat Latos in the first inning Saturday, July 20, 2013, in Cincinnati.

CINCINNATI — Andrew McCutchen swings the most reliable bat in an otherwise unreliable offense. But even he is not sure whether the Pirates will — or if they should — go for broke to acquire a slugger before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

“I don't know,” McCutchen said. “I'm not really worried about it. All I can do is just work with what we have. It doesn't really change anything for us, because we'll still have to keep going and keep fighting. We've been winning, so, regardless of what we do (trade-wise) or even if we keep things the same, we're still going to keep winning because nothing changes.”

A 5-3 loss Friday against the Cincinnati Reds was a perfect display of the shortcomings that could prevent the Pirates from claiming their first playoff berth since 1992. They are vulnerable if their starter falters, they cannot string together hits and their bench is thin.

Francisco Liriano had an off night, and the Reds built a five-run lead. The Pirates rallied with three homers, but they all were solo shots. In the ninth inning, all manager Clint Hurdle had left on his bench to face closer Aroldis Chapman was Josh Harrison, Michael McKenry and Brandon Inge.

“We have a very good grasp on what we could use more of,” Hurdle said, without elaborating. “We'll keep those conversations in-house. We're definitely looking to improve our club. It's always an interesting process to go through, with some of the posturing and dancing that goes on initially.”

Much ado

Late Friday night, word came out of Chicago that White Sox outfielder Alex Rios was removed, uninjured, from the game against Atlanta. The Pirates, who could use an upgrade in right field, recently sent a scout to gather info about Rios. Also, High-A Bradenton shortstop Alen Hanson, one of the Pirates' top prospects, was pulled from the second game of a doubleheader after just two at-bats.

It was the perfect storm of circumstances. Twitter exploded with posts that said Rios was seen hugging teammates in the dugout.

Soon #HugWatch was trending in two time zones. The chatter was mentioned on MLB Network's nightly highlights show. Around midnight, Pirates minor league pitcher Robby Rowland posted an astute observation: “Twitter gets real entertaining at the trade deadline!”

It turned out to be much ado about nothing. White Sox manager Robin Ventura revealed Rios was benched for not hustling on a routine play. Rios was back in Chicago's lineup Saturday.

“I absolutely can tune that out,” Hurdle said. “We live in an age when nobody cares if they're right; they just want to be first. I definitely unplug.”

More trade winds

The Pirates have some interest in Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who is making $14 million this season and will become a free agent this winter. According to Twins.com, the Pirates likely are not among the six teams listed in the no-trade clause in Morneau's contract. ... Jon Heyman of CBSsports.com said the Pirates “have interest” in outfielder Hunter Pence, but the San Francisco Giants are not inclined to trade him. The Pirates pursued Pence in 2011, but balked when they found the asking price would have included Starling Marte.

Planet of the aches

General manager Neal Huntington revealed Saturday that right-hander Kyle McPherson (elbow) had Tommy John surgery on July 10 and could be out up to a year. McPherson was a candidate for a rotation spot in spring training this year. ... Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (forearm tightness) and righty James McDonald (shoulder discomfort) tentatively are scheduled to begin throwing programs this week. ... Second baseman Neil Walker (oblique) went 0 for 3 Friday in his first rehab game with Triple-A Indianapolis. Walker was scheduled to play seven innings Saturday. ... Hurdle said lefty Jeff Locke (lower back soreness) threw a “clean and efficient” bullpen session Friday, and should be good to go without restrictions Sunday against the Reds. “I don't think we'll have him under a microscope,” Hurdle said.

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

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