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Pirates notebook: Trade rumors for Red Sox pitcher Lester still swirling

Rob Biertempfel
| Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 2:39 p.m.

SAN FRANCISCO — The Pirates continued to pursue Boston Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester on Wednesday but so far have failed to consummate a deal. The non-waiver trade deadline is 4 p.m. Thursday.

According to the Boston Globe, the Red Sox want a major leaguer and at least one elite prospect in exchange for the ace of their starting rotation. However, the Pirates are hesitant to include any of their top minor leaguers.

At the start of the day, the Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers seemed the strongest suitors. Supposedly, the Baltimore Orioles got involved later ... or did they?

Early Wednesday afternoon, the Cardinals acquired right-hander Justin Masterson from the Cleveland Indians. USA Today reported the deal won't stop the Cardinals from continuing to chase Lester.

About an hour after that trade, the Internet buzzed with reports that the Orioles had landed Lester in a one-for-one swap involving another pitcher. Those reports quickly were discredited. When asked about his team's rumored interest in Lester, Orioles general manager Dan Duquette told the Baltimore Sun, “That would be news to me.”

Lester was scratched from his start Wednesday against the Toronto Blue Jays. If he is not dealt by the deadline, Lester will pitch Sunday for the Red Sox against the New York Yankees.

The Pirates also are seeking bullpen help, especially a lefty that could pitch the seventh inning. An upgrade for the bench would be welcome, too.

Alvarez vs. ‘The Thing'

Baseball old-timers call it “The Thing” — a maddening and often sudden inability to throw the ball accurately from Points A to B. It destroyed the careers of pitcher Steve Blass and catcher Mackey Sasser.

The Thing has sunk its teeth into Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez. Of his major league-leading 23 errors, 21 have come on wild throws.

That's part of the reason Alvarez was benched the past two games, even though the Pirates were facing right-handed starting pitchers.

“He just needs to continue to work,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We want to help him regain his form on (offense and defense) that he's shown us in the past.”

A former first-round pick who is making $4.25 million this season, Alvarez essentially has devolved into a platoon third baseman.

“It's pretty simple at the end of the day,” Hurdle said. “He's not outplaying (Josh) Harrison. (Travis) Snider's a hot bat who's in the lineup. Harrison needs to find reps. Pedro will find reps. We'll give him time. We need to pay attention to the whole team and how it functions. Right now, the focus (for Alvarez) is to continue to work on consistency.”

Harrison started at third base the past two games. Snider, who's hitting .333 since June 1, is getting time in left field while Starling Marte is on the disabled list.

Alvarez never has been a flawless fielder, but his throwing problems are problematic for a team in the thick of a division-title hunt.

“We continue to see great instincts and reflexes on a number of different plays,” Hurdle said. “It's been the play when he decelerates that kind of throws off the rhythm and, quite possibly, the throwing slot. We encourage him to maintain the pace. We're trying to keep a steady flow of energy.”

Repetition through practice is one cure. Alvarez goes out most days for extra fielding drills.

Communication also helps. Hours before Monday's game, Alvarez and bench coach Jeff Banister walked the field engaged in deep conversation.

“The one interesting thing about all this is all the opinions that are coming out now,” Hurdle said. “People are paying more attention, and everybody's got a thought.”

Too much advice from too many sources, even if their intentions are good, can be problematic. When Alvarez is at the ballpark, management is careful not to overload him with information.

“We have a filter and a funnel,” Hurdle said. “What goes on when he leaves here, we're not aware of. Everybody's got a posse and people who care about him. I have a lot of people who care about me; some I listen to more than others. We don't want mixed messages. We don't need a ton of voices.”

Harrison has pop

Harrison isn't big and brawny like a prototypical slugger, but he has smacked a career-high nine home runs.

You could say Harrison has sneaky power. Hurdle has another term for it.

“We call it game-time pop,” Hurdle said. “Some guys don't hit a lot of homers in (batting practice), but they hit them in games.”

Harrison cleared the wall again Wednesday, homering for the fourth game in a row.

A right-handed hitter, Harrison hit three home runs in 60 games last season. He collected a total of seven over his first three major league seasons.

This year, it's not like Harrison is catching up to offspeed pitches and pulling them down the third-base line.

“And we've seen his power show up from right-center field to the right field line now, which is as impressive as anything,” Hurdle said. “To stay on pitches, as he has done, and ride them the other way right out of the ballpark is very impressive.”

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

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