Pirates notebook: Alvarez gets lessons at 1st base; Frieri cut

Rob Biertempfel
| Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, 4:45 p.m.

In his pro career, spanning 808 games in the minor and major leagues, Pedro Alvarez never has played anywhere other than third base.

That might soon change.

During batting practice Friday, Alvarez took a significant number of ground balls at first base. He also got lessons on footwork and positioning with coach Nick Leyva and first baseman Gaby Sanchez.

“We're just trying to get some work to see if it does potentially become an option (this season),” said general manager Neal Huntington, who watched Alvarez's tutoring session. “We're trying to give (manager) Clint (Hurdle) as many options as we can to win a ballgame and keep our lineup as strong as possible and stay flexible and versatile.”

Alvarez did not comment on his first workout at first base. As he was approached by a reporter after batting practice, Alvarez broke into a run and left the field.

Friday was Alvarez's first day back with the team after missing three games while on bereavement leave.

Alvarez leads the majors with 24 errors, all but one of them coming on bad throws. Over his first four seasons, he made 85 errors in 470 games.

During the series last weekend in Arizona, Hurdle said Josh Harrison had supplanted Alvarez as the everyday third baseman. Harrison started at third Friday against the San Diego Padres.

In the midst of a pennant race, the Pirates might not be confident playing Alvarez at an unfamiliar position. Could Alvarez become a full-time first baseman next year?

“In a perfect world,” Huntington said, then paused.

“Pedro's never played better from bat to glove than he has this year. So we're still optimistic and open to him remaining a third baseman. But as we look at the short term — Josh (Harrison) has played so well, and we've had some other challenges — we're trying to find a way to keep this lineup as deep and as productive as possible.”

Frieri designated

To open a roster spot for Alvarez, reliever Ernesto Frieri was designated for assignment.

The Pirates got Frieri on June 27 from the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for ex-closer Jason Grilli. In 14 outings with the Pirates, Frieri went 1-1 with a 10.13 ERA and a 1.78 WHIP.

Last Friday, Frieri hit Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks with a pitch and broke his hand. Goldschmidt is out for the season. The next day, Andrew McCutchen was hit by a pitch in the back. McCutchen is out of action indefinitely with a rib injury.

McCutchen on mend

Athletic trainers have added more mobility and resistance exercises to McCutchen's routine, and he appears to be making progress.

According to Hurdle, McCutchen already has taken “a couple” of swings, although he is not ready for full-blown batting practice.

A trip to the disabled list has not been ruled out, but the team will continue to be patient with that decision.

“We're willing to stretch a few more days on his behalf,” Hurdle said.

Neil Walker (sore lower back) took batting practice on the field, a step forward as he also tries to avoid a DL stint. Walker has missed four of the past five games.

Planet of the aches

Gerrit Cole (sore right lat) will make his third rehab start Sunday with Triple-A Indianapolis.

Hurdle did not reveal a target pitch count for Cole.

“The last time it went to 70 pitches in less than five (innings),” Hurdle said. “We'd like to see him have more (innings) and more pitches.”

Clint Barmes (strained left groin) ran the bases at full speed. He is slated to have another MRI exam and will not go with the Pirates on their road trip next week, which is when he might begin a rehab assignment.

“There's still some soreness in there,” Barmes said. “More than likely, it's not going to go away the rest of the year.”

Polanco on upswing

In the two months since he made his Pirates debut, right fielder Gregory Polanco already has reached a lot of milestones. First game, first hit, first home run, first stolen base, first batting slump — and now his first rebound.

Over his first 16 games in the majors, Polanco batted .338 with a .416 on-base percentage and .441 slugging percentage. He drove in 10 runs and swiped four bases.

Then pitchers found holes in the rookie's swing. In 19 games from June 27 to July 20, Polanco hit .162/.253/.216. His stolen base (two) and RBI (four) production was cut in half.

In the 15 games leading to the series opener against the Padres, Polanco hit .288/.323/.781 with 11 RBIs and three steals.

“He's trending up,” Hurdle said. “He's had a lot thrown at him, and the league has challenged him a lot of different ways. I think it's making more sense to him now.”

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

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