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Pirates notebook: Harrison wins NL Player of Month

| Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, 12:54 p.m.
The Pirates' Josh Harrison reacts after scoring on a double by Neil Walker in first inning Monday, Sept. 1, 2014, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — Josh Harrison was the best player in the National League in August. At the end of the season, he almost certainly again will be counted among the top players in the league.

On Wednesday, Harrison won the NL Player of the Month award. He hit .347 and led the league in slugging percentage (.602), hits (41), extra-base hits (19) and total bases (71) last month.

Andrew McCutchen was named Player of the Month in June. It's the first time the Pirates had two different winners in the same season since Bobby Bonilla (April) and Barry Bonds (July) did it in 1990.

Each weighted ballot for the NL Most Valuable Player award has 10 slots. It's a good bet many voters will put Harrison somewhere on their lists this year.

“The guys in this clubhouse are of the opinion that he's our MVP,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “McCutchen, who's won one of them, thinks Josh should at least be considered for the league MVP.

“When you look at the definition of an MVP, Josh has met it. He's meant a defensive edge for us, an offensive edge, the clubhouse environment, his personality. This guy is a leader, the way he goes about his game and his preparation.”

Holdzkom stellar in debut

John Holdzkom stands 6-foot-9, so the ball looks like it's falling from the moon when it shoots out of his hand. And then it starts dancing.

Good luck trying to hit that.

And, as catcher Russell Martin can attest, good luck trying to catch it, too.

“It's overpowering,” Martin said. “It's coming in firm, and it's got late cut action to it. I was getting handcuffed, first time catching him, so I can imagine how it is at the plate (for a batter) trying to hit it.”

Holdzkom, a right-handed reliever whom the Pirates called up Tuesday, throws a four-seam fastball that touches the upper 90s. He also uses what Hurdle called “an old-time palmball,” which is essentially a four-fingered changeup.

“It looks like a split, with down, hard, late action,” Hurdle said. “The palmball used to be a pitch a lot of guys threw. Our guy's the only one I know who's got one now.”

Holdzkom started throwing the pitch when he was 13.

“It was a comfortable grip in my hand,” Holdzkom said. “I had no real feel for a breaking ball, so it was the first real offspeed pitch I threw when I was a youngster. It's very similar to a split, but it can go both ways when it drops and it's slower.”

Holdzkom threw three palmballs Tuesday during his one-inning big league debut against the St. Louis Cardinals. The first one induced a swinging strikeout by Peter Bourjos, who reached first base when the ball clanged off Martin's glove for a passed ball.

“I don't know what it was — palmball, splitter, whatever — but it was nasty,” Martin said.

Bourjos was caught stealing, and Holdzkom struck out all three batters he faced in the eighth inning. He ended it by confounding Matt Carpenter with an 86 mph palmball.

Planet of the aches

Hurdle said infielder Pedro Alvarez (sprained left foot) is available to pinch-hit but remains “physically not able to take the field.”

Alvarez has ramped up his pregame batting practice routine, hitting off the coaches and a pitching machine.

Outfielder Travis Snider (strained left hamstring) might be ready to get back on the field sometime this weekend. However, the Chicago Cubs are slated to start three left-handed pitchers, which could keep the lefty-swinging Snider on the bench.

Park and ride

Bobby LaFromboise left his car at an airport in Texas on Aug. 24, thinking he would be back to get it in 10 days.

He should have parked it in a long-term lot.

LaFromboise was pitching for Triple-A El Paso when the San Diego Padres put him on waivers at the end of August.

The Pirates claimed the left-handed reliever and assigned him to Triple-A Indianapolis.

Because Indy had just eight games remaining, LaFromboise figured his offseason was only days away.

Pirates management had other plans.

On Tuesday, LaFromboise was among three relief pitchers added to the big league roster for the stretch run.

Instead of 10 days of parking, LaFromboise will have to pay for five weeks' worth.

“I'm OK with that,” LaFromboise said with a laugh. “I'll get somebody to pick it up for me.”

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

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