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Return of injured players could boost Pirates

| Friday, July 15, 2011

In the next 16 days leading up to the non-waiver trading deadline, the Pirates expect to gain a veteran reliever, a couple of catchers, a dangerous corner outfielder and an experienced shortstop. More help — a power-hitting third baseman, a starting pitcher and a late-inning reliever — might be here by the end of August.

The best part, as far as general manager Neal Huntington is concerned, is he can add all those players without making a single trade.

The Pirates went into the All-Star break without 10 players who were expected to play key roles this season. Catcher Chris Snyder (back surgery) likely will miss the rest of the season. But the other nine will begin to return to the roster as early as today, when left-handed reliever Joe Beimel is expected to come off the disabled list.

Beimel, Jose Tabata, Ryan Doumit, Ronny Cedeno, Steve Pearce, Jason Jaramillo, Pedro Alvarez, Ross Ohlendorf and Evan Meek all could be back in action in the next few weeks. That likely will influence deals — if any — the Pirates try to construct at the trade deadline.

"Our best additions may be our own guys," Huntington said. "We're looking at adding four or five quality, major league players as we near the trade deadline."

Tabata (strained quadriceps) began a rehab assignment with Single-A Bradenton on Wednesday. Pearce (strained calf) went 0 for 6 with two strikeouts and a walk this week in his first three games with Bradenton. Neither player figures to need an extended rehab stint.

Jaramillo, who has been out since late May with an elbow injury, should soon be ready to replace backup catcher Eric Fryer. A converted outfielder, Fyer began the season at Double-A and still has rough edges behind the plate.

Huntington said Doumit, who's out with a fractured ankle, will be back "hopefully sometime later this month." Doumit is working out at the Pirate City complex in Bradenton, Fla., but has not begun a minor league rehab assignment.

As they begin the second half of the season tonight in Houston, the Pirates' biggest need is for an impact bat — ideally a power hitter who can play the corner infield or outfield spots. Management hoped Alvarez would be that slugger, but he struggled offensively before going down with a quad injury. Alvarez was demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis last weekend, immediately after being activated from the DL. Huntington did not offer a timetable for when Alvarez might be ready to rejoin the Pirates.

"The best way to get him back on track ... is to let him go back to a level where there's a little bit less pressure and get him some work," Huntington said.

If Alvarez needs more than a week or two at Indy, it could nudge Huntington toward trading for someone such as Astros right fielder Hunter Pence -- who would cost the Pirates two or three upper-level prospects, such as outfielder Starling Marte — or Chicago Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena, a two-month rental with a $6.6 million price tag.

Note: The Pirates on Thursday optioned left-handed reliever Daniel Moskos to Indianapolis and signed third-round pick Alex Dickerson, a first baseman from Indiana University.

Injury updates

The Pirates exit the All-Star break with nine important players dealing with injuries but eyeing a return by the end of August:

Player, Injury — Possible return

LHP Joe Beimel, Elbow — Friday

OF Jose Tabata, Quadriceps — Saturday

SS Ronny Cedeno, Concussion — Saturday

C Jason Jaramillo, Elbow — Next week

1B Steve Pearce, Calf — Next week

C Ryan Doumit, Ankle — End of July

3B Pedro Alvarez-x, Quadriceps — End of July

RHP Evan Meek, Shoulder — Mid-August

RHP Ross Ohlendorf, Shoulder — Late August

x-not on the disabled list

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