PITTSBURGH -- For the second consecutive year, Bucs closer Joel Hanrahan is headed to the All-Star Game.The reliever enters Monday's home game against the Astros with a 2.10 ERA and has gone 20-for-22 in save opportunities this season. Hanrahan saved 40 games last year, which makes him one of just four pitchers in baseball with at least 60 saves since the start of 2011. "The slider, this year, is an absolute wipeout slider," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who called Hanrahan the most consistent and powerful closer he's ever worked with. "It doesn't go east-west. It goes down. There's just bottom to it. So it's another intangible kind of pitch that you can't practice for.
"And he's been ahead in a lot of counts. He's throwing strikes. That differential of speed that you're trying to cover, you've almost gotta cheat for the fastball, and if you get the other one, you're in a bad place if it looks like a strike coming out of his hand."While Hanrahan has been successful in Pittsburgh, that wasn't always the case earlier in his career while playing for the Nationals. In two and a half seasons in Washington, the closer had a 5.30 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.82, compared with the 2.48 ERA and 3.03 ratio he has achieved with the Pirates. "Obviously, things in Washington didn't go how I planned for them. I was, basically, every day going to the field wondering if I was going to get released," Hanrahan said. "They called me in and said they had a trade worked out for me. I was excited to get a new opportunity somewhere. Ever since I came here, I didn't really put any pressure on myself, just kind of went out there, just trying to throw strikes and have fun again. That attitude's worked out for me."
McCutchen back in lineup as Alvarez rests
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates opened a seven-game homestand Monday following trips to Philadelphia and St. Louis. They finished the road trip 4-3, but were dealt a few minor injuries to their lineup along the way.All-Star center fielder Andrew McCutchen left Saturday's game in the seventh inning after spraining his left wrist on a diving play in the third. McCutchen sat out Sunday, a day that saw Pedro Alvarez exit the game in the eighth inning because of leg cramps. "You never know when injuries are going to jump up on you or what they're going to bring, so you try to manage them to the best of your ability," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We'll try and be proactive with both these guys, and get them back on the field when it's smart." After having Sunday off, McCutchen was back in the lineup against the Astros on Monday. Alvarez did not start, but Hurdle said he'd be available off the bench. "The leg's not cramping up any longer," Hurdle said of Alvarez. "He went out and did all his work and felt like he was close, but we might be in a situation where one more day might put us in a better place." Since June 16, Alvarez led the National League with seven home runs and 19 RBIs entering Monday. McCutchen enters Monday's game with 15 homers, 51 RBIs and 14 stolen bases, numbers that nobody else in baseball has equaled in full. He also owned a .346 batting average, fifth best in the Majors. It must have been alarming for fans in Pittsburgh when their newly minted two-time All-Star outfielder did not immediately hop up upon making the play in St. Louis on Saturday. But McCutchen told reporters Monday his wrist was fine, and he felt so normal on Sunday that he could have played. "I dove for the ball, and I really didn't know what happened. Right when I caught the ball, my wrist was just kind of tight, and I didn't know why," said McCutchen, who saw a slight hyperextension on the replay. "It's not a big deal at all."
McKenry filling in admirably for Barajas
PITTSBURGH -- In addition to Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez, catcher Rod Barajas has missed time after sustaining a bone bruise on his left knee against the Phillies last week.Barajas hasn't played in five of the last six games. He was going to start Monday but was scratched prior to the first pitch, three days after going 0-for-5 with two strikeouts in the Pirates' series-opening win over the Cardinals. In filling in for Barajas over the last week, Michael McKenry has exceeded expectations in the batter's box. The backup catcher was batting .455 (10-for-22) over his last six games entering Monday. He hit three home runs on his way to knocking in nine runs during the now-completed road trip. Going into Monday's game, Pittsburgh's catchers are tied for third in the National League with 13 home runs. "Isn't it great what the season can bring?" Bucs manager Clint Hurdle said. "We hadn't really done much behind the plate. As you continue to give men opportunities, and you give them reps, and they show up, they figure some things out." While the production at the plate has surely pleased Pirates fans, what they might like to see now is more runners caught stealing. In 40 steal attempts, Barajas has cut down just two runners. McKenry has been better, throwing out four runners in 21 chances. "We're doing what we feel we need to do to compete off the mound. The catchers are having to sacrifice some personal numbers in throwing people out due to that, but that hasn't presented a big complication yet," Hurdle said. "But those two guys behind the plate have given us very good support defensively and now offensively, as well.
McCutchen was named the National League Player of the Month for June. Across the NL, the All-Star ranked second in RBIs (26), third in batting average (.370), tied for third in home runs (seven) and seventh in both slugging percentage (.676) and on-base percentage (.420). The only player in baseball to match McCutchen's 73 total bases was Robinson Cano of the Yankees. In winning the award, McCutchen beat out Aaron Hill -- who hit for the cycle twice in June -- and fellow NL Central players Joey Votto of Cincinnati and the Brewers' Ryan Braun. Triple-A prospect Starling Marte was recently named the International League Player of the Week over the period from June 25 to July 1. In that time, he led the league with three home runs, 15 hits and a .968 slugging percentage. Marte hit .484 and drove in 13 runs during the week. He also had two doubles and two triples, collecting multiple hits in each of the seven games. Second baseman Neil Walker entered Monday's game against Houston riding a five-game hitting streak. Over his last seven games, Walker was batting .407 (11-for-27) with three doubles and four RBIs.
One way or another -- this time, helped by a rare wild streak by James McDonald -- one team or the other -- but not both -- keeps scoring in the first inning of Pirates games. The Astros on Monday made it 17 out of the last 20 games. The Pirates have done it eight times, their foes nine, but not once during that stretch have both scored in the opening inning.
Gerrit Cole rebounded nicely on Monday night from that line drive to his chin, going 5 2/3 innings at Binghamton and allowing six hits and two runs, one of them earned. He walked one and struck out five in his third start for Double-A Altoona.
The Pirates improved their record when getting 10-plus hits to 19-3, a winning percentage of .864. Giving that statistic some context, under those conditions, the Reds play .808 (21-5) ball, the Cardinals .622 (23-14) and the Yankees .778 (21-6).
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.