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Pregame: Pirates and Tigers meet at the Crossroads

Hannah Foslien

Important four game set for both teams

Yesterday, Clint Hurdle said that the Pirates were approaching a "crossroads" regarding Neil Walker's status. At the risk of making too much of the next four games, it also could be said that Pirates and Tigers are meeting at a crossroads in their seasons.

Both teams are embroiled in tight postseason races. Both are coming off disappointing series losses over the weekend. And, both are making complicated roster decisions and dealing with health issues with their elite player. (Miguel Cabrera is dealing with "aches and pains" and has hit only three home runs since July 1st.)

As you would expect, Hurdle wasn't eager to endorse the characterization.

"If you want to [define it that way], go ahead," Hurdle said. "We've been facing crossroads at certain points every month we've come across, just based on some of the questions I've had in this room. This is a challenging time, there's no doubt about that. But, I don't think we need to make more out of it than what we've got in our hands."

Alvarez gets extended work at first base

Pedro Alvarez took grounders at third base well before batting practice this afternoon. He then shifted over to first base for about 20-30 minutes worth of work. Today was the longest continuous session of I've seen him take over at first. I can't speak to the subtleties of the position very well, but from a distance he certainly did not look awkward or confused by the angles or throws.

The best guess that few of us in the press box had concerning when he play at first was the upcoming series in Washington. To that end, Hurdle said, "There will be a day here soon when you'll see him over there."

No decision on Cole

Hurdle did not have information regarding the next step in Gerrit Cole's rehabilitation program.

"His last outing was very, very good," Hurdle said. "All the things we wanted to show up, showed up."

Cole only threw 74 pitches in six innings work. The low number of pitches is odd and certainly not what the organization was expecting, it appears.

"The number of pitches, 74, is something we're going to need to talk about," Hurdle said.

Asked if it was a positive sign, because it meant he made quick work of batters, Hurdle responded, "It's good in that he was very efficient. But we need to discuss the volume. How many more can we anticipate in the next start? Or, whenever he gets the ball next, how many can we look to get from him?"

Then, Hurdle was asked if Cole was on a limit in Indianapolis, and who made the decision to limit his pitch count.

"There was no limit. This was a decision made by the people that were there. We wanted it to be efficient, we wanted him to get after it, to give him everything he got and see where that took him."

I'm not sure exactly what to make of Hurdle's comments. If Cole was not on a limit, why the low pitch count? Two reasons that I can think of are either someone in Indianapolis made a decision based on Cole showing signs of fatigue, or Cole indicated that he was starting to feel some fatigue or discomfort. Both explanations are purely speculative on my part, and the real reason may be completely unrelated.

I also wonder if Hurdle's comment about Cole's next scheduled start or "whenever he gets the ball next," may indicate that the team is thinking about having him pitch out of the bullpen next. This seems really unlikely, but the fact that Hurdle qualified the "next start" comment raised a few eyebrows and led to some discussion in the press box.

When Cole met with reporters, he said that his body is responded just as you would expect after so much time between throwing in a live game at full speed. (The Pirates described Cole's outing before this one as intentionally much less aggressive.)

"There was just a little bit of, I hadn't pitched in a game in awhile," Cole said. "Coming out after the first outing  I was just sore all over ... I just have to wait and see what the plan is going to be [going forward]."

Personal note

I'm have to admit that I'm looking forward to covering this four game series a little more than usual. I grew up outside Detroit, and the Tigers were the team I grew up with and cared a lot about. I thought I would have the chance to cover last year's series, but an unexpected health issue popped up and I had to miss it. It added insult to literal injury.

Covering the Pirates continues to be a great experience. When people ask about it, I usually say, "If you told 14 year old me that one day I'd be doing this, I wouldn't have been able to wait to grow up." But, this series is going to be a little more special, so I want to once again thank Charlie for the opportunity and the BD community for making it possible.

Enjoy the games.