PITTSBURGH -- History may record July 8, 2013, as the day Pedro Alvarez permanently moved into the Pirates' cleanup spot. The All-Star third baseman's recent consistency and increased comfort against left-handed pitching merited the move. Batting in the four-hole for the first time since April 5, Alvarez went 2-for-4 in Monday night's 2-1 loss to the A's while making solid contact all four at-bats.
He was back in that high-profile, high-responsibility spot Tuesday night -- and perhaps evermore. In other words, manager Clint Hurdle's vision of his most potent lineup having Alvarez batting fourth may be coming into focus.
"What he feels is more important than what I'm seeing," Hurdle said, "but he's in a very comfortable position now. His confidence level has been good. He's getting older, smarter, more experienced.
"He's putting his foot down [the timing mechanism] on time and has become more of a bully in the box."
Entering Tuesday's action, Alvarez had hit in 18 of 20 games, raising his average from .212 to .249. He had eight homers and 19 RBIs in that span, impressing everyone including Hurdle, who planted him at cleanup. Everyone, that is, with the possible exception of David Wright, the captain of the 2013 Chevrolet Home Run Derby squad who bypassed Alvarez in picking his three cohorts for Monday's long-ball fest.
The omission has Bucs Nation up in arms. Hurdle clearly did not think of it as a major issue, though he appeared to relish the fact the Mets and Wright would be in PNC Park this weekend to close out the first-half schedule.
"It worked out that way for a reason; I'm good with that, and we'll move on," Hurdle said of Alvarez being left off the Derby team. "Our fanbase will have an opportunity to show its feelings this weekend -- and we do have passionate fans here."
Walker on DL with possible oblique injury
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates on Tuesday placed second baseman Neil Walker on the 15-day disabled list with right side soreness retroactive to Sunday. The team called up Josh Harrison, who could provide bench help heading into and coming out of the All-Star break.
Manager Clint Hurdle on Tuesday afternoon implied that the second baseman's injury, previously generically placed on his right side, actually involved the oblique.
"We're going to have conversations right up to game time," Hurdle said about three hours before first pitch against Oakland at PNC Park. "We'll make the best decision possible, for now and going forward. We played short [Monday] night, are we going to play short again Wednesday?
"Neil's had some conversations with other guys who've had something like this, trying to get a grip on what's best for the oblique."
Walker, who detected the discomfort in his right side midway through Saturday's game against the Cubs in Chicago, has tried dry swings with the bat, having more difficulty from the left side than from the right.
Harrison was optioned a week ago to Indianapolis but was able to be recalled prior to the routine 10-day waiting period because he was replacing a player on the DL.
In Walker's absence, the Bucs turned to a double-play combination of Clint Barmes and Jordy Mercer for Tuesday's game. Mercer, ordinarily the regular shortstop, made his first start at second base since June 4.
First number, last word
15: Consecutive starts of having allowed three earned runs or fewer by All-Star left-hander Jeff Locke.
"One of the best instructors we have is failure." -- Hurdle, on how his Pirates could benefit from their recent three-game losing streak during which they went 3-for-24 with runners in scoring position.
• Entering Tuesday night's game, Pirates pitchers had allowed one home run in their last 100 innings at PNC Park.
• Over the course of the 10-game hitting streak Andrew McCutchen brought into Tuesday's game, he had raised his average from .287 to .303 by going 16-for-38.
• In Monday's game, the A's scored an Interleague victory while being limited to three hits for the first time since June 27, 2010, also against the Pirates, in a 3-2 win in Oakland.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.