The Pirates will need Clint Barmes to contribute down the stretch as they battle for a playoff spot, and the veteran infielder knows he will just have to play through some pain to help the club the rest of the way.
Barmes began a rehab assignment Wednesday with the Curve, although he only worked out with the team and didn't play in the game. He will test his injured groin for the first time since June 29 when he plays five innings tonight against Trenton at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
"I'm excited to see how it's going to feel being in a game and having the lights on and just testing it," Barmes said after the Curve's 4-2 win over the Thunder before 7,078 fans.
Barmes' rehab schedule has him playing five innings tonight, then he will work out with the Curve on Friday in Erie but won't play in the game. He'll play five innings in Saturday's contest for Altoona, then fly to Indianapolis on Sunday to join the Triple-A club.
The groin injury has recovered enough for him to play, but he's still not 100 percent and probably won't be the remainder of the season.
"I can still feel the soreness in there, and the soreness is not going to completely go away," he said. "So I'll battle, but I will feel kind of a soreness in that area for the rest of the season, for sure.
Covering the bases
LEADING OFF: LF Andy Vasquez had a big game for the Curve on Wednesday, going 3-for-4 with three RBIs. He singled home the first two runs of the game in the third and later put Altoona on top to stay with an RBI single in the seventh for a 3-2 lead. Vasquez has been an unsung hero and versatile member of the club this season, hitting .276 with nine homers and 30 RBIs while playing the outfield, shortstop and second base.
SAFE AT FIRST: Nate Baker (2-0) won in relief for the Curve, while Kenn Kasparek picked up his 11th save. Cesar Cabral (0-2) took the loss for Trenton.
STEALING SECOND: C Ramon Cabrera once again is a member of the Curve. He played for Altoona in 2012 before spending most of last year and all of this season with Erie. The Pirates claimed him off waivers from the Tigers and optioned him to the Curve. Cabrera is a .288 career hitter who was batting .277 with five homers and 47 RBIs for Erie this year. He hit .276 with three homers and 50 RBIs for Altoona in 2012.
ROUNDING THIRD: Tuesday night's game, which included a rain delay of 2 hours, 18 minutes and didn't end until after midnight, featured an interesting finish. SS Gift Ngoepe dropped down a perfect squeeze bunt that scored CF Keon Broxton from third to give the Curve a 3-2 walk-off win in the ninth.
HEADING HOME: There nearly could have been a very peculiar scenario during the Curve's next series at Erie. RHP Buck Farmer started for the Tigers on Wednesday against the Pirates, but he's likely to be sent back down to Erie, where he had made only two starts after coming up from Single-A. There could have been a situation where a pitcher started against the Bucs, then made his next start against the Curve. But alas, Altoona's final game against the SeaWolves is Sunday, and Farmer's next scheduled start would be Monday.
- Cory Giger
"It's had enough time to recover, to heal back, but there's no guarantee that I can't do it again. I've done everything, I've waited as long as I could for the recovery, and at this point it feels good enough to play."
He will still feel some soreness making backhand plays and when he takes a quick first step to either side, but even with that he's expected to be relied upon by the Pirates for his defensive prowess.
Barmes is no longer the Bucs' everyday shortstop, but in tight games during a playoff race, manager Clint Hurdle undoubtedly will feel comfortable having the veteran in games late. That's especially true since utility man Josh Harrison might have to stay put at third base rather than move around because of Pedro Alvarez's throwing problems, and also because of second baseman Neil Walker's back issues.
The Pirates currently are using Jayson Nix and Michael Martinez as backup infielders, and neither is as reliable as Barmes.
Like everyone else, Barmes has been impressed with how Harrison has stepped up and become a very valuable member of the Bucs this season.
"I can't say I've ever seen it how much energy and all he brings to the club and how important he is for the success we've had this year," Barmes said. "I can't speak highly enough on how impressive he's been."
Shortstop Jordy Mercer, who has been red hot at the plate since July 1, also drew praise from Barmes.
"They're a huge part of why the team is where they're at right now," he said of Harrison and Mercer. "With (Andrew McCutchen) going down and having Walker out of the lineup, (Alvarez) out of the lineup, those are some big, big pieces.
"The way J-Hay has stepped up this whole year, and especially as of late, and Mercer swinging the bat the way he's been swinging, it has been a huge part of why we're competing for the division and to get back to the playoffs."
SUBHD: Game recap
Key player: LF Andy Vasquez went 3-for-4 with three RBIs for the Curve.
Key play: Vasquez's RBI single in the seventh broke up a 2-2 tie and put Altoona on top to stay.
Key stat: The Curve are only two games below .500 at home (30-32) and still have a chance to climb above the mark with eight games left at PNG Field.
SUBHD: How they scored
Bottom 3rd: Hanson walked, Maggi singled, both scored on Vasquez single (2-0).
Top 6th: Castillo singled, scored on Austin single (2-1).
Top 7th: Williams singled, scored on Gamel single (2-2).
Bottom 7th: Hanson walked, scored on Vasquez single (3-2); Brown single scored Vasquez (4-2