PITTSBURGH - Has a change of defensive positions improved Pedro Alvarez's offense?
Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle acknowledged that as a possibility before Tuesday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Alvarez entered the game with three home runs in 11 at bats, the first power surge he's shown this season. Is it just a coincidence that it came after he moved from third base to first base to escape the throwing problems he's developed this season?
"You never know in this game what can bring freedom, what can bring confidence," Hurdle said. "You hit one, you get some confidence."
Hurdle has also been encouraged by the location of the home runs. Rather than pulling the ball to right field, Alvarez has been driving the ball to the opposite field and hitting it to center.
"The fact that he hit them all in the big parts of the ballpark, those are good signs," Hurdle said.
Shortstop Jordy Mercer was out of the starting lineup, replaced by Clint Barmes, who just came off the disabled list on Monday.
Mercer didn't get many days off when Barmes was sidelined, and Hurdle was anxious to get him one.
As is his habit, Hurdle told Mercer on Monday night that he would get Tuesday off.
How does a manager know when a player needs a break?
"You have to do what's best for the player," Hurdle said. "When you watch these guys every night, you watch movement, you watch the at-bats, the running, all those different things. I do believe our guys, the self-evaluation has become better with each and every one of them.
"Sometimes you just need to get them off their feet, no matter who you're playing. We played multiple games this year where you've probably looked at the lineup and said, they're not playing this guy or that guy, what are they doing? We won the game. You have to do what's best for the player.
"There will come a time when you may have to push all your chips in. Really for us, we've been playing that way all year. There's not another gear you hit with 50 games left, 30 games left. The effort, the focus, the attitude, the preparation has been there every night. But there are nights when guys need to get off their feet and catch their breath."
Hurdle believes that an occasional day off, with advance notice, is very helpful.
"It pays tremendous dividends," he said. "It's been my experience with guys, especially premium guys, who have seen a lot of action. (Josh) Harrison is playing a lot of games he hasn't played before. Mercer, the same thing. You need to be cognizant of it and give them a chance to catch their breath."
n The Pirates will send eight players to the Arizona Fall League, including Curve outfielder Josh Bell, who will play first base.
The Pirates will carefully monitor the workload of the players, especially pitchers.
Nick Kingham will make just a handful of appearances in Arizona after a busy season between Class AA and AAA.
The Pirates will also limit the innings of Tyler Glasnow, Adrian Sampson and Joely Rodriguez.
The other players scheduled to report are lefthander Tom Harlan, catcher Elias Diaz and infielder Dan Gamache.
Jeff Banister, the Pirates bench coach, will manage the team.