Pennant race takes its toll on Bucs

PITTSBURGH – There is one month left in the season, which means two things:

The intensity is picking up, and the players are wearing down.

The Pittsburgh Pirates got Andrew McCutchen back for Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, but Pedro Alvarez remained out, and Travis Snider was forced to leave the game.

McCutchen returned after exiting Tuesday’s game early because of discomfort in his left rib cage. McCutchen was hurt when he banged into the wall making a catch.

Alvarez left Tuesday’s game with a foot injury he sustained while diving for a batted ball at first base. He had a walking boot on before the game, but discarded it after he returned from an appointment with doctors.

Snider left Wednesday’s game in the third inning with a hamstring injury after running out a bunt single. The Pirates said Snider would report for treatment today, an open date on the schedule, and be evaluated again on Friday.

Snider said he felt as though his left leg was cramping as he ran, and he didn’t want to risk having to run hard on the bases.

The biggest issue is McCutchen, the team’s best player who is playing through the rib cage injury that landed him on the disabled list for the first time in his career.

“I’m not going to be passive,” McCutchen said. “I’m going to keep playing like I play. If my body says no, it says no. It’s nothing big. This takes time to heal. There are going to be days like this.”

There have been times when McCutchen has visibly grimaced while running or exerting himself on a swing.

“There’s a difference between playing injured and playing hurt,” McCutchen said. “I’m playing hurt.”

McCutchen said he doubts he’ll be 100 percent healthy until the season ends and he gets a chance to get some extended rest.

Manager Clint Hurdle said he trusts players to let him know when they can’t go.

Today’s open date will be welcomed. Neil Walker is playing through soreness in his lower back, and shortstop Jordy Mercer is dealing with a forearm strain.

After today, there are just two open dates left on the schedule. One comes next Thursday in Chicago, and the other is Sept. 15 at home.

SUBHEAD: Filling in

The Pirates wanted to move Alvarez off third base because of his ongoing problems with making throws.

Before he was moved to first base, Alvarez was being removed for a defensive replacement in the late innings.

The team has upgraded its defense at third base with Josh Harrison, who made a sparkling diving play to potentially save a run in Wednesday’s game.

After starting at five different positions, Harrison knows he’ll be playing at third now.

“I definitely feel more comfortable the more I’m there,” he said.

SUBHEAD: Telling the truth

The Pirates have had to make changes in season, and that’s meant Hurdle has had to deliver some bad news.

He’s been the one to tell players that their playing time will be reduced, and that’s never easy to hear.

The most recent example came Sunday when Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington told rookie Gregory Polanco that he was being sent back to the minor leagues.

Experience has taught Hurdle that dealing honestly with the players is the best approach.

“The perception is you handle these guys,” Hurdle said. “You don’t handle people. You handle animals. You sit them down, you tell them what’s going on, you tell them the truth.

“Players are always able to deal with the truth. They may not like it at first, but it’s the truth, and you get it out there.”