ST. LOUIS -- With the Pirates holding just a half-game lead over the Cardinals heading into this three-game series in St. Louis this weekend, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle wouldn't deny that this is a big series for his club.
But, Hurdle recalls having been asked how "big" or "important" a series will be before practically each series the Pirates have played this season. Such is life playing in the National League Central with three teams separated by 1 1/2 games at the top.With that in mind, Hurdle won't be taking this three-game set any more seriously than he usually does or look too far into the future. That "one game at a time" mentality is more his speed.
"Time will tell, time will tell," Hurdle said before Friday's game. "There's so many intangibles that come along the way ... injuries, additions, subtractions, we're not gonna change our mindset. We're gonna continue to go out there and play these games one day at a time. That's what suits us best. That's what we're best built for, and then we'll go from there."
Hurdle's club keeps the same mentality.
"I think every series is," catcher Michael McKenry when asked how big this weekend's series is. "We're almost to the halfway point and we want to go into the All Star break with the best record we can. If we can go out on top or in second place, whatever it may be, we have to take it one day at a time and not worry about who the other team is, but worry about ourselves and try to play to the best of our ability and not make any mistakes."
Barajas takes over behind the plate
ST.LOUIS -- Pirates catcher Rod Barajas was back in the lineup for Friday night's series opener against the Cardinals after missing three games with a bone bruise in his left knee.Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Barajas was available in an emergency situation on Thursday night, but that he and Barajas felt another day of rest would be beneficial.
"We figured the game yesterday, having another full day of resting would put me in a good spot for today, so [I'm] still waking up sore and that's going to continue to happen with the bruise," Barajas said on Friday. "It's gonna take a while before that heals, but I feel good enough to go out there and compete today."
"He's done a fantastic job of pushing himself aggressively, but not over aggressively," Hurdle said. "So we feel confident that he's in a position now to compete again."
Barajas sustained the injury on Monday in Philadelphia on a play at the plate with Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Barajas said he'll evaluate the condition of his knee on a day-to-day basis, making sure it heals properly.
Barajas said he spoke with Rollins, who also battled a deep bone bruise of his own last June, before leaving Philadelphia. Rollins told Barajas that the injury caused him to feel great one day and sore the next. Barajas expects nothing different with his case.
"It's just like any other kind of bruise," Barajas said. "Over time it heals but at the same time, if you keep poking it and just irritating it, it's gonna take longer for it to go away. It's something that we're going to have to see how the wear and tear of catching affects it."
Michael McKenry did a fine job filling in for Barajas in Philadelphia. The 27-year-old hit .571 (8-for-14) with two homers and six RBIs in four games. Hurdle said the club hopes Barajas can play nine innings on Friday, but McKenry will be available if needed.
After going on a hot streak in Barajas' absence, McKenry understands and accepts going back to the bench.
"I think it's the life of a catcher," he said. "When I first started this season, I tried to prepare for the day I was going to play but I've learned as a backup catcher, you have to be ready every single day no matter what. You prepare for the starting pitcher that's throwing that day, and be prepared for whatever situation."
McKenry, who has yet to spend a full season in the big leagues, said Barajas' guidance has been crucial in his development as a Major League catcher. For example, McKenry caught Pirates ace A.J. Burnett on Thursday for the first time this season, and Barajas was there the whole game to coach him along.
"He's really taken me under his wing. He's full of knowledge," McKenry said. "He's got 12 years in the big leagues. Anyway you can bridge that gap, which he's helping me do, teaching me as much as he can where you bridge that gap where I feel like I don't have just a year and a half in the big leagues, but I have five or six years of knowledge.
"We're just happy to have him back. He controls the pitching staff, he's a good leader on the field so it's just good to have him back."
Sutton getting a chance at top of the order
ST. LOUIS -- Left fielder Drew Sutton batted leadoff for the second straight game on Friday as the Pirates opened a three-game series in St. Louis.
Sutton, who was claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay on Sunday, went 1-for-3 with a walk and a run scored in a 5-4 win over Philadelphia on Thursday. He is 4-for-8 with two doubles and two RBIs in three games for the Pirates.
"[The way] our team is built right now, we have to use everybody, we have to use them appropriately and accordingly," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I think Drew has come out of the box pretty clean, as far as getting on base, getting good looks, pretty good at-bats. We'll continue to go with him as long as we're getting the kind of production up there that is helping the ballclub."
Hurdle said he will still consider using both Alex Presley and Jose Tabata in the leadoff spot in the near future. Presley has appeared in 37 games at leadoff this season, hitting .245 and posting a .273 on-base percentage. Tabata is hitting .197 in 34 games while hitting first.
Temperatures are expected to be above 100 degrees all weekend in St. Louis. Rumors circled around the clubhouses on Friday afternoon that the game time for Saturday's contest (1:15 p.m. CT) would be pushed back to later in the day. But there was no word from the Cardinals of such a thing happening.
Backup catcher Michael McKenry, who said he used to lose about eight pounds a game playing in the Texas League in the Rockies' organization in 2009, said the heat is just another part of the game.
"If you don't think about it, it's just like playing that Little League game," McKenry said. "We always used to talk about thinking about the ice cream or the slushie after the game. Go play in the sprinklers afterward. It's baseball, it's meant to be played outside. That's the fun part. You challenge yourself. You challenge your body to a whole new limit. I think that will be fun this weekend." Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he hasn't done any lobbying for his players to be sent to the Major League All-Star Game, to played on July 10 in Kansas City.
"Doesn't do you any good," Hurdle said of lobbying for his players. "I've been a guy that's been lobbied to. Didn't do them any good. It is what is and you see what you see, and those guys see what they see, they've reached out to the people they want to reach out to. Let the process run its course. We'll see who makes it and who doesn't." The Pirates entered Friday with 46 home runs on the road, which ranked second in the National League only to St. Louis (49).
Mike Still is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.