PITTSBURGH - Facing a confrontation with Cincinnati left-hander Tony Cingrani, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle's search for an offensive pick-me-up led to Gaby Sanchez batting cleanup.
Pedro Alvarez, in the four-hole in each of his first 21 starts of the season, was dropped to No. 5.
"Just trying to help. Runs have been hard to come by," Hurdle said prior to the finale of the four-game series with the Reds. "I just want to find a way to get more guys into play. Gaby has shown up well against left-handed pitching, so we're trying to make the most of this opportunity."
The Bucs were facing a left-handed starter for only the second time this season. On the first occasion, Alvarez remained at cleanup against the Cubs' Travis Wood, going 0-for-3 against him. Later in that April 10 game, he struck a game-deciding three-run homer off another lefty, reliever James Russell.
So Cingrani's presence wasn't as responsible for lowering Alvarez in the batting order as the third baseman's overall struggles. He entered the game hitting .173, with three hits in his last 22 at-bats.
Alvarez is second in the National League with six homers, which have accounted for 10 of his 13 RBIs.
McCutchen's discipline on display for Pirates
PITTSBURGH -- The phrase "lead by example" gets liberally tossed around Major League clubhouses, yet is seldom defined.
Andrew McCutchen took care of that Wednesday night. In their loss to the Reds, Pirates batters were on the receiving end of a total of 151 pitches. McCutchen saw 32 of them.
That skewered ratio resulted from the stubborn, confident approach manager Clint Hurdle urges the rest of his lineup to adopt. It yields results: McCutchen hit one of those 32 pitches out of the park and another safely to left for two of the Bucs' six hits in the 5-2 defeat.
"That's what our men all need to buy into," Hurdle said. "Then have the disciplines and stubbornness to do it. That's what separates hitters at this level."
Less than two weeks after reposing below "the Mendoza Line," McCutchen entered Thursday with 18 hits in his last 48 at-bats, raising his average from .194 to .298.
"Most teams have a go-to guy in the lineup," said Hurdle, who recalled Todd Helton, his Colorado first baseman, in the same light. "At [a count of] 0-and-2 on him, we'd laugh in the dugout, 'Now he's got 'em.'
"They'd waste two pitches, take a couple of stabs at getting him out -- foul, foul -- and now it's a nine-pitch at-bat, and now it's a double. Cutch showed that last night again."
McCutchen's longest at-bat was a 10-pitch duel with Cincinnati starter Alfredo Simon leading off the third inning. Four pitches in, the count stood 2-2. McCutchen fouled off four straight full-count fastballs and deposited the next one in the left-field seats for his third home run in as many games.
• Wandy Rodriguez (right knee discomfort) on Thursday threw his first bullpen since being placed on the disabled list on Monday and is tentatively on target for an April 30 rehab start. In the interim, he's down for another side session Sunday in St. Louis.
• Hurdle is keeping close watch on another lefty, Jeff Locke, at Indianapolis. Locke has made two starts for the Indians, most recently allowing a pair of earned runs in six innings on Monday. "[That] outing was much better," Hurdle said. "Good fastball command, the ball down in the zone, some swing-and-miss stuff. It was a nice step in the right direction."
• Entering Thursday's game having homered in three straight, McCutchen's next target was Alvarez: He homered in four consecutive games last season, June 20-23.
First number, last word
33: Pirates' club record for most home runs prior to May, set in 1996; the Bucs took 28 homers into Thursday's game, the first of six remaining April games.
"There's 18 watches ... the first-base coach got one, guys in the dugout got one. When our release times give them an opening, they try to take advantage of some situations." -- Hurdle, on the Reds' aggressive baserunning and the way it plays off how quickly the pitcher delivers the ball.
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.