MIL@PIT: Alvarez smashes four hits, including homer

MILWAUKEE -- After a one-game hiatus, Pedro Alvarez was back in the Pirates' lineup Wednesday night. But the National League home run leader was not back in the cleanup spot. Justin Morneau remained in the four-hole, with Alvarez slotted No. 6 against Brewers righty Wily Peralta.

The recent acquisition of the longtime Minnesota cleanup hitter moved manager Clint Hurdle from his long-held belief that the Bucs' lineup would max out with Alvarez as the No. 4 hitter.

"If Morneau is not here, Pedro would hit fourth," Hurdle said. "But the added level of experience and different skill set connects the dots a little more solidly through the middle. We're set up better. Not the same swing-and-miss or power, so there's a give and take. But with the quality of the at-bats, it makes more sense to go this way right now.

"This was the plan all along [once Morneau arrived]. You've got a guy that's absolutely done it -- and a guy growing into it. This balances it better one through eight. And Pete has shown the ability to drive in runs from the six spot, so now you've got danger there, too."

Alvarez had collected 42 percent of his RBIs (36 of 86) while taking only 38 percent of his at-bats (178 of 474) in the six-hole. Career-long, those percentages are 39 and 35.

Morneau was primarily the cleanup hitter during his 11 seasons with the Twins.

The new alignment will also challenge opposing managers' ability to make matchup moves with their bullpens. One through seven, the Pirates alternate right-handed and left-handed batters: Jose Tabata, switch-hitting Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen, Morneau, Marlon Byrd, Alvarez and John Buck (Wednesday night, Russell Martin most of the time).

Wandy feels good, slated for rehab start Friday

CIN@PIT: Wandy goes seven strong, fans five Reds

MILWAUKEE -- Wandy Rodriguez has been on his stop-and-go comeback trail from an early-June forearm injury for 2 1/2 months. But not before Tuesday night had he experienced what he did in his latest bullpen session: Nothing.

As in, no discomfort, no pain, no worries.

"He got after it and threw and didn't feel anything," relayed manager Clint Hurdle. "That's the first time that he's thrown and said afterward that there's nothing there.

"It was his most efficient bullpen [session]. He felt great, is in a very good place and looking forward to pitching for Indianapolis."

The rehab start for the Triple-A Indians comes up on Friday and is mapped out for three innings or 50 pitches. After that episode, the club will have a better idea whether Hurdle's renewed optimism that Rodriguez could be a postseason participant is misplaced.

Rodriguez is one of six players currently on the 60-day disabled list.

Worth noting

Jeff Locke was walking around beaming following his early-Wednesday side session, calling it "great, felt loose and refreshed, just on top of everything." Needless to add, the lefty is on for his Saturday start in St. Louis.

Starling Marte was to again try gripping a bat with both hands in workouts prior to Wednesday's game. Marte became eligible to come off the DL on Wednesday, but his bruised right hand is nowhere near playing condition. Swinging and throwing with force are still a long way off.

First number, last word

66: Morneau's new uniform number, as of Wednesday night's game. With the Twins, the first baseman wore No. 33 -- retired by the Pirates in honor of charter Hall of Famer Honus Wagner. Morneau wore No. 36 for his first three games with the Bucs, then decided to just double his original number.

"It was strong, very strong. A lot. I'm still naive enough to have tried to respond to all of them. It was very humbling -- and quite meaningful." -- Hurdle on the volume of his text messages following Tuesday's win, the Pirates' losing-record-avoiding 81st of the season.