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Alvarez likely to become familiar face at cleanup

PITTSBURGH -- History may record July 8, 2013, as the day Pedro Alvarez permanently moved into the Pirates' cleanup spot. The All-Star third baseman's recent consistency and increased comfort against left-handed pitching merited the move. Batting in the four-hole for the first time since April 5, Alvarez went 2-for-4 in Monday night's 2-1 loss to the A's while making solid contact all four at-bats.

He was back in that high-profile, high-responsibility spot Tuesday night -- and perhaps evermore. In other words, manager Clint Hurdle's vision of his most potent lineup having Alvarez batting fourth may be coming into focus.

"What he feels is more important than what I'm seeing," Hurdle said, "but he's in a very comfortable position now. His confidence level has been good. He's getting older, smarter, more experienced.

"He's putting his foot down [the timing mechanism] on time and has become more of a bully in the box."

Entering Tuesday's action, Alvarez had hit in 18 of 20 games, raising his average from .212 to .249. He had eight homers and 19 RBIs in that span, impressing everyone including Hurdle, who planted him at cleanup. Everyone, that is, with the possible exception of David Wright, the captain of the 2013 Chevrolet Home Run Derby squad who bypassed Alvarez in picking his three cohorts for Monday's long-ball fest.

The omission has Bucs Nation up in arms. Hurdle clearly did not think of it as a major issue, though he appeared to relish the fact the Mets and Wright would be in PNC Park this weekend to close out the first-half schedule.

"It worked out that way for a reason; I'm good with that, and we'll move on," Hurdle said of Alvarez being left off the Derby team. "Our fanbase will have an opportunity to show its feelings this weekend -- and we do have passionate fans here."

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.
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