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Hurdle a source of optimism in Pirates dugout

Despite Cardinals' lead, skipper knows it's too early to count out Bucs

PITTSBURGH -- The season has not yet reached the All-Star break. The halfway mark lies more than a week away. Yet Pittsburgh is diligently monitoring the standings and watching the out-of-town scoreboard on a daily basis.

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Why? The Pirates have been the hottest team in baseball for a month and a half. They entered Thursday having lost four of their last five games, but still owned a 27-15 since May 9, the best mark in the Majors.

In that time, they've surpassed the Reds and Cubs, but moved only one game closer to the National League Central-leading Cardinals. Seemingly impervious to injuries or slumps, St. Louis has gone 25-17 during that same stretch.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle recalled a recent conversation in which someone told him the Bucs will never catch the Cardinals in the standings, not with a seven-game deficit entering Thursday night.

The other person in that conversation failed to recognize two things: There are more than 90 games left to be played, and Hurdle is unfailingly optimistic.

"What if we win every game?" Hurdle responded. "I said, 'What if we win every game?' You might catch 'em. I said, 'OK, I'm good. That's all I needed to know.'"

In other words, it may be a bit too early in the season for scoreboard-watching at PNC Park.

Around the horn
• The Trade Deadline is nearly a month away, and the rumor mill is starting to churn. The Boston Globe reported Thursday that the Pirates have been scouting Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz.

• The Pirates have been closely monitoring their players' activity and fatigue levels this season. One of the more traditional metrics they consider, Hurdle said, is the number of defensive innings played.

Left fielder Starling Marte, who was out of Thursday's lineup, entered the night leading the team with 605 2/3 innings over 70 games.

• Triple-A Indianapolis placed right-hander Casey Sadler on the seven-day disabled list on Wednesday with a right forearm strain. Sadler, who made a spot start earlier this season, was perhaps the Pirates' top rotation depth option in Triple-A.

• Left-hander Brandon Waddell, the Pirates' fifth-round Draft pick, threw seven innings and earned the win as the University of Virginia beat Vanderbilt, 4-2, to capture the College World Series championship Wednesday night.

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.
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