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Musgrove pitches 2 innings in simulated game

Osuna recalled from Triple-A for Game 2
MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- Right-hander Joe Musgrove took a step forward in his return to the mound on Wednesday morning, throwing a higher-intensity simulated game at PNC Park.

Musgrove, on the disabled list with a muscle strain in his right shoulder, threw about 35 pitches over two innings against teammates Max Moroff and Elias Diaz. He said he approached the outing with a "game-type feel," using all of his pitches and ramping up his velocity.

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PITTSBURGH -- Right-hander Joe Musgrove took a step forward in his return to the mound on Wednesday morning, throwing a higher-intensity simulated game at PNC Park.

Musgrove, on the disabled list with a muscle strain in his right shoulder, threw about 35 pitches over two innings against teammates Max Moroff and Elias Diaz. He said he approached the outing with a "game-type feel," using all of his pitches and ramping up his velocity.

View Full Game Coverage

Musgrove has not experienced any setbacks since he was placed on the disabled list on April 2, but the Pirates have monitored the intensity of his throwing sessions. Musgrove said he had been throwing in the 75-85 mph range before airing it out on Wednesday.

"It went really well. It was really encouraging," Musgrove said. "I didn't feel like there was any abnormality in the way I was moving and the things I was doing. The ball was coming out clean. The velo was in a decent range, kind of where I was expecting it to be."

His next step, likely another sim game or a Minor League rehab assignment, will be determined by how he feels playing catch on Thursday and Friday.

"If I bounce back pretty well, then we'll take the next step forward," Musgrove said.

The 26th man
The Pirates recalled Jose Osuna from Triple-A Indianapolis on Wednesday to serve as their 26th player in Game 2 against the Tigers. Manager Clint Hurdle indicated Osuna would start in right field against left-hander Matthew Boyd.

"This gives us an opportunity to get a guy that had a really good spring," Hurdle said. "See if we can take advantage of a unique situation and put another bat in the lineup."

Osuna enjoyed another strong Spring Training, but Pittsburgh's decision to carry eight relievers prevented him from making the Opening Day roster.

"It was very tough in the beginning, especially because I love this team, I want to perform up here, I want to help this team win as much as I can," Osuna said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. "But right away, through the frustration, I had to readjust my mentality because I've got to keep working."

Osuna reported to Triple-A and worked primarily at third base, a relatively new position for him, saying he feels "very comfortable, a lot more confident" there. He has made time for pregame drills at first base and in the outfield and will likely move around the field more often when he returns to Indianapolis, Hurdle said.

Around the horn
• The Pirates have not announced a starter for Sunday's series finale against the Cardinals. Hurdle ruled out a bullpen game, meaning their starter will likely come from Triple-A.

"Speculation's wide open. Check the travel logs or anything you want to do," Hurdle said. "We've got some guys that will be either available before that date or on that date to pitch."

Right-hander Nick Kingham, the Bucs' No. 13 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is scheduled to start Saturday for Indianapolis. If he gets the assignment, it would be his Major League debut.

• Reliever A.J. Schugel, on a rehab assignment, threw two scoreless innings in Triple-A on Tuesday. Director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk said Schugel (right shoulder) will throw again soon, continuing his Spring Training-type buildup.

Josh Harrison (left hand fracture) is "doing everything he can to keep the rest of his body in shape," Tomczyk said.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Joe Musgrove, Jose Osuna

Hurdle has Bucs looking forward following sweep

MLB.com @adamdberry

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates were in a good place heading into Philadelphia last Thursday, riding an all-around, 10-2 drubbing of the Rockies and a 12-6 record into a four-game road series -- their annual "Dads Trip," no less -- against their cross-state rivals.

But they were thoroughly beaten and swept by the Phillies. They were outscored, 18-5. They struggled offensively, defensively and, at times, on the mound. After Monday's off-day at home, manager Clint Hurdle chose to look on the bright side.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates were in a good place heading into Philadelphia last Thursday, riding an all-around, 10-2 drubbing of the Rockies and a 12-6 record into a four-game road series -- their annual "Dads Trip," no less -- against their cross-state rivals.

But they were thoroughly beaten and swept by the Phillies. They were outscored, 18-5. They struggled offensively, defensively and, at times, on the mound. After Monday's off-day at home, manager Clint Hurdle chose to look on the bright side.

"Sometimes you win. Sometimes you learn. It's a saying I like to share with players and coaches," Hurdle said Tuesday, before the Pirates' series opener against the Tigers at PNC Park was postponed due to rain. "The four-game series we had in Philadelphia is probably, from my standpoint, [as] a coaching tool, could be one of the best things that ever happened to us. It happened to us in April.

"In every facet of the game, we showed vulnerability. All of those, the same areas, we'd had strength in. So return to the process, be steadfast and stubborn with the process."

Indeed, the Pirates were the National League's highest-scoring team through last Wednesday. Then they mustered only five runs and struck out 42 times, while recording 23 hits in four games. Their starters had worked at least five innings in every game, before Jameson Taillon recorded only five outs on Thursday. They had only committed six errors all season, before they made two on Saturday and two more on Sunday.

"When it gets to that point where it's uncomfortable, you've got to find a way to be comfortable with [the] uncomfortable," Hurdle said. "You've got to walk tall, look the game in the eye and continue to fight. I think that's one thing we're going to be able to realize coming out of that Phillies series for our offense as well."

The most concerning development has been the Pirates' offensive decline. The Bucs entered Tuesday having scored two or fewer runs in eight of their last 10 games, after averaging 6.42 runs over their first 12 games of the season. The skid coincided with a rise in the Pirates' strikeout rate, and a dip in their walk total, possibly an indication that hitters are trying too hard to swing their way out of slumps.

"Instead of hunting in a pack mentality, it can turn into maybe an independent contractor from time to time," Hurdle said. "They lose that sense of connectedness you can have in the lineup."

Around the horn
• Third baseman Colin Moran and shortstop Jordy Mercer were given scheduled days off on Tuesday. The Pirates wanted to capitalize on Monday's team off-day by giving Moran and Mercer an additional 24 hours to rest. They did the same on the other side of the off-day, as first baseman Josh Bell didn't start Sunday afternoon in Philadelphia.

Video: PIT@PHI: Mercer makes leaping catch to end the 4th

• Starter Joe Musgrove (shoulder muscle strain) threw a 30-pitch bullpen session on Sunday in Philadelphia. He is "on schedule" to pitch a simulated game on Wednesday, Hurdle said. After that, the Pirates will reassess Musgrove's status, possibly planning a Minor League rehab assignment.

• Class A West Virginia outfielder Calvin Mitchell, the Pirates' No. 16 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, was named the South Atlantic League Player of the Week. Mitchell, Pittsburgh's second-round Draft pick last year, hit .467 (14-for-30) with a home run, nine RBIs, five runs and a 1.233 OPS last week.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Inbox: Marte the answer at leadoff for Bucs?

Beat reporter Adam Berry answers questions from fans
MLB.com @adamdberry

What would you do at second base and in the leadoff spot? I like Sean Rodriguez a lot, glad to have him back, but I don't know if I want him batting leadoff for the Buccos.
-- Mark G., Bradenton, Fla.

Since Josh Harrison went down, the Pirates have used Adam Frazier in the leadoff spot four times and Rodriguez three times. Max Moroff also got one start at second base, batting eighth, last Wednesday.

What would you do at second base and in the leadoff spot? I like Sean Rodriguez a lot, glad to have him back, but I don't know if I want him batting leadoff for the Buccos.
-- Mark G., Bradenton, Fla.

Since Josh Harrison went down, the Pirates have used Adam Frazier in the leadoff spot four times and Rodriguez three times. Max Moroff also got one start at second base, batting eighth, last Wednesday.

When he's hitting, Frazier is the Bucs' preferred leadoff man without Harrison. The challenge is that Frazier has struggled to a .561 OPS so far, and Rodriguez and Moroff are better defensive infielders. While Rodriguez tends to crush left-handed pitching, he's still not a prototypical leadoff hitter.

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I'd say they should continue to mix and match at second base, looking for the right opportunities to use Rodriguez and Moroff. Ideally, Frazier will get on track at the plate and answer both questions. (Remember, he slumped to end the first half last season, then batted .304 with an .822 OPS following the All-Star break.) But for now, why not give Starling Marte another shot in the leadoff spot?

It's generally a good idea to give your best hitters more plate appearances, and Marte has added patience -- 12 walks, with a career-best 12.5 percent walk rate -- to his usual blend of average (.274), power (.202 ISO) and speed (seven steals). The challenge in moving Marte is filling the spot he now occupies.

Marte has hit third the past 20 games, a fixture there against right-handers and lefties, so the Pirates would have to move up someone (Dickerson, perhaps) and shuffle the rest of the lineup accordingly. They also could consider moving Dickerson, who often hit first for the Rays last season, into the leadoff spot on occasion.

The other important thing to remember here? No matter who bats where, runs are going to be hard to come by when most of the lineup is slumping at the same time. And over the past week, three hitters with at least 10 at-bats -- Elias Diaz, Rodriguez and Marte -- posted an on-base percentage higher than .300.

The Bucs' lineup might not be as productive as it was the first two weeks of the season, when they slashed a collective .278/.353/.479 and won nine of their first 12 games. They're also not as bad as they've been the past 10 days, slashing just .209/.265/.313 with 17 of their 27 runs coming in two games. I'm all for optimizing, but not overreacting.

What can the Pirates do to fix their middle-relief woes?
-- Alan P., Youngstown, Ohio

They've already taken two strides in that direction by calling up right-hander Kyle Crick, who's looked good after a rough spring, and claiming lefty Enny Romero from the Nationals. They should get more help soon from right-hander A.J. Schugel, who is on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis. Schugel was quietly effective as a versatile middle reliever over the past two years.

It will also help when right-hander Joe Musgrove is healthy enough to start. His return to the rotation likely will bump Steven Brault back to the bullpen, giving manager Clint Hurdle another pitcher he can trust in higher-leverage, multi-inning situations. Pittsburgh's bullpen has a 5.23 ERA, fourth highest in the National League entering Monday, and a 1.49 WHIP that's tied with the Reds for second worst in the NL.

I have been super high on Taylor Hearn since he was acquired in the Mark Melancon trade. Do the Pirates see him as a future starter or a setup man/closer?
-- Zac S., Moundsville, W.Va.

It's hard not to like Hearn, Pittsburgh's No. 11 prospect per MLB Pipeline. He's got premium fastball velocity, a changeup that doesn't get enough credit and an improving slider. The Pirates have clearly liked Hearn for some time, as they drafted him out of high school in 2012 before finally acquiring him along with Felipe Vazquez in the Melancon deal.

The Bucs are going to give the 23-year-old every chance to prove he's a starter. Hearn is currently in the rotation for Double-A Altoona, where he's posted a 3.45 ERA, a 1.02 WHIP and 16 strikeouts with five walks in 15 2/3 innings over three starts. The lower walk rate is encouraging, as his control has been the divisive issue in the starter-or-reliever debate.

Hearn will have to continue to show enough control so that he can pitch deep into games, because he has the arsenal to start. But you're also correct that, if he doesn't make it as a starter, he could develop into a nasty late-inning reliever -- kind of like that lefty he was acquired with.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Starling Marte

Pirates held to two runs by Phillies in loss

Williams effectively wild, carries no-no into 5th
Special to MLB.com

PHILADELPHIA -- In an all-too-familiar tale, the Pirates got more than enough out of their starter, only to see the effort wasted by a struggling offense that can't string together runs.

"It falls in our lap," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We had opportunities. We had them throughout the game. We had a rough week. We need to take a day off and figure it out, and show up ready to play at home [on Tuesday]."

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PHILADELPHIA -- In an all-too-familiar tale, the Pirates got more than enough out of their starter, only to see the effort wasted by a struggling offense that can't string together runs.

"It falls in our lap," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "We had opportunities. We had them throughout the game. We had a rough week. We need to take a day off and figure it out, and show up ready to play at home [on Tuesday]."

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Despite a strong effort by the pitching staff, including six innings of one-hit ball by starter Trevor Williams, the Pirates fell for the fourth time in as many games to the Phillies, on this day a 3-2, 11-inning loss at Citizens Bank Park. Pirates reliever Richard Rodriguez surrendered a one-out RBI single to Aaron Altherr to take the loss.

"We haven't performed well -- I think it's the last 10 games -- for a while now," Hurdle said. "Two games we've performed well offensively, the other eight have been a challenge."

Williams limited the Phillies despite struggling to stay in the strike zone. Of the 92 pitches he threw, 49 were for strikes, which led to several innings in which he had to work harder than his line might indicate. He openly admitted he did not have his best stuff, finding himself in seven 3-0 counts. Still, Williams was able to work the first five innings without a hit, but he also issued five walks.

With the Pirates leading, 2-0, one of those free passes went to Andrew Knapp, which set the stage for his counterpart Nick Pivetta to break up the no-hitter. Pivetta, hitting in the eight-hole, doubled to right and scored Knapp all the way from first. A wild pitch put Pivetta on third and the game was tied on a sacrifice fly by Cesar Hernandez.

"Going into the fifth inning, we were good with my pitch count," said Williams, who also had seven strikeouts on the afternoon. "We maintained a good plan, and we stuck with what had worked. We pitched to weak contact.

"You walk a tightrope when you walk five guys. Luckily the big inning didn't happen for them today."

The offense is the biggest concern for a team that scored just five runs in this four-game series. In the fifth, Jordy Mercer hit a one-out double and catcher Elias Diaz followed with his second home run of the season to give the Pirates a brief 2-0 lead. They were unable to capitalize on chances as the game went on -- leaving nine runners on base -- going just 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

Video: PIT@PHI: Diaz launches two-run homer to left-center

"Again, we've had a rough week," Hurdle said. "We've pitched better than anything. Defensively we are second in the league with six errors, but we haven't played that well on defense the last two nights. We've got room for improvement. The game shows you where you need improvement as I've continued to say. We need to clean some things up."

SOUND SMART
Diaz has made the most of his opportunities this fall. Diaz has hit safely in all five of his starts and is hitting .479 (9-for-19) in those starts. His home run on Sunday was his second of the season and has impressed his manager.

"I see growth," Hurdle said. "I see more experience coming through the door. He knew the opportunity was there and he continues to work hard. He's done some good things and he put a good swing today on the ball he ran out of the ballpark."

HE SAID IT
"I think there has been more of passing the torch than ever before. You know, arms wide open. When I came up, there were a lot of arms that were not open to young players. Not that that was bad, but you needed to prove yourself and figure it out, just like they had to." -- Hurdle, on older players mentoring younger ones in the modern era

UP NEXT
The Pirates, who have been unable to score three or more runs in eight of their last 10 games, return home after a brief four-game road trip to face the Tigers, who they swept on opening weekend. Chad Kuhl takes the mound on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. ET looking to build on a six-inning, one-run outing against Colorado. Starting for Detroit will be Jordan Zimmermann, who has allowed 10 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings.

Mike Radano is a contributor to MLB.com based in Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Trevor Williams

Mitchell makes Pipeline Team of the Week

MLB.com @JonathanMayo

MLB Pipeline's Prospect Team of the Week honors the best performances in the Minor Leagues from the previous week. Any player on an organization Top 30 Prospects list on our Prospect Watch is eligible.

It's just our second edition of Pipeline Prospect Team of the Week and we already have a pair of repeat performers.

MLB Pipeline's Prospect Team of the Week honors the best performances in the Minor Leagues from the previous week. Any player on an organization Top 30 Prospects list on our Prospect Watch is eligible.

It's just our second edition of Pipeline Prospect Team of the Week and we already have a pair of repeat performers.

2018 Prospect Teams of the Week

Nationals outfielder Juan Soto and Orioles lefty Zac Lowther have earned back-to-back honors, with both showing that the South Atlantic League is not so challenging for them thus far. Soto is joined by two other members of our Top 100 and Lowther is accompanied by a fellow member of the 2017 Draft class.  

Here is the latest addition of Prospect Team of the Week, for the week of April 16-22.

C: Austin Allen, San Antonio Missions (Double-A)
(Padres' No. 28 prospect)
6 G, .500/.577/.909, 7 R, 3 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 3 BB, 2 K

Allen was a two-time PTOW honoree last year in a season that saw him hit 22 homers and slug .497. Those wanting to see if that was a California League mirage should be pleased with his start, as his 11-for-22 week (with five extra-base hits) now has him hitting .373 with a .780 slugging percentage and six homers in the Texas League. He tops the circuit in slugging and OPS (1.202).

Watch: Allen crushes a double

1B: Sam Travis, Pawtucket Red Sox (Triple-A)
(Red Sox's No. 5 prospect)
6 G, .417/.500/.625, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 3 BB, 5 K

Travis had four straight multi-hit games Monday through Thursday, starting with a two-hit performance that included his first home run of the International League season. Even with an 0-for-5 to end the week, he was still able to raise his season slash line to .346/.414/.462.

Watch: Travis ties score with two-run single

2B: David Fletcher, Salt Lake Bees (Triple-A)
(Angels' No. 24 prospect)
6 G, .467/.484/.767, 9 R, 4 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB

Fletcher nearly made the big league team out of Spring Training and is now hitting like he wants to force his way there. He has a seven-game hitting streak going and has raised his average from .172 on April 11 to .366. Four three-hit games this past week certainly helped and he picked up his first homer of the year while not striking out all week.

Watch: Fletcher doubles as part of four-hit game

3B: Austin Riley, Mississippi Braves (Double-A)
(Braves' No. 8 prospect/MLB No. 97)
6 G, .522/.560/1.043, 5 R, 5 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K

Riley has historically been a slow starter, but he's trying to reverse that trend in the Southern League in the early going. He led all prospects who can qualify for PTOW with 24 total bases last week and is now tied for second in the league with 14 RBIs and is fourth in OPS (1.190). His .386 average puts him eighth in the circuit.

Watch: Riley crushes third homer of 2018

SS: Brendan Rodgers, Hartford Yard Goats (Double-A)
(Rockies' No. 1 prospect/MLB No. 14)
6 G, .520/.538/.800, 3 R, 4 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB, 4 K

When the week began, Rodgers was hitting just .143. Now he's up to .300 after a week that saw him hit in all six games he played in. He kicked things off with a three-hit performance and finished by going 5-for-5 on Sunday, including crushing his third home run of the season. Thanks to the week, Rodgers is now eighth in the Eastern League with his .533 slugging percentage.

Watch: Rodgers homers as part of five-hit day

OF: Calvin Mitchell, West Virginia Power (Class A)
(Pirates' No. 16 prospect)
7 G, .467/.500/.733, 5 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 1 BB, 1 SB, 6 K

Heading to full-season ball as a high school draftee can be tough, but Mitchell, the Pirates' second-round pick last June, seems to be adjusting just fine. He now has an eight-game hitting streak going and had four multi-hit games this past week. He homered and drove in three runs on Wednesday before going 4-for-4 with four RBIs on Saturday. He's currently fourth in the South Atlantic League in batting average (.364) and OPS (1.070) and fifth in slugging (.652).

OF: Myles Straw, Corpus Christi Hooks (Double-A)
(Astros' No. 21 prospect)
6 G, .520/.581/.680, 5 R, 2 3B, 4 RBI, 4 BB, 3 SB, 4 K

Straw has a six-game hitting streak going, starting last week with a four-hit game and adding a 5-for-5 showing on Saturday. That's pushed his average up over .400 (he's second in the Texas League at .407). He also swiped three bases, giving him a league-leading 11 steals on the season (tied for third in the Minors).

Watch: Straw's four-hit night

OF: Juan Soto, Hagerstown Suns (Class A)
(Nationals' No. 2 prospect/MLB No. 29)
6 G, .391/.481/.739, 5 R, 3 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 4 BB, 6 K

Soto showed an innate knack for hitting last year, but also missed most of the season with injuries. He's showing it was no fluke with how he's begun his 2018 campaign back in the South Atlantic League, with four two-hit games this last week. His advanced approach is clearly working, as he leads the SAL with his .486 on-base percentage. Soto's raw power is showing up in games: He tops the circuit in OPS (1.300) and slugging (.814) while his five homers put him in a tie for third. His strong start to the year earned him a promotion to Class A Advanced Potomac of the Carolina League.

Watch: Soto crushes three-run homer

LHP: Zac Lowther, Delmarva Shorebirds (Class A)
(Orioles' No. 17 prospect)
1-1, 0.90 ERA, 2 GS, 10 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 18 K, 0.60 WHIP

Lowther is back again, even if he did give up some hits and a run. After beginning his year with six no-hit innings, the southpaw followed it up with two five-inning starts. Combined, he now has a ridiculous 31/2 K/BB ratio over his first 16 innings of work in the South Atlantic League to go along with a .094 batting average against and 0.44 WHIP.

RHP: Tony Santillan, Daytona Tortugas (Class A Advanced)
(Reds' No. 5 prospect)
2-0, 0.71 ERA, 2 GS, 12 2/3 IP, 9 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K, 0.79 WHIP

Santillan has always had dynamic stuff and he's coming off of a strong full season in the Midwest League. The one thing that has been a bit of a question mark has been his command, but if the start to his Florida State League season is any indication, he's headed in the right direction. After a week that saw him win both decisions, he's now gone at least six innings in three of his four starts this year with a 2.0 BB/9 rate.

RP: Seranthony Dominguez, Reading Fightin Phils (Double-A)
(Phillies' No. 12 prospect)
0-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 4 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 0.00 WHIP

Dominguez moved to the bullpen for the first time this season and the new role seems to suit him. His past as a starter still lets him go multiple innings, as he had a three-inning, no-hit, six-strikeout game on Wednesday and now has 17 K's (vs. just two walks) in 11 total innings.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

Bell feels team effort will put Bucs in 1st place

Rodriguez moonlights as leadoff hitter with Harrison sidelined
Special to MLB.com

PHILADELPHIA -- Pirates first baseman Josh Bell had a breakout season in 2017, adding a dose of power to a lineup needing just that.

Bell hit .255 (140-for-549), smacked 26 home runs, drove in 90 runs and recorded an OPS of .800. He limited his strikeouts to 117. So far in 2018, he's hitting .244 (20-for-82), with a home run and 13 RBIs, second on the Bucs to Gregory Polanco's 15 RBIs.

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PHILADELPHIA -- Pirates first baseman Josh Bell had a breakout season in 2017, adding a dose of power to a lineup needing just that.

Bell hit .255 (140-for-549), smacked 26 home runs, drove in 90 runs and recorded an OPS of .800. He limited his strikeouts to 117. So far in 2018, he's hitting .244 (20-for-82), with a home run and 13 RBIs, second on the Bucs to Gregory Polanco's 15 RBIs.

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Bell batted cleanup in Saturday afternoon's 6-2 loss to the Phillies, the third in a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park. The 25-year-old -- a second-round pick in 2011 by the Pirates -- hopes to keep Pittsburgh atop the National League Central after coming out of the gates strong to start off '18.

Pittsburgh (12-9) has now lost five if its last six and dropped out of first place in the NL Central with Saturday's loss.

"We started off real well, then hit a bit of a tough spot, losing two of three at home to Colorado and the first two in Philadelphia," Bell said. "It's time to get it turned around and get it going the way we need to, starting in the next game if we can.''

Bell is part of an eclectic group of players in the Pittsburgh clubhouse, along with outfielders Polanco and Starling Marte, catcher Francisco Cervelli, shortstop Jordy Mercer, newcomer Corey Dickerson and reserve David Freese that form a mix of young talent and team-first veterans.

It is a group that believes in itself.

"We really have a good lineup that can score,'' said Bell. "Our starters can do the job, and someone like Freese can do so much. We need them [to succeed]. We know we can win.

"It's just like a puzzle, and we have to see where it all fits.''

Bell has hit some astonishing homers, making his presence known with a 2016 grand slam off Adam Warren, then with the Cubs, which showed his power potential. He looks to become more consistent both offensively and defensively.

"I feel good with my swing offensively, and just want to avoid some of the slumps I have had," Bell said. "Let them be a few days, a week, [but] not two.

"I feel I'm starting to really see the ball well,'' said Bell, who snapped out of a 5-for-28 slump with two hits and three RBIs in the Colorado series finale on Wednesday afternoon.

As far as defense, Bell added: "I just want to be in [good] position at first base, and always make the plays I am supposed to make. I'm always working at it.''

It's a work ethic that Bell displayed as he advanced through the Bucs' Minor League system.

Rodriguez leading off
With Josh Harrison sidelined with a broken wrist, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle tried Sean Rodriguez in the leadoff spot, and the move paid immediate dividends. Rodriguez hit an opposite-field homer off Phillies starter Aaron Nola to start the game on Saturday.

Video: PIT@PHI: Rodriguez leads off the game with a home run

"Sean certainly brings the energy,'' said Hurdle. "We're giving him the opportunity."

Rodriguez took the assignment in stride.

"All I now is I'm the first batter in the game,'' Rodriguez said.

Musgrove update
Hurdle reported right-handed pitcher Joe Musgrove, obtained in the Gerrit Cole trade with Houston on Jan. 14, had a successful bullpen session Friday. Musgrove has been sidelined with a right shoulder strain.

"He had no problems with the bullpen, so he'll throw another Sunday and a simulated game Wednesday at home,'' said Hurdle.

The Pirates hope to have Musgrove back sometime in May.

Pirates dad's trip
The Pirates have had players' and coach's dads and other relatives with them on this four-game trip. There are about 25 family members who were also with the club for the Colorado series in Pittsburgh.

Russ Davis, Dickerson's father-in-law, is one of the members on the trip.

"This has really been a treat to see how all this works,'' Davis said. "I had never been in a big league clubhouse before."

Jed Weisberger is a contributor to MLB.com and is based in Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Josh Bell

Pirates' bats mostly silent in loss to Phillies

Brault kept game close until 6th when bullpen faltered
Special to MLB.com

PHILADELPHIA -- It started a lot better than it ended for the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park Saturday afternoon.

Sean Rodriguez, inserted into the leadoff spot, opened the game with an opposite-field home run off of Phillies starter Aaron Nola. Nola would settle in after the initial shock, and strike out 9 batters en route to a 7-inning, 2-run performance, helping sink the Pirates in a 6-2 win by the Phillies.

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PHILADELPHIA -- It started a lot better than it ended for the Pirates at Citizens Bank Park Saturday afternoon.

Sean Rodriguez, inserted into the leadoff spot, opened the game with an opposite-field home run off of Phillies starter Aaron Nola. Nola would settle in after the initial shock, and strike out 9 batters en route to a 7-inning, 2-run performance, helping sink the Pirates in a 6-2 win by the Phillies.

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The key moment of the game came when Pirates manager Clint Hurdle replaced starter Steven Brault (2-1) with reliever Michael Feliz with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning. Rhys Hoskins smashed a three-run homer on a 1-2 pitch to erase a 2-0 Pittsburgh lead.

Video: PIT@PHI: Rodriguez leads off the game with a home run

"I wanted to have our second-best [high-leverage] reliever in the game in that situation,'' said Hurdle. "Michael threw the wrong pitch to an up-and-coming, terrific young hitter. He fouled off a few excellent fastballs.

"I don't know if Michael's slider came into play with Hoskins or not. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap. Prior to that, Brault pitched a really nice game. The move with Feliz is something a manager has to live with.''

Brault seemed game to match his counterpart through five innings, throwing up zeros before running into trouble in the sixth inning.

Brault's work -- 93 pitches, 49 strikes -- was undone in a few moments by Feliz, who came on to face Hoskins after Brault exited, in part, due to a replay review.

"I had a real good feel for my pitches today,'' said Brault. "I just have to do a better job throwing strikes. I hate to get taken out in the sixth."

An Odubel Herrera single followed a Carlos Santana hit-by-pitch against Brault and set the stage for Hoskins' go-ahead homer. Feliz had previously not allowed any inherited runners to score, and hitters were 6-for-29 against him.

The offense was unable to get anything going most of the day, but Rodriguez supplied the early homer, and also came around to score after Starling Marte's single in the top of the sixth. Marte hit a popup that dropped between Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez and Herrera, and gave the Pirates a 2-0 lead before Hoskins' key blow aided the Phillies in scoring the final six runs.

Video: PIT@PHI: Marte's pop up falls in for RBI single

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Santana sells replay:
With one out in the sixth, Santana stepped to the plate batting right-handed against the southpaw Brault. Brault attempted to go inside on a 2-1 pitch, and Santana appeared to gesture to the home-plate umpire that he was hit, causing the Phillies' dugout to request a review. Replay showed that Santana was in fact hit, and awarded him first base. Once Herrera reached with a single in the following at-bat, Hoskins stepped to the plate representing the go-ahead run. He then delivered the back-breaker, all set up Santana's insistence for a review.

Video: PIT@PHI: Santana gets HBP on overturned call in 6th

SOUND SMART
The loss was the Pirates' first in afternoon games this season. Pittsburgh had won its previous eight day games.

HE SAID IT
"Rhys just did what he does. He has really made himself into an excellent hitter. He's not just a power hitter, he's a very tough out.'' -- Brault, who played against Hoskins in the Triple-A International League.

UP NEXT
The Pirates close out a four-game road trip on Sunday at 1:35 p.m. ET, which has included players' dads and some other relatives, who were also on hand for the club's three-game series with Colorado. Right-handed pitcher Trevor Williams (3-1, 1.93) has put together an excellent start to the season, allowing just five earned runs in his last three starts. Philadelphia will send Nick Pivetta (1-0, 2.49) to the mound, a fellow righty, who has also pitched well of late.

Jed Weisberger is a contributor to MLB.com and is based in Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Steven Brault

Pirates trio among top prospect performers

Braves right-hander fires six dominant frames
MLB.com @GoldenSombrero

Here's MLB Pipeline's roundup of the top prospect performances in the Minor Leagues on Saturday.

Kyle Wright had shown flashes of excellence early in his first Double-A campaign before putting it all together Saturday night in his finest performance as a pro.

Here's MLB Pipeline's roundup of the top prospect performances in the Minor Leagues on Saturday.

Kyle Wright had shown flashes of excellence early in his first Double-A campaign before putting it all together Saturday night in his finest performance as a pro.

Wright, Atlanta's No. 2 prospect (No. 30 overall), turned in a career-long outing, tossing six-plus scoreless innings of one-hit ball to lead Double-A Mississippi past Mobile, 3-1. He issued two walks and struck out four, throwing 52 of his 84 pitches for strikes.

The two-out hit Wright allowed in the first inning was the only real blemish in his performance. He proceeded to retire 15 of the next 16 batters before departing the game in the seventh inning, after he had issued a leadoff walk to Matt Thaiss (Angels' No. 9). A pair of M-Braves relievers handled the final three innings to help secure Wright's first win at the Double-A level.

Wright retires 15 of 16 batters

The 2017 first-rounder (No. 5 overall pick) scuffled in his previous turn, allowing four earned runs in just one inning after posting 7 2/3 scoreless frames across his first two M-Braves starts. Overall, Wright, 22, owns a 2.45 ERA on the season, with 14 strikeouts and nine walks in 14 2/3 innings.

Austin Riley (Braves' No. 8, No. 97 overall) did his part to support Wright's cause by going 2-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI. The 21-year-old third baseman is already up to eight doubles this season in 16 games, during which he's hitting .386/.435/.754 with 11 runs scored and 14 RBIs.

The rest of the best performances from top prospects Saturday

No. 15 overall prospect Mitch Keller (Pirates' No. 1) completed a season-high seven innings to pick up his second win for Double-A Altoona. The 22-year-old right-hander wasn't at his sharpest, allowing three earned runs on six hits and three walks, though he still struck out seven and generated another eight outs on the ground. Jason Martin (No. 22) delivered his first home run, a two-run shot in the second inning, and later added a double to finish the game 3-for-4 with three runs.

No. 20 overall prospect Royce Lewis (Twins' No. 1) lifted his average from .222 to .323 for Class A Cedar Rapids behind a perfect 4-for-4 performance. The four hits, all singles, matched the 2017 No. 1 overall Draft pick's career-high mark. He also scored two runs and swiped his second base as the Kernels fell to Kane County, 9-2.

Lewis notches fourth hit

No. 25 overall prospect Brendan McKay (Rays' No. 3) fired four scoreless innings, allowing two hits and no walks with seven strikeouts in a no-decision for Class A Bowling Green. He threw 84.4 percent of his pitches (38 of 45) for strikes in the dominant performance and now owns a 2.00 ERA with 15 strikeouts and four hits allowed in nine innings (three starts) this season. At the plate, meanwhile, the two-way star is hitting .346/.546/.385 with 10 RBIs and an absurd 13-to-3 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

• There's no stopping No. 29 overall prospect Juan Soto. The Nationals' No. 2 prospect belted his fifth home run, a three-run shot, as well as his third triple as he recorded multiple hits for the fourth time in five games for Class A Hagerstown. Through 15 games, the 19-year-old outfielder is slashing .389/.507/.870 with 13 extra-base hits, 24 RBIs and more walks (15) than strikeouts (11).

Soto crushes three-run homer

No. 74 overall prospect Jon Duplantier (D-backs' No. 1) worked five strong innings as he picked up the win for Jackson in his season debut. It also marked the Double-A debut for the 23-year-old righty, who allowed two earned runs on four hits and one walk while striking out six. The 2017 MLB Pipeline Pitcher of the Year had opened the season on the disabled list with a hamstring injury.

Duplantier fans six in AA debut

No. 96 overall prospect Brandon Woodruff (Brewers' No. 3) allowed just one earned run while completing at least five innings for a third straight start for Triple-A Colorado Springs. The 25-year-old righty tallied a season-high seven strikeouts while scattering three hits with one walk in five innings. He's pitched to a 1.65 ERA in 16 1/3 innings since being demoted to Triple-A on April 7.

• After giving up a combined 19 hits in his previous two starts, Marlins No. 13 prospect Zac Gallen allowed just four hits in seven scoreless innings Saturday as Triple-A New Orleans defeated Oklahoma City, 2-0. The 22-year-old righty compiled five strikeouts against three walks in the outing while finding the strike zone with 58 of his 91 pitches. Gallen has completed at least six innings in three of his four starts this season.

Gallen strikes out five

Padres No. 11 prospect Esteury Ruiz and Tirso Ornelas (No. 14) both connected on their second home run of 2018 and collected three hits as Class A Fort Wayne defeated Dayton, 8-2. Ruiz, 19, hit a two-run shot in the sixth inning before finishing 3-for-5, while the 18-year-old Ornelas finished 3-for-4 after hitting a three-run homer in his first at-bat. Leadoff man Jeisson Rosario (No. 18) paced the TinCaps with three runs as he improved his average to .310 with his second multi-hit game in as many days.

Pirates No. 16 prospect Calvin Mitchell boosted his average to .371 with his fourth straight multi-hit game for Class A West Virginia. The 2017 second-rounder tallied his third triple this season before finishing with four hits and four RBIs, both matching his career bests. Braeden Ogle (No. 28) paced the Power on the mound, tossing six innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts in the 13-8 victory. He allowed six hits and walked three, throwing 54 of his 87 pitches for strikes in the outing.

Red Sox No. 15 prospect Jalen Beeks piled up 10 strikeouts in six scoreless innings as Triple-A Pawtucket blanked Gwinnett, 6-0. The 24-year-old left-hander allowed two hits, two walks and hit one batter while throwing 59 of his 98 pitches for strikes. Beeks has dominated early this season, posting a 0.64 ERA with 26 strikeouts and five walks in 14 innings (three starts).

Beeks strikes out 10

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Nova solid in outing, but key hits elude Bucs

Lone run comes on a Mercer sac fly as Pirates strand 9
Special to MLB.com

PHILADELPHIA -- There were plenty of chances to put a nice crooked number up on the scoreboard and get some offensive momentum going.

However, that isn't the way things have worked out for the Pirates this week.

View Full Game Coverage

PHILADELPHIA -- There were plenty of chances to put a nice crooked number up on the scoreboard and get some offensive momentum going.

However, that isn't the way things have worked out for the Pirates this week.

View Full Game Coverage

Pittsburgh couldn't get the big hit it needed, squandering a good performance from Ivan Nova in a 2-1 loss to the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Friday. The Bucs went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base.

Pittsburgh has now lost four of its last five games. In all of those losses, the Pirates have scored two runs or fewer. They have scored two or fewer in six of their last eight games.

Video: PIT@PHI: Mercer makes leaping catch to end the 4th

It is still very early, and the April weather has been tough to hit in -- on this night, a fierce wind was blowing straight in from center field, which added another challenge.

"You have elements of the weather and things, you can't really control where the ball goes," Pirates outfielder Corey Dickerson said. "You want to get frustrated, but you can't. You just have to stay in the right frame of mind and stay positive."

The Pirates had chances against Phillies starter Ben Lively for most of the night, putting runners on base in every inning against the young Philadelphia right-hander. However, they stranded seven men on base during his six innings. Pittsburgh's only run off Lively came in the sixth when Jordy Mercer lifted a sacrifice fly to right that scored Francisco Cervelli.

Video: PIT@PHI: Mercer drives in game's first run in the 6th

"We hit some balls really hard tonight that didn't find grass," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "At the end of the day, [Lively] hung in there, made the pitches and kept us off the plate."

Nova deserved a better fate than a no-decision for his efforts. During his six innings, Nova was able to command the strike zone and stay out of serious trouble. A Carlos Santana shot in the first inning was knocked down by the strong winds. After that point, Nova rarely allowed anything hard hit in the air, surrendering his only run on a Rhys Hoskins fielder's choice in the sixth that scored Santana. Most of that success came on the changeup, which the Phillies never really seem to barrel up.

"I think it was the biggest pitch of the night," Nova said. "I had a good feel for it today. I didn't have the curveball working [early], but that was the one I felt comfortable throwing."

Video: PIT@PHI: Frazier catches a pop out as Mercer tumbles

Pirates infielders swarmed in on an infield fly

"The day he takes the mound, he is prepared, focused and intentional," Hurdle said. "He's been a really good leader in the rotation for us."

George Kontos took the loss after he surrendered a one-out triple to Odubel Herrera in the bottom of the eighth that just went past the diving arm of Josh Bell inside the first-base bag, scoring Cesar Hernandez -- who led off with a double -- with the eventual game-winning run.

"If I execute that pitch there, we may still be playing," Kontos said. "Just caught too much of the plate, the infield was in and it was a perfectly placed ground ball. That's what happens when you don't execute as well as you should in those situations."

MOMENT THAT MATTERED
The Pirates were able to load the bases with two outs in the third inning of a scoreless game. However, Dickerson's fly ball to right ended up getting knocked down by the wind to end the threat.

"If the wind wasn't blowing in, I got enough of it," Dickerson said. "But when the wind is howling in, it's one of those things. Too bad."

Video: PIT@PHI: Lively forces a flyout with the bases loaded

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Hoskins walked after Herrera's triple, but the Phillies ended the inning with a bizarre 1-3-4-2-5-8-7 double play to end the inning. Hoskins got caught in a rundown trying to steal second, but then Herrera wandered too far down the third-base line. Herrera ended up in a rundown and eventually got tagged out. Hoskins then stopped running to third base as he got caught in a rundown. He got tagged to end the inning. More >

Video: PIT@PHI: Track the path of Bucs' fielders on odd DP

SOUND SMART
Nova didn't surrender a walk for a third straight start on Friday night. It is the third time in his career that he's gone three straight starts without issuing a base on balls. His 22 starts without issuing a walk since 2016 are tied for the second most in baseball with Clayton Kershaw, who had 22 entering his start on Friday in Los Angeles. The Indians' Josh Tomlin leads the way with 30.

HE SAID IT
"I've been waiting to do that." --  Dickerson, following his outfield-assist role on the 1-3-4-2-5-8-7 double play

UP NEXT
The Pirates' stay across the state continues on Saturday with a 4:05 p.m. ET start at Citizens Bank Park. Steven Brault will go for Pittsburgh, trying to bounce back from a 6-2 loss to the Rockies on Monday night in Pittsburgh where he allowed five runs on five hits in six innings. He will face Philadelphia's Aaron Nola, who held Pittsburgh to an 0.64 ERA in two starts (1-1) in 2017.

Kevin Cooney is a contributor to MLB.com based in Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Jordy Mercer, Ivan Nova

The Pirates turned a wild double play

On Thursday night, the Phillies and Pirates played the first game of their intrastate series. The Pennsylvania rivalry got off to a strong start thanks in part to a three-run single from Cesar Hernandez. The weirdness continued during Friday's 2-1 Phillies win.

The Phillies were threatening to add to their 2-1 lead with runners on the corners and only one out in the eighth inning when George Kontos caught Rhys Hoskins cheating a bit too far off first base. A wild two-rundown sequence ensued to end the inning:

Pirates infielders swarmed in on an infield fly

Friday night's Pirates-Phillies game gave us quite the entertaining play thanks to Ben Lively and a cast of characters.

On the first pitch of his at-bat in the fifth inning, Lively lofted a popup in the infield. In true teamwork fashion, the Pirates swarmed in on the ball and it created a mesmerizing scene:

Hurdle has faith in Cervelli's use of mound visits

Special to MLB.com

PHILADELPHIA -- On the right-field scoreboard directly across from manager Clint Hurdle's perch in the visitors' dugout at Citizens Bank Park, there's the new counter listing how many mound visits a team can make in a game.

Hurdle looks at the counter not with scorn. Instead, he views it as somewhat of a challenge.

View Full Game Coverage

PHILADELPHIA -- On the right-field scoreboard directly across from manager Clint Hurdle's perch in the visitors' dugout at Citizens Bank Park, there's the new counter listing how many mound visits a team can make in a game.

Hurdle looks at the counter not with scorn. Instead, he views it as somewhat of a challenge.

View Full Game Coverage

"We're trying to find ways to run out of visits," Hurdle joked during his pregame manager's meeting on Friday afternoon before the Pirates took on the Phillies. "As soon as I heard about visits, I said we had to find a way to burn these up."

And because of that, Hurdle has also placed his faith in his catcher -- veteran Francisco Cervelli -- to handle when a good time to use them will be.

"It's changed the dynamic somewhat," Hurdle admitted. "But very early on, I've let Francisco know that we trust him. If he wants to make a trip, look over and give us one of those [hand gestures] and just go."

Video: MLB announces pace-of-play initiatives for '18

Hurdle's free hand with Cervelli is based on the fact that the 11-year veteran has run enough pitching staffs and handled situations through the years that he knows when the right time to push that button can be. However, it is veterans who could have the biggest issue handling the new pace-of-play rule change which Major League Baseball brought into the game before this season for the very first time.

"It does take away from teams that have a very good catcher," said Hurdle, who did see limited time as a catcher -- 22 games -- briefly during his 10 seasons in the Major Leagues.

"We know it hurts those teams more because we watch games where Yadier Molina would go out and affect a Cardinals game [by controlling the tempo and pacing]. Cervelli does that frequently with our guys."

Hurdle also has confidence that there are going to be times when Cervelli and other veteran catchers are going to find ways to push the limits when the situation calls for it.

"As the game moves along, the trips lessen, there are different ways to work within the rules on it," Hurdle said. "The catcher can go out and he can absorb the 15 seconds to where he doesn't leave the mound. We've looked at different ways to leverage the situation somewhat. But it hasn't provided any challenges to this point."

Worth noting
• The Pirates have moved right-handed reliever A.J. Schugel's next rehabilitation start to Triple-A Indianapolis. Schugel threw a scoreless inning on Wednesday for Class A Advanced Bradenton in making his second rehab appearance. He has been sidelined since the end of Spring Training because of right shoulder discomfort. 

• Hurdle felt that Tyler Glasnow's previous starting experience has helped him in handling inherited runners and stranding them.

"Most of these guys, at some point, was a former starter," Hurdle said. "To have that switch flip for them, they know what it's like to leave a game with a few guys on base. You then know what it feels like for a guy to pick you up. It gives everyone a lift."

Kevin Cooney is a contributor to MLB.com based in Philadelphia.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Francisco Cervelli, Tyler Glasnow, A.J. Schugel