Pedro Alvarez

Clint Hurdle is making Dusty Baker’s life easier

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The Pirates’ No. 4 hitter tonight, Garrett Jones, has hit .213/.254/.344 against lefties this season.

The Pirates’ No. 5 hitter tonight, Pedro Alvarez, has hit .210/277/.387 against lefties this season.

So, it was pretty much a no-brainer that Sean Marshall was coming in to face both with a man on first and one out and the Reds up by one in the eighth inning tonight. And it was no surprise that Jones popped out and Alvarez struck out in a game the Pirates went on to lose 5-3.

While the Pirates were in the thick of the NL wild card race for much of the summer, it’s always been fairly clear that they were at least a year away. For that reason, it makes sense to let Alvarez take those at-bats against tough left-handers late in games.

But that doesn’t mean Hurdle has to make it so easy. He could have broken up his two left-handers and at least given Dusty Baker a bit more to think about.

Alvarez pretty obviously wasn’t up to the task while facing Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning Monday, and while I didn’t see the at-bat tonight (and MLB.tv is being uppity and not letting me check it out), I’m guessing his duel against Marshall wasn’t much closer.

The Pirates have now lost five games in a row. They’re 2-8 for the month, leaving them 72-69 for the year. A .sub-.500 finish remains a possibility, though with four games against the Cubs and three versus Houston on the docket, they should still have a decent finish in them.

Report: Cardinals are scouting Cuban outfielder Luis Robert

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 25: Baseballs sit in the St. Louis Cardinals dugout prior to a game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on April 25, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by David Welker/Getty Images)
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According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals are keeping an eye on outfield prospect Luis Robert. The 19-year-old left his native Cuba last November and is expected to command interest from multiple MLB teams as he approaches free agency. Goold adds that the Cardinals sent scouts to evaluate Robert’s workouts in the Dominican Republic as recently as last week.

There’s still a good chance that the club won’t get a shot at signing him; as Craig mentioned last month, it seems likely that Major League Baseball won’t declare Robert a free agent until after June 15. By July 2, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement’s policies on international bonuses will go into effect, handcuffing teams with the maximum penalty for bonuses to a $300,000 signing figure for any available international prospect. It’s designed to effectively take away those teams’ abilities to sign additional international talent, and the Cardinals have already spent a reported $9.35 million in bonuses on Venezuelan outfielder Victor Garcia, Cuban outfielders Jonatan Machado and Randy Arozarena and Cuban right-hander Johan Oviedo.

Until the cutoff in mid-June, the Cardinals are likely to continue actively scouting other international talent, including Robert. MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez quotes an anonymous National League scouting director who describes Robert as the No. 2 talent behind Japanese wunderkind Shohei Otani. The 19-year-old hit .286/.319/.397 with a .716 OPS during a 16-game run in the Canadian-American League in 2016, following up an impressive three-year tenure with the Ciego de Avila in the Cuban National Series from 2013-2015.

Cubs extend Pedro Strop through 2018

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Pedro Strop #46 of the Chicago Cubs reacts during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game One of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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ESPN’s Jesse Rogers reported over the weekend that the Cubs and reliever Pedro Strop agreed to a contract extension. He’ll remain with the Cubs through 2018 and the new deal includes a club option for the 2019 season as well. Per Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, Strop will earn $5.85 million in 2018 and the club option is worth $6.25 million with a $500,000 buyout. The two sides already avoided arbitration earlier this month, agreeing on a $5.5 million salary for the 2017 season.

Strop, 31, has been a very reliable reliever for the Cubs over the last three years. He has a combined 2.65 ERA with 212 strikeouts and 69 walks over 176 1/3 innings in that span of time.

The Cubs replaced Aroldis Chapman with Wade Davis, so Strop and Hector Rondon will be bridging the gap to Davis this coming season.

Strop joined the Cubs along with Jake Arrieta in the July 2013 trade that sent Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman to the Orioles. That trade panned out well for the Cubs.