Pirates hire Jeff Branson as assistant hitting coach

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Per Tom Singer of MLB.com, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said at PirateFest today that Jeff Branson has been hired as the team’s assistant hitting coach.

Branson, who played in the majors with the Reds, Indians and Dodgers, has served as the hitting coach with Triple-A Indianapolis for the past four seasons. He already has experience with some of the team’s young hitters, so it should be a natural transition. He’ll join first time hitting coach Jay Bell, who was hired in late October after Gregg Ritchie stepped down to take the head coach job at George Washington University.

Bell and Branson will be tasked with getting more out of an offense which ranked 27th in on-base percentage, 25th in batting average and OPS and 23rd in runs scored in 2012.

Jake Arrieta to return to Cubs’ rotation on Thursday

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Cubs starter Jake Arrieta has been out over two weeks with a strained right hamstring, but he’s ready to return to action. The right-hander threw a bullpen on Tuesday and it went well, so he will start in Thursday’s series opener against the Brewers in Milwaukee, MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat reports.

Arrieta, 31, returns with a 14-9 record, a 3.48 ERA, and a 157/53 K/BB ratio in 160 1/3 innings. If he stays on schedule, he’ll make three starts through the end of the regular season, including the regular season finale on October 1 against the Reds.

Arrieta is expected to max out at 75-80 pitches on Thursday and will ramp up through the end of the month.

Cardinals activate Adam Wainwright from the disabled list

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The Cardinals announced ahead of Tuesday’s series opener against the Reds that pitcher Adam Wainwright has been activated from the 10-day disabled list.

Wainwright, 36, has been absent since mid-August due to a right elbow impingement. The Cardinals plan to use him out of the bullpen through the end of the season. Prior to the injury, the right-hander posted a disappointing 5.12 ERA with a 96/44 K/BB ratio in 121 1/3 innings.

Wainwright is under contract for one more year at $19.5 million before becoming eligible for free agency.