Notes: Doumit rests sore hamstring
Versatile slugger has had a history of leg injuries
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' offensive surge over this homestand has been powered largely by the bats of Adam LaRoche and Ryan Doumit. They both hit home runs in back-to-back games against the Brewers and combined to go 20-for-51 with six homers, 14 RBIs and 14 runs in the last nine games.
Doumit's bat would have been a strong weapon against Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano, but he wasn't in the lineup because of soreness in his left hamstring.
Manager Jim Tracy said Doumit hurt the hamstring when he was running the bases in the seventh inning on Saturday.
"When he was running from first to second, he felt like he took an awkward step," Tracy said. "He didn't feel like he pulled anything, but that his hamstring felt a little bit awkward."
Doumit came around to score the Bucs' only run, and finished the game on Saturday, but the hamstring was sore Sunday. So Tracy made the easy decision to leave Doumit out of the lineup.
Doumit has a history of hamstring problems, as he missed nearly two months of action last year when he tore his left hamstring, the same one that is bothering him now.
With that in mind, the Pirates are taking every precaution with Doumit. They don't want to unnecessarily risk a similar injury with the All-Star break and four days of rest coming after Sunday.
"It's kind of a red flag," Tracy said. "He's tender and we can't take a chance on him damaging that thing again, that's for sure.
"But you'd also like to have him in the lineup today," Tracy added, "Against [Zambrano] especially."
Tracy said he didn't know if Doumit would be available to pinch-hit, but said a pinch-runner would be used if Doumit got on base to avoid extra wear on the hamstring.
LaRoche update: LaRoche returned to the lineup on Sunday after missing Saturday's game because of irritation in his left knee. LaRoche said there is some fluid built up in the back of his knee that is causing discomfort. He had been playing through for about a month before he had trouble at the end of Friday's game and left after eight innings.
"It probably felt more like a cramp than anything," LaRoche said. "It'll just kind of lock up on me. It wouldn't let me fully extend when I'm running."
LaRoche said the knee felt "surprisingly" better on Sunday morning, adding that while it isn't 100 percent, he was happy with the progress he's made. So was Tracy, who put LaRoche in the three-spot on Sunday and said there was no need to get him an extra day of rest before the All-Star break because it isn't an injury that could become much worse by playing on it.
"He feels better today than he did [Saturday], so as a result, we're going to go with him," Tracy said. "If his knee starts to bother him, it's something that you have to manage."
LaRoche doesn't know how he'll manage his knee over the break. He will decide on a day-by-day basis whether to work out or rest, based on how he feels.
Three things to work on: On June 4, Tracy identified three things the club needed to improve upon to make a successful run this season: an ability to put opponents away, inconsistencies from three of the five slots of the rotation, and a bullpen that was routinely giving away leads.
At the halfway point of the season, and more than a month later, Tracy said there have been encouraging improvements on all three fronts. He said the offense's recent production has been an excellent improvement, and something to continue to build on.
"You feel very encouraged by seeing, over the course of the last four series or so, the offense that we've gotten, and realize the fact that if you can get something close to that, you've got a chance to be in business in a lot of games if you get some of that consistent pitching," Tracy said.
That consistent starting pitching is something that has improved, but has not yet come around completely. Tom Gorzelanny and Ian Snell have continued their steady progress, and now Paul Maholm appears to have righted the ship after pitching at least seven innings in his last five starts.
That still leaves two slots in as question marks. Tracy said improvement from John Van Benschoten and Shane Youman/Zach Duke's slot in the rotation is needed.
"Hopefully both of them, but at least one of those two guys, step up and show a measure of consistency like the other three have," Tracy said. "That's also important."
The last point was the bullpen's ineffectiveness in the late innings. That's been stabilized by Matt Capps being spotless as a closer, as well as good contributions from pitchers such as Shawn Chacon and Damaso Marte in setup roles. The Pirates are 13-1 since June 4 when leading after seven innings.
"There's some things back there [in the later innings] that now make sense," Tracy said.
Torres update: Salomon Torres will pitch Sunday in the Gulf Coast League. If all goes well, he'll come to Pittsburgh and throw a side session with pitching coach Jim Colborn on Wednesday. From there, Torres is expected to begin a rehab assignment at Triple-A Indianapolis.
Bucs bits: The Pirates will hold a workout at PNC Park on Thursday before heading to Atlanta for the start of the second half. ... Reliever John Grabow threw two innings on Saturday after tossing 1 2/3 in his previous five outings combined. He was not scored upon in any of those six outings.
On deck: Snell (7-5, 2.93 ERA) will get the nod when the Pirates begin the second half against the Braves on Friday at 7:35 p.m. ET at Turner Field.
Jeremy Anders is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.