PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh has been waiting two decades for a winning baseball team, and as the 2013 Pirates vaulted themselves to the top of the National League Central standings, fans have started to pack PNC Park nightly.
Manager Clint Hurdle acknowledged the buzz present in the stadium, as the club has drawn at least 30,000 fans in each of its last eight home games. Stadium personnel expected a sellout Thursday --- even standing-room-only seats were gone.
"There's a vibe in this ballpark when it's full," Hurdle said. "And I've been in a lot of ballparks ... it's not elegant-intimate. It's blue-collar intimate."
Hurdle said the team can feel the energy and is appreciative of it. Outfielder Travis Snider said the home fans really do have an impact on the game.
He added that they want a winner as bad as any other city, and he hopes to bring that.
"It's something we feed off of as players," Snider said. "And sometimes those fans don't realize how much impact they have on us, on the opposing players, and how much we can feed off that."
The focus, of course, is still on the field. Snider isn't worried about who's in the crowd or if they're "true fans" or just bandwagoners.
But either way, no matter who's in the seats, the Pirates just hope they can give the city its first winning baseball team since 1992.
"That was one of the reasons I signed up," Hurdle recalled saying at his introductory press conference in November of 2010, "to re-bond a city with its baseball."
Pirates ink deals with handful of international prospects
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates inked nine international players this week, according to an MLB source.
Dominican shortstop Adrian Valerio signed for $400,000 and Dominican outfielder Edinson Lantigua joined the organization for a $275,000 bonus. Both 16-year-olds played in the Dominican Prospect League.
The club also signed right-handers Yunior Montero, Junior Lopez, Julian Villamar and Ramon Garcia, shortstop Luis Perez, second baseman Raul Siri and lefty Christian Mota. All seven were eligible to sign in previous years, so they are slightly older.
Valerio is an athletic, slick-fielding shortstop with a good arm and good range. The switch-hitter trained at the Alexander Baseball Academy in his hometown of Salcedo in the Cibao region of the Dominican Republic.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Lantigua has a tall, lanky frame with plenty of room to grow. His effortless swing should couple nicely with his growth. He has a strong arm and projects as a center fielder. He developed in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic.
Burnett or Gomez will toe the rubber Sunday
PITTSBURGH -- A.J. Burnett threw a bullpen session Thursday morning and could be ready to start Sunday against the Cubs. He has been on the disabled list since June 14 with a Grade 1 tear in his right calf.
If Burnett isn't quite ready, the Pirates will turn to Jeanmar Gomez, according to manager Clint Hurdle.
Gomez started the year as a long reliever before taking Jonathan Sanchez's spot in the rotation when he was released. Gomez injured his forearm on June 2 and spent three weeks on the DL, but was steady in six starts prior to that. He allowed just seven earned runs and 19 hits over 29 1/3 innings.
Gomez pitched a scoreless seventh inning Wednesday night, allowing just a broken-bat single. He said on Thursday that he felt good and would be ready to go if the Pirates needed him. If not, he'll likely stay in the bullpen. Overall, he's 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in 14 games this season.
• Pedro Alvarez has hit a home run in three of his last five day games. He leads the National League in homers hit in day games with nine.
•The Pirates haven't lost a series since June 3-5, when they were swept in Atlanta. They split a four-game set in Cincinnati on June 17-20.
• Reese McGuire, one of the Pirates two first-round picks in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, went 4-for-5 with two doubles and three RBIs in his professional debut with the GCL Pirates Thursday morning.
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.