Hardy Sparkling Defensively, at Plate

Hardy solidifies top of order as Milwaukee prepares to open big 10-game home stand before the All-Star break, which starts against Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon. Check out what's going on with the Pirates, too.

Inside pitch

Two things happened, nearly in conjunction, in mid-June that helped shortstop J.J. Hardy get his season turned around: Manager Ned Yost elevated him from the seventh spot to second in the batting order, and Hardy was given five days off to rest and rehabilitate his ailing left shoulder.

"I think it's a combination of both, but more than anything, the rest helped," said Hardy, who extended his hitting streak to 14 games Wednesday night, a span in which he was batting .386 with eight doubles, four home runs and 12 runs batted in.

"The rest not only helped the rotator cuff problem I had, it also helped some other stuff in the shoulder. There was a lot of stuff going on. For me, (the rest) really was a miracle."

Hardy also has enjoyed batting second after spending time earlier in the season hitting ahead of the pitcher. Yost was batting the pitcher eighth for a period of time with catcher Jason Kendall in the ninth spot.

"Batting in front of the pitcher played mind games with me," Hardy admitted. "I wasn't too excited about it. I feel comfortable anywhere in the lineup as long as it's not in front of the pitcher."

Yost's take on the situation was this: "He's comfortable in that spot. But you still have to be a hitter when you step in the box."

Notes and quotes

--Left fielder Ryan Braun was out of the starting lineup for only the second time this season. Braun was batting .186 with no homers and three RBIs over his last 10 games and had no hits in his last 18 at-bats. Braun has been playing with a sprained right hand.

--Second baseman Rickie Weeks was out of the lineup for the second consecutive game after coming down with what now is believed to have been food poisoning. But Weeks came off the bench in the eighth inning to deliver the first pinch-hit home run of his career.

--Right fielder Corey Hart batted in the third spot in the lineup for the first time in place of Braun. Hart batted cleanup the previous night for the first time as first baseman Prince Fielder got the night off. Hart has batted in five spots in the lineup this season.

--The Brewers have been successful on 34 of their last 38 stolen base attempts (89.5 percent), including the last eight in a row.

--Fielder was back in the lineup after sitting out Tuesday but did not shake out of his batting slump. Fielder went 0-for-4 and was 2-for-31 (.065) on the three-city trip entering Thursday's contest.

A look at the Pirates

Inside pitch

There is indeed a reason why Matt Capps has been blowing save opportunities with regularity after being automatic for the first 21/2 months of the season--the Pirates' closer has shoulder problems.

Capps was placed on the 15-day disabled list before Wednesday night's 9-5 win at Cincinnati with bursitis and tightness in his shoulder. He is expected to miss two months.

Capps blew two save chances in as many nights and his fifth in his last seven opportunities Tuesday night against the Reds after converting his first 15 this season. His fastball velocity was way down in that outing, and he was sent to Pittsburgh on Wednesday morning to have an arthrogram examination.

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"I reached back for a pitch and tried to let it go and looked up and saw it came in at 87 mph," Capps said. "That's when I knew that something was physically wrong."

The Pirates are optimistic that Capps can avoid surgery. General manager Neal Huntington said that 90 percent to 95 percent of pitchers who have had a similar injury and stopped pitching this early have been able to make a full recovery.

"It's something that if he were to continue to pitch with it, it would almost certainly become a surgical problem, and that's not a path we want to take," Huntington said. "Because Matt said something and took the right steps, we're able to avoid surgery."

Capps, 24, is 2-3 with 17 saves and a 3.12 ERA in 37 games this season.

Capps first told the Pirates of discomfort after Tuesday's game. However, he said he has not felt right since pitching a career-high three innings May 24 in a 14-inning win over the Chicago Cubs.

< p>"I was extremely sore the next day, but I was hard-headed and stubborn," Capps said. "I thought it was something I could work through."

Pirates 9, Reds 5

Xavier Nady continued his hot hitting at Great American Ball Park as he went 3-for-5 with two home runs and three RBIs to give the Pirates two wins in the three-game series and move them past Houston and into fourth place in the National League Central. They had jumped over Cincinnati and out of the division basement the previous night.

Nady has a .385 batting average with eight home runs and 21 RBIs in 95 career at-bats at Great American. Nady also had his fifth career multi-homer game, including his second this season.

Denny Bautista (1-0) relieved starter John Van Benschoten in the third inning and pitched 31/3 scoreless innings for the win while combining with Sean Burnett, John Grabow and Tyler Yates on 62/3 shutout innings out of the bullpen. Van Benschoten was tagged for five runs and five hits in 21/3 innings.

Notes and quotes

--Infielder-outfielder Steve Pearce was recalled from Class AAA Indianapolis to take the roster spot opened by Capps being placed on the disabled list and struck out as a pinch hitter. Pearce, 25, was hitting .259 with 11 homers and 50 RBIs in 79 games for Indianapolis. Pearce isn't likely to be with the Pirates long; they need to open roster spots early next week to activate lefty Phil Dumatrait and right Ian Snell from the disabled list.

--Snell threw off a mound for the first time since being placed on the DL on June 23 with an inflamed elbow. The Pirates are hopeful Snell will be ready to pitch Tuesday against Houston, the first day he is eligible to be activated.

--Van Benschoten had yet another bad start as he gave up five runs and five hits in 21/3 innings, though he did not figure in the decision. Van Benschoten, recalled from Class AAA Indianapolis on Saturday, is 1-10 with an 8.82 ERA in 16 career starts and is likely to be sent back to the minor leagues in order for the Pirates to call up another reliever for their overworked bullpen.

--First baseman Adam LaRoche is historically an outstanding second-half hitter and, with the All-Star break approaching, went 7-for-11 in the three-game series at Cincinnati, including 2-for-5 with a triple and two RBIs on Wednesday night. LaRoche has a .237 career batting average through June 30 but a .306 mark from July 1 on.


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