6/18/13: Early runs help Morton, Bucs beat Latos

CINCINNATI -- Tuesday's 4-0 win against the Reds encapsulated the good and the bad surrounding the Pirates this season.

Pittsburgh received more quality pitching, starting with Charlie Morton and ending with closer Jason Grilli. That's nothing new, as the Pirates entered Wednesday with a 3.29 ERA, good for third in the Majors.

Unfortunately for the Pirates, the familiar offensive struggles persisted, though they did scratch out enough runs to win. After posting three runs in the first, the Bucs added just one more in the seventh.

The Achilles' heel on Tuesday, as it has been all season, was strikeouts, as Pittsburgh batters struck out a season-high 17 times.

At the beginning of play Wednesday, the Braves were the only National League team to strike out more times (645) than the Pirates (599) this season. That's contributed to Pittsburgh ranking 24th in the Majors in runs scored with 266 before taking on the Reds on Wednesday.

"You don't have to go much further than that to look at why we're being challenged offensively," manager Clint Hurdle said. "You saw the game last night. We need to do a better job of competing within the batter's box -- these guys get it -- and not chasing, to a man."

As a team, the Pirates have swung at 31.6 percent of pitches outside the strike zone this season, according to Fangraphs. Hurdle said everyone has put in the extra work and film study, but it comes down to execution.

To this point, pitching has kept the Pirates alive, but Hurdle said the offense will take them to the next level.

"We're pushing it as much as you can push it," Hurdle said. "I don't think we'll be able to push it for a 162-game season. I just don't. There's got to be more offense along the way, and I believe there will be. We've just got to take it upon ourselves to make it happen.

Improving Alvarez still striking out in middle of lineup

PIT@CIN: Alvarez's single plates a pair, extends lead

CINCINNATI -- Third baseman Pedro Alvarez entered Wednesday's matchup with the Reds having reached base safely in 14 of 16 games this month. In that span, he hit five homers and accounted for 14 of his 43 RBIs, and manager Clint Hurdle said Alvarez has been showing glimpses of the player the Pirates hope he can be.

"Pedro has the ability to shrink any park we play in," Hurdle said. "The ability to drive in runs and be a run producer is quite evident. We knew it was a special talent when we drafted him. You see it play out throughout the season from time to time."

The problem Hurdle has had with Alvarez is deciding where to place him in the lineup, especially considering Alvarez struck out 81 times in 215 at-bats and has a .282 on-base percentage. Hurdle said he's "done three different system analysis" to find the most optimal spot for Alvarez, and for most of the season, that spot has been sixth.

"How do you maximize the swing of the bat that you get when you get it?" Hurdle said. "He's been a very good run producer for this team this season. He's had a lot of opportunities, as well, but he has shown the ability to rise to the occasion."

Lefty Zagurski opts to explore free agency

PIT@DET: Zagurski picks up first K in Bucs uniform

CINCINNATI -- After being designated for assignment Saturday and clearing waivers Tuesday, left-hander Mike Zagurski opted to enter free agency.

The Pirates thought they had a solid reliever in Zagurski after his Spring Training camp as a non-roster invitee. He gave the organization an even better impression as he posted a 2.14 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 21 innings for Triple-A Indianapolis.

Zagurski carried the momentum into the big leagues when he was called up and first appeared against the Tigers on May 27, striking out one and walking another in a scoreless inning. He allowed 10 runs in five innings, walking seven in his subsequent outings. His struggles peaked on June 13, when he surrendered five runs on six hits in one inning against the Giants.

Worth noting

• Hurdle said A.J. Burnett, on the disabled list retroactive to June 9, "has been nowhere near a mound" as he recovers from a right calf strain.

"We're working on flexibility, mobility and strengthening," Hurdle said. "That's not to say that can't change in another 24 hours with A.J. He's really tried to not do some things at all and do a lot of things. As far as his rehab goes, he didn't want to do anything as far as moving around other than strengthening, loosening and working on the flexion part of it.