PIT@LAA: Alvarez lifts his 18th homer of the season

ANAHEIM -- Pedro Alvarez got hot at the plate -- .393 during a seven-game hitting streak -- swinging it from the six- and five-holes in the Pirates' batting order. The deserved promotion came Sunday, when the third baseman surfaced in the No. 3 slot against Angels right-hander Joe Blanton.

Alvarez didn't disappoint, slugging a solo home run in the first inning, his 19th of the season and the fourth straight game he's gone deep.

It was unclear which carried more significance: that he was batting third for the first time in his career, or that manager Clint Hurdle skipped over him for the No. 4 spot? Hurdle has always maintained that cleanup is Alvarez's destiny and the Pirates' lineup will be best served when he finds a home there.

But Alvarez's two extended trials in that role have not gone well, so is Hurdle now avoiding that because it might come with excess burden for his slugger?

"I don't think so, but you always hear me say that feelings aren't facts, and the facts are telling me that has not been a comfortable spot for him," Hurdle said.

In 38 career games in the cleanup spot, Alvarez has hit .135, with two homers in 133 at-bats.

"I do think a time is coming when, through Pedro's experience and maturity, it's not going to complicate things for him and he'll make a seamless transition [into the four-hole]," Hurdle said. "But with [Russell] Martin and [Andrew] McCutchen not in the lineup [and] him being hot -- that's why he's third today. To read anything more into it is missing the point."

Well, there was one other point to having Alvarez bat third on Sunday.

"He's 6-for-9 off Blanton," Hurdle said. "End of story."

Pirates continue game of rotation roulette

PIT@ATL: Wandy leaves the game with injury in first

ANAHEIM -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington were again playing with their primary colors on Sunday.

Explanation: Huntington has referred to Pittsburgh's fluid starting rotation as a "Rubik's Cube Rotation," and the pieces were on the move:

• Jeanmar Gomez, still on the disabled list -- where he was placed on June 3 with forearm tightness -- has officially been designated as the starter for Wednesday's game in Seattle.

• Consequently, rookie Gerrit Cole's next start has been pushed back to Friday, the opener of a six-game homestand. Cole will make that start against Milwaukee on six days' rest.

• Wandy Rodriguez (forearm tightness) could make a quick return, after only one Triple-A rehab start, which he made Sunday. The lefty targeted 65 pitches.

"We'll see how he feels today, and the feedback we get from that," Hurdle said. "Whether he needs to go back out, or will be ready to play. So a lot of dominoes will fall after that."

One of those dominoes will involve another incumbent rotation cog, James McDonald, whose 30-day rehab assignment expires Tuesday. The club will then have to either activate the right-hander or seeks ways to move him.

Worth noting

Must C Curious: Scoreboard snags first T. Sanchez hit

• Tony Sanchez, who was DH-ing in his Major League debut on Sunday, will reprise that role in Tuesday's opener of the brief two-game set in Seattle against Mariners lefty Joe Saunders.

Sanchez notched his first big league hit in his first at-bat off Blanton, connecting on a double that lodged itself into the right-field wall in the second inning.

Sanchez brought a .306 average from Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday, and Hurdle didn't want him to spend a third straight day on the bench.

"I'm a big advocate of getting someone in there quick when they come up hot," Hurdle said. "Keep him fresh. That's as long as I wanted to wait with Tony."

• Hurdle was happy to be able to give McCutchen (and Martin) the first of two consecutive days off, but the Angels were probably even happier about it: McCutchen is 34-for-76 (.447) with five homers and 17 RBIs in his last 19 Interleague games.

First number, last word

8: Consecutive times the Pirates have been swept in West Coast cities since the last time they did the sweeping, in 2007 in San Francisco.

"It's this the Twilight Zone? Who'd have thought the bat would get me to the big leagues?"
-- Sanchez, whose reputation was built on his defensive prowess as a catcher, on making his Major League debut on Sunday as the Pirates' DH.