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Doumit leads Bucs over Cards

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Ryan Doumit was 4-for-4 with a three-run homer as the Pirates rebounded from a rough weekend in Milwaukee with a 6-2 win over the Cardinals at PNC Park Monday night.

With Derrek Lee on the disabled list after fracturing his wrist and Ryan Ludwick struggling to find his power stroke, the Pirates haven't gotten much offensive thump from their trade deadline pickups. But Ryan Doumit has added a long-coveted power bat to the lineup since returning from the DL.

Doumit ripped three-run shot off Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook on Monday night, giving the Pirates a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Xavier Paul also took Westbrook deep, and Neil Walker snapped an 0-for-22 stretch at the plate by reaching base three times in a 6-2 win at PNC Park.

Doumit's four-hit showing was the sixth such game of his career and his first since September 30, 2009, against the Cubs.

"Big night for Ryan swinging the bat," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He has probably come back [from the DL] as clean as any player I've ever had.

Since returning in early August from an ankle injury that had shelved him since late May, Doumit has gone 10-for-23 with two home runs.

"It's nice to get off to the kind of start that I have, considering my rehab assignment didn't go particularly how I wanted it to," Doumit said. "But I'm riding a little bit of a wave right now, and it's fun."

McDonald (8-6) got the win while scattering six hits in 5.2 innings pitched, allowing two runs while striking out four batters and walking two.

"The last couple times I've caught him, he has been lights out," Doumit said. "He added a slider to his repertoire about a month ago, so that's been his most dynamic pitch so far."

"[Developing the slider] is important, because it's another pitch they have to look for," McDonald said. "They can't just sit on one breaking pitch. I'm slowly getting more confidence in it each outing."

The score was knotted at 1-1 as the bottom of the fourth began, as Paul led off the game by lifting a Westbrook sinker into the visitors' bullpen and Rafael Furcal hit an RBI double off McDonald in the third.

Walker led off the fourth with a single, his first hit since August 8 against the Giants. Garrett Jones then lined a low changeup to right field, and Lance Berkman made an on-line, one-hop throw to third base as Walker tried to take the extra bag. But David Freese couldn't handle the throw, allowing Walker to reach third and Jones to pull into second base.

Doumit, who was thrown out trying to score from first base on a Ronny Cedeno double two innings earlier, followed by clubbing a Westbrook curveball over the Clemente Wall to give the Pirates a 4-1 advantage.

Hurdle is glad to have a switch-hitting catcher with power back in a lineup that ranks 14th in the NL in runs scored.

"It was a good body shot - it takes the wind out of you," Hurdle said of losing Doumit on a collision at home plate with Carlos Pena on May 29. "You lose [Chris] Snyder, you lose Doumit...they were piggybacking each other so extremely well to start the season. Their offensive numbers when you combine them were just about as good as any catching position in the league at the time.

"Ryan worked extremely hard in spring training to get himself in a good place, so you hate to see that happen and for him to have to persevere, go on a rehab and come back and get things rolling again. It's good for him, and it shows his mental toughness."

"Unfortunately for me I've been on a lot of extended rehabs," Doumit said. "I didn't do anything different. It's just the way baseball works sometimes."

St. Louis narrowed the lead to 4-2 in the sixth. McDonald nearly escaped the inning unscathed, as Berkman popped a 3-1 pitch into foul territory with two outs and Pujols on first, but third baseman Josh Harrison couldn't make a sliding grab alongside the Pirates' dugout. Berkman walked, and Freese plated Pujols with a single to center.

Jason Grilli limited the damage, however, getting Yadier Molina to pop out to third on a fastball that darted in on his hands.

In the seventh, Jose Veras came in to face Pujols with two outs and runners on first and second. Veras snapped off a 2-2 curveball that appeared to catch the outside corner of the plate, but home plate umpire Dale Scott drew the ire of the crowd of 19,766 by calling it a ball. Pujols fouled off three straight with the runners going, and Veras then froze him with an inside curve for strike three.

"At that point, it's mano-e-mano," Doumit said of the Veras-Pujols showdown. "We all know [Pujols] is up there to do damage, and Veras is a guy who's got tremendous stuff. He went with his curveball because we thought that was what was gonna give us the best chance to get him off-balance, and in my opinion, I thought we struck him out twice in that at-bat."

Veras pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning, and Joel Hanrahan kept the Cardinals off the board in the ninth.

"[Veras] went through the meat of their order," Hurdle said. "Starting with Pujols in a tough situation and then going through Holliday, Berkman and Freese - those are four good hitters. He earned his money tonight."

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, added a pair of insurance runs. Walker drew a free pass to start the sixth and advanced to third on a Doumit single. Cedeno chopped a ground ball to Furcal at short, who fired home to try to get Walker in no-man's land. But Furcal's throw hit the dirt and rolled up the third base line away from Molina, letting Walker hop around the catcher and touch home on the error.

Walker punched a Mitchell Boggs fastball to the right-center field gap in the seventh frame, scoring Ryan Ludwick, stretching the Pirates' advantage to four runs and putting a one-hit road trip in his rearview mirror.

"I knew that if I kept swinging it, the hits would fall," Walker said, noting that he didn't make any mechanical adjustments after his road swoon. "I went back and looked at my at-bats...I wasn't missing pitches, I wasn't late. It was just pitch selection. Tonight I tried to do a better job of using the strike zone to my advantage."

"Maybe he got his Pittsburgh legs back underneath him," Hurdle quipped.

When asked if reaching last year's win total of 57 with a month and a half left to play meant something, however, the first-year Pirates manager bristled.

"For three and a half months, there was a lot of emotion, and in three weeks that's been wiped out for a lot of people," Hurdle said. "Our mind-set's the same. We're just here to win 'em, we'll let someone else count them. We're here to win a championship. We're here to win the Central title. We're going to have to be strong to push through this. The strong will push through it, and the weak we'll leave on the side of the road and move on."

Jose Tabata was recalled from his rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis, but the Pirates want to see the outfielder run the bases before adding him to the active roster. Tabata, who celebrated his 23rd birthday this past Friday, has been sidelined since late June with a left quadriceps strain.

Altoona Curve outfielder Starling Marte was named the Eastern League Player of the Week today. The 22-year-old, originally signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007 for a modest $85,000, went 15-for-27 (.556) at the plate over a six-game stretch. Overall, Marte has a .327 average, a .361 on-base percentage and a .492 slugging percentage at Double-A this season. It has been a year full of accolades for Marte: he was named to the Eastern League All-Star team and represented the Pirates in the Futures Game in July.

The Pirates today signed right-handed pitcher Clay Holmes, the club’s ninth round selection in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. Holmes was rated as the 76th-best pitching prospect and 140th-best overall prospect by Baseball America entering the 2011 Draft. During his senior year at Slocumb (AL) High School, Holmes went 6-2 with a 2.06 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 54.1 innings. As a junior, he posted an 11-5 record along with 126 strikeouts in 89.0 innings of work.

RHP Chris Carpenter (8-8, 3.68 ERA) opposes RHP Jeff Karstens (9-6, 3.04 ERA).  Karstens, making his first start of the season against St. Louis, will surely be challenged by the Cardinals' bats. St. Louis boasts the best overall offense in the NL, but they're especially deadly against pitchers of Karstens' ilk. The Cardinals have a .792 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against "finesse" pitchers (defined by Baseball-Reference as those in the bottom third of the league in walks plus strikeouts), which is tops in the league and better than the club's overall .760 OPS.

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