Pirates' 'pen leads league in shaves

Bucs' relievers shear heads as show of unity after dominant stretch

Pirates' 'pen leads league in shaves

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' bullpen showed up at PNC Park on Tuesday sporting a new look: shaved heads, from bullpen coach Euclides Rojas to closer Mark Melancon.

Pittsburgh's relievers came up with the idea over the weekend, figuring a bald head was an effective deterrent to the summer-time heat. It also served as a show of unity, at least physically, for a group that's come together during a successful run over the last few weeks.

Eight Pirates relievers combined to allow one run over 12 innings of work during Sunday's marathon, 18-inning victory over the Nationals. Since June 25, the Bucs' bullpen has posted a 1.14 ERA, the lowest mark in the Majors.

When you're on that kind of hot streak, why not shave your heads to cool down?

"That's the part of the game that never ceases to amaze me," said manager Clint Hurdle, still sporting his usual spiked hair. "They're kids. It's summer time. Who didn't shave their head in the summer time? I was just waiting for them to have a popsicle in their mouth.

"And then, of course, they looked at me. And I said, 'Oh, no no no.'"

Melancon closes out the 9th

Left-hander Jonathon Niese, recently bumped from the rotation to the bullpen, shaved his short hair to join Melancon, Tony Watson, Neftali Feliz, Jared Hughes, Arquimedes Caminero, Juan Nicasio and A.J. Schugel.

Rojas was sporting the shaved-head look as he posed for pictures after batting practice with his relievers and bullpen catcher Heberto Andrade, who had a head start on the rest of the group -- he was already bald.

Around the horn
• The Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association named David Freese the Pirates' 2016 Heart and Hustle Award winner on Tuesday. The award, voted on by former players, is given annually to a player on each team who shows a passion for the game and embodies its values and traditions. Josh Harrison won the league-wide award in 2014.

"He models the behavior that you want to have in the players on your team. He's done that since the day he showed up," Hurdle said of Freese. "He's very representative of that award. I'm proud of him and happy that he got it."

Freese's solo homer

• Tuesday was a make-or-break day for Gregory Polanco, battling a sore hamstring since before the All-Star break. Faced with either returning to the lineup or heading to the disabled list, Polanco started in right field, batting second.

"We've given our best shot to get him back in play," Hurdle said. "We'll see where this takes us."

• The Pirates transferred catching prospect Elias Diaz's rehab assignment from Double-A Altoona to Triple-A Indianapolis. Diaz, the Pirates' No. 8 prospect per MLBPipeline.com, is recovering from right elbow surgery.

• Triple-A right-hander Frank Duncan was placed on the seven-day disabled list with a right thumb sprain. Duncan, who represented the Pirates at the Triple-A All-Star Game, is 6-5 with a 2.58 ERA in 12 starts for Indianapolis this season.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.