PITTSBURGH -- The sages at Baseball Prospectus have determined that heading into Wednesday night's game, the Pirates had a 55.5 percent chance of making the playoffs.Relayed that information, manager Clint Hurdle just stared blankly. "It doesn't matter," Hurdle finally said. "We've just got to go play the games. I guess it's better than 35 [percent]. We've earned our way to get to 55, I guess. I don't think we were at 55 last year at this time." Correct. By Aug. 8, 2011, the Pirates' mid-July contention had unraveled into a record of 54-59, and the free fall would continue. It isn't known how the prognosticators at Baseball Prospectus go about these things, but a meat-and-potatoes approach would strongly suggest that 90 wins is a good target for postseason qualification, at least for one of the two Wild Card berths. And to reach that lofty number, the Bucs need a relatively conservative 28-25 record to the wire. They began Wednesday's game with 33 wins in their previous 53 games.
Marte's skills as good as advertised
PITTSBURGH -- Neil Walker watched Starling Marte run down Paul Goldschmidt's base hit in the left-field corner, put on the brakes and fire off a throw as the batter went for second. Walker straddled the bag, expecting to field the 210-foot throw on the hop.But the ball never touched the infield dirt, instead flying into Walker's glove for the easy out. "On some throws you judge how high they're coming in, and you just know they have to bounce. His never did. He's got some kind of arm," Walker said. Marte has some kind of bat and speed, too. He sent his third homer into PNC Park's center-field gardening Tuesday night, and came back on Wednesday with No. 4 -- in 13 big league games -- into the right-center grandstand. He has a couple of stolen bases, but more impressive have been his first-to-third gallops. "He comes as advertised. He's a young man with a really big skill set who just needs to play," said manager Clint Hurdle, who until Marte's July 26 arrival had spent much of the season answering questions about when he would get here. "He's also seeing some things he hasn't seen before, and at this level they're going to continue challenging him." Marte entered Wednesday's game with as many strikeouts as hits (13 of each), but he has already shown that he can be a quick learner. In Cincinnati last weekend, Reds pitchers stubbornly worked him on the outer half of the plate, pitches Marte tried to pull. As a result, he went 0-for-6 with three strikeouts in the first two games. Cincinnati's Homer Bailey stuck with the game plan in Sunday's finale, but Marte unlocked a 2-2 tie in the fourth inning with a two-run triple to the opposite field, setting up a badly needed 6-2 victory after the Bucs had dropped the first two games.
Pirates recall lefty Locke, send Presley to Triple-A
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates have recalled left-hander Jeff Locke from Triple-A Indianapolis, making room for him by optioning outfielder Alex Presley to Indianapolis.Locke fills the bullpen spot and role temporarily vacated by Kevin Correia, who started Wednesday night's game against the D-backs. That essentially makes Locke, who was scheduled to make his next start for the Indians on Thursday, an emergency arm for the Pirates. "He gives us volume if we need innings," said manager Clint Hurdle. Locke started 21 games for Indianapolis, posting a 9-5 record and 2.66 ERA. He threw 125 innings, and in that stretch he racked up 113 strikeouts to go along with 38 walks. The 24-year-old started four games for Pittsburgh in 2011. He went 0-3 with a 6.48 ERA, allowing 12 runs on 21 hits in 16 2/3 innings. He made his big league debut by joining September's expanded roster, and now steps into the middle of the National League Central race. "Last year was an eye-opener, for sure. I had a taste, and I knew I wanted to get back," Locke said. "They were out of it by the time I got here, and now it's a completely different clubhouse. Everyone is ready to keep this thing going." Presley's role was diminished when Pittsburgh called up Starling Marte and traded for Travis Snider. In 77 games, Presley hit .234, with eight home runs and 16 RBIs, and he went 9-for-14 in stolen base attempts. In Indianapolis, Presley will join Jose Tabata, another outfielder optioned down this season. The Pirates acquired Locke in the 2009 trade with Atlanta that also brought in Charlie Morton and Gorkys Hernandez in exchange for Nate McLouth. The Braves had selected Locke in the second round of the 2006 Draft.
Grilli gets a rest after tough time vs. D-backs
PITTSBURGH -- In the aftermath of his most ineffective outing of the season, Tuesday night's no-out, four-run dud, Jason Grilli planned to "wash it away and come back tomorrow."He'll have to wait another day. Manager Clint Hurdle classified Grilli as unavailable for Wednesday's rematch with Arizona after the reliever had appeared in the first two games of the series. The veteran Grilli has been a marvel as Joel Hanrahan's primary setup man, but 44 games of hard, crucial pitches are taking a natural, if temporary, toll on his 35-year-old arm. "His velocity had dropped to 92 [mph] last week, but after a couple of days off, it spiked back up," said Hurdle. "He's pitched high-leverage innings from the start to now, and that can wear on a reliever from time to time. You notice it with all relievers. It's just about managing the workload." In the season's first half, Grilli racked up 55 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings. Tuesday's appearance was his third in eight second-half appearances without a strikeout. With the unavailability of both Grilli and Juan Cruz, who shared eighth-inning duties but is on the disabled list recovering from inflammation in his shoulder, setup duties fall to newcomer Chad Qualls. "He's a guy we can plug in," Hurdle said of Qualls, who closed for the D-backs in 2009 and 2010. "He gives us versatility in different roles because of the experience factor."
"[I'll] either pick their brain or have them pick on me. I don't know how I wound up between A.J. and McDonald. I don't know if it's supposed to be a joke." -- rookie and freshly recalled left-hander Jeff Locke, who reported to PNC Park to find out he had been assigned the locker between those of staff aces A.J. Burnett and James McDonald
Petrina McCutchen, the mother of outfielder Andrew, belted out the national anthem prior to Wednesday night's game. Not surprisingly, she hit all the notes.
Jordy Mercer made his sixth start of the season at shortstop, and his first since July 29, to give Clint Barmes the day off. Barmes sat with an ongoing streak of 32 errorless games. Jeff Locke picked a good day for his return to the Major Leagues: Wednesday was the Pirates' annual team photo day. Conversely, Alex Presley, who spent most of the season with the Bucs, missed the team shoot after being sent down to Triple-A.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.