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Pirates notebook: Busy slate affords Gomez spot start

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 6:33 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Jeanmar Gomez will get a spot start next week against the Cardinals.

WASHINGTON — The Pirates' starting rotation will stay the same through this weekend's series against the Miami Marlins. That means right-hander Jeanmar Gomez almost certainly will make a spot start next week during the extended series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Pirates will play five games against the Cardinals from Monday through Thursday at PNC Park. Gomez probably would pitch one of the games of the doubleheader Tuesday.

“We've got a plan we want to put in place against St. Louis,” manager Clint Hurdle said Wednesday. “We've got a guy in Jeanmar Gomez who's as good as any spot starter we could come up with. At this point of the season, we feel the continuity (of the regular starters) is important — keep ‘em lined up and in a routine.”

Francisco Liriano, Jeff Locke, A.J. Burnett and Charlie Morton will pitch against the Cardinals. MLB rules permit a team to call up an extra player, expanding the active roster to 26 only for the day of the doubleheader. The Pirates could use the rule to add a reliever to cover for Gomez.

Injury update

General manager Neal Huntington said doctors still are evaluating closer Jason Grilli (right forearm strain), so there was no update on the severity of Grilli's injury. ... Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (left forearm tightness) played catch Wednesday at Nationals Park. It was the third day of his throwing program. There's been no indication yet when Rodriguez will start throwing off a mound. ... Reliever Jared Hughes (right shoulder inflammation) tossed one scoreless inning Monday and another Tuesday on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis.

McKenry gets a game

Backup catcher Michael McKenry was in the lineup Wednesday night so Russell Martin could be behind the plate Thursday when A.J. Burnett pitches.

Martin and Burnett have built a strong rapport on the field. Also, Hurdle didn't want to use Martin four games in a row.

“We're comfortable with the (Francisco) Liriano and McKenry (pairing),” Hurdle said. “The A.J. combination is as big a part of it as anything.”

Sanchez's last hurdle

Catcher Tony Sanchez has made 14 errors at Indianapolis, third most on the team. Most of them are throwing miscues — Sanchez has struggled to get the ball to second base.

When Sanchez was called up last month, he appeared in two games but only as a designated hitter.

Sanchez is hitting .290 at Indy and went 2 for 8 during his brief stint with the Pirates. McKenry is batting .190 with a .565 OPS. The Pirates will not consider replacing McKenry with Sanchez until management is confident Sanchez has overcome his throwing problems.

“Tony's last box to check off is to work through some throwing challenges,” Huntington said. “He's approaching it the right way: he's attacking it. The block, the receive, the game call — our pitchers rave about him. And his offense speaks for itself this year. Tony's going to work through it. He's not backing away from it.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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