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Pirates notebook: Hurdle pinpoints reason for fall-off

| Friday, Aug. 30, 2013, 7:15 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
PIrates shortstop Clint Barmes (left) celebrates catcher Russell Martin's (right) fourth-inning home run against the Cardinals on Friday.

The Pirates are not in the midst of a third consecutive second-half collapse, but they were in the midst of a leveling-off period entering Friday's series opener against the Cardinals.

Prior to July 1, the Pirates had 21 more wins than losses. Since July 1, the Pirates were 26-26 before Friday's game.

Manager Clint Hurdle offered a simple formula Friday to explain why the Pirates have been a .500 club in the second half.

“Our pitching has probably ratcheted down a notch,” he said. “It went from as good as it could be to now just being really good.

“Our offense, we've been challenged at different times of the year by different types of pitching. That hasn't been anything new.”

The Pirates posted the best ERA in the NL in the first half of the season (3.08). In the second half, the Pirates are seventh best (3.51).

The Pirates averaged 4.4 runs in the first half; in the second half, 3.1.

Wandy's rehab start?

The Pirates hope left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez (left elbow) will be able to make a rehab start in the International League playoffs. The last guaranteed game for Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis during the best-of-five series in the first round would be Sept. 6.

The target for Rodriguez is to throw three innings and 50 pitches for Indianapolis next week if he progresses without issue.

Rodriguez threw off flat ground Thursday after he visited Dr. James Andrews, who examined Rodriguez's elbow and found no structural damage, on Tuesday.

Rodriguez is set to throw 15 to 20 fastballs halfway up the mound Sunday then throw a bullpen in Milwaukee Tuesday. If those sessions go well, he then would make a rehab start before the minor league season concludes.

But even if Rodriguez does progress through all those stages, it's unclear what his role would be if he is able to rejoin the Pirates. Rodriguez has not started a game since June 5.

“It's going to be hard to get him stretched out,” Hurdle said.

Sunday starter

The Pirates have not announced a starter for Sunday's game, but all signs point to Kris Johnson (10-4, 2.93 ERA in Triple-A) getting the nod.

Casey Sadler was promoted from Double-A to take Johnson's spot in Indianapolis' rotation. The Pirates need a starter for Sunday after demoting Jeff Locke, at least temporarily, from the starting rotation.

Pepper games

Starling Marte (right hand) still is not ready to take batting practice. “He's swinging one-handed right now. He's getting closer,” Hurdle said. “We're hoping he might be able to take some swings at the beginning of next week.” … Pirates closer Jason Grilli will pitch one inning Saturday at Altoona-A. Grilli is scheduled to throw another rehab inning Monday.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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