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Pirates notebook: Grilli is no lock to return to role of closer

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates closer Jason Grilli celebrates after the final out against the Brewers Saturday June 29, 2013, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates closer Jason Grilli celebrates after the final out against the Brewers Saturday June 29, 2013, at PNC Park.
- Pirates pitcher Stolmy Pimentel throws a bullpen session at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Pirates pitcher Stolmy Pimentel throws a bullpen session at Pirate City  in Bradenton, Fla.

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Monday, Sept. 2, 2013, 1:39 p.m.

MILWAUKEE — Rehabbing relief pitcher Jason Grilli is nearing a return to the Pirates, but what his role will be when he comes back is unclear.

Asked if Grilli would immediately reclaim the closer role, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle declined comment Monday.

“We'll talk about that when he gets back,” Hurdle said. “We're in a lot of different discussions now.”

Mark Melancon has performed well in the role in Grilli's absence, recording nine saves. Grilli (elbow/forearm) is expected to move back to the closer spot eventually, but perhaps he will be eased in.

Grilli pitched a scoreless inning for Double-A Altoona on Monday afternoon. He allowed one hit and struck out three. He threw another scoreless inning with Altoona on Saturday. He's scheduled to make a relief appearance with Triple-A Indianapolis on Wednesday.

Hurdle did not lay out further plans for Grilli, but the expectation is he could quickly rejoin the Pirates after Wednesday's appearance with Indianapolis.

Difficult road

According to a Yahoo! Sports analysis, the Pirates have the most difficult remaining schedule among National League playoff contenders.

Entering Monday, 15 of the Pirates' final 26 games are on the road, including nine combined games — and six road games — against the Cardinals and Reds. The Cardinals and Reds play each other just four more times this season, a four-game series beginning Monday in St. Louis.

The Pirates must take care of business against weaker teams such as Milwaukee down the stretch, something they failed to accomplish in each of the past two seasons.

The Pirates play 12 games against opponents with records of .500 or better in September. The Reds play 13, and the Cardinals play 10.

“When you live in this vacuum, you take it one day at a time,” Hurdle said. “Our focus needs to be on the task at hand, it needs to be acute, it needs to be collective. There's a lot of hard work that needs to be done.”

Marte still not close

Pirates left fielder Starling Marte (right hand strain) still wasn't able to take two-handed swings in Milwaukee on Monday.

“He's running the bases, tossing, one-hand swings,” Hurdle said. “We hope to get both hands on the bat while we're here.”

Rodriguez scheduled to throw

Rehabbing left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (elbow) will continue to try and pitch through elbow tendinitis. He is scheduled to throw a side session Tuesday in Milwaukee, and he will throw all of his pitches. The next step for Rodriguez would be a three-inning rehab start Friday for Triple-A Indianapolis.

Hurdle said it

“There's a lot of (players) that go away from that park and they really don't want to spend time with the guys again. I'm one of them. I invest a lot of energy here. I communicate a lot here. When I go back to my room, I like some quiet time.”

Pepper games

Hurdle liked what he saw during Kyle Farnsworth's one inning of relief Sunday. “I liked the velocity. The breaking ball came into play. He's got three pitches. He did throw some splits. It was an outing that gives optimism.” … Pitcher Stolmy Pimentel is among the Pirates' September reinforcements though he has little experience pitching out of the bullpen. Said Hurdle: “He's big and strong. It's been a really good development year. The stuff can play.”

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

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