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Pirates notebook: Postseason pitching plan set

| Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, 6:21 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano delivers to the plate during the fifth inning against the Cubs on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole watches action from the dugout during a game against the Reds Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole sits in the dugout during a game against the Reds on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates right fielder Marlon Byrd rounds the bases past Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips after hitting a two-run homer during the fifth inning Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

CINCINNATI — The postseason pitching plan fell into place Saturday when the Pirates locked up home field for the NL wild-card game.

Manager Clint Hurdle confirmed left-hander Francisco Liriano will start the wild-card game Tuesday. Johnny Cueto will start for the Cincinnati Reds.

If the Pirates advance to the NL Division Series, right-hander A.J. Burnett will start Game 1. Hurdle said the team is “leaning more toward using a four-man” rotation in the NLDS.

“We've got four guys (Liriano, Burnett, Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole) who are pitching extremely well, and we'd like to stick with it,” Hurdle said. “One of the things we've been very consistent with is the way we've used our starting pitching.”

Cole was supposed to start Sunday's regular-season finale. But that game is meaningless now, so right-hander Brandon Cumpton will start. Right-hander Greg Reynolds will pitch for the Reds.

Byrd having a blast

This is Marlon Byrd's 12th season in the major leagues. The Pirates are his seventh team, spanning the American and National Leagues. Yet he has never gotten a sniff of the postseason.

Until now.

“It's a blast,” Byrd said. “I've been close, but I've never been in this position, where a team knows it's going to make the playoffs, there are sellouts every night, a whole city is behind you. It's just amazing.”

Byrd had a good shot at the playoffs in 2009, when he played for Texas. The Rangers went 87-75, but the Boston Red Sox got the AL wild-card spot. In 2004, when Byrd was with Philadelphia, the Phillies wound up four games out of the NL wild card.

Has this ride with the Pirates been better than expected?

“What will be better is October,” Byrd said. “Once we get there, it will really start sinking in.”

Melancon rebounds

Reliever Mark Melancon tossed one scoreless inning Saturday. That snapped a stretch in which he blew three straight save chances and gave up six runs (three earned) in 2 23 innings.

“I think the coaching staff and front office was more worried than I was,” Melancon said. “For some reason, they were on pins and needles. But there was no need to be. I never felt that way.”

Hold the ice

Andrew McCutchen laughed when someone asked how the champagne tasted during the Pirates' postgame party when they locked up a playoff bid.

“It was a little too cold for me,” McCutchen said. “I think next time we should leave it hot.”

Hot champagne?

“You're going to get it poured on you, and it's going to be wasted, anyway,” McCutchen said. “What's the point of chilling it if you're not going to drink it?”

Mixed emotions

When the Pirates clinched a playoff berth Monday in Chicago, Jeff Karstens celebrated in the clubhouse like everyone else on the team. But it was a bittersweet moment for Karstens, who has been on the disabled list the entire season.

“It was hard, but nothing is more gratifying than seeing what these guys have done,” said Karstens, who had shoulder surgery in June. “There's a lot of joy and happiness, even though I wish I could've contributed more.”

Karstens was non-tendered last winter, then re-signed with the Pirates as a free agent. He frequently is asked why he bothered to return to a team that once designated him for assignment.

“This is the only place I wanted to play,” Karstens said. “I wanted to be part of this because I felt we were going in the right direction.”

Karstens turned 31 years old the day after the Pirates clinched.

“I couldn't ask for a better birthday present,” Karstens said. “I can't ask for a playoff (roster) spot, so I'm going to ask for a World Series ring.”

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

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