WASHINGTON -- Neil Walker's return to second base signified Jordy Mercer's return to shortstop -- and Clint Barmes' return to the bench. Sticking with the younger player underscored the Pirates' commitment to Mercer, who in many ways had been outplayed by Barmes in the nearly two weeks they shared the lineup.
Since Walker's injury turned them into double-play partners on July 8, Barmes hit .333 to Mercer's .270. As for playing the field, Barmes left a lasting reminder of his defensive wizardry in Monday's 6-5 series-opening victory, when he ranged all over the hole for eight assists.
"He was an experienced shortstop playing the game he needed to play to win a one-run game," saluted Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "It's what he does, the difference he can make in the middle of the diamond. And he makes it look easy."
Nothing easy about returning to the bench for the 34-year-old, but he has the satisfaction of knowing he had played -- or, rather, hit -- his way back into the team's core.
"He had probably his best two weeks of the season offensively, so he is confident in the box," Hurdle said. "And the fielding part speaks for itself. He'll still get starts at shortstop. I'm not going to say 'Jordy is our shortstop.' We just need to be smart about how we play both."
Grilli on DL with forearm strain, to undergo more tests
WASHINGTON -- Closer Jason Grilli was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday by the Pirates, with what for the time being is classified as a "right forearm strain."
Grilli departed early afternoon for Pittsburgh, where he will undergo further medical tests to determine the source of the pain that forced his ouster from Monday night's game with the Nationals.
"He'll be seen by our doctors, so we'll get a more thorough evaluation. The initial read was that he'll be down at last 10 days, so the DL became a no-brainer," said Pirates general manager Neal Huntington. "Until we get a more thorough read, it makes no sense for us to speculate on what it is or how long he'll be down."
With two outs in the ninth inning Monday, Grilli had thrown one pitch to Washington pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi before stalking around the mound in pain, and soon after he walked disconsolately off the field.
He was visibly, and understandably, depressed in the Pirates' post-victory clubhouse. By all accounts, he had gotten over the initial shock and was back to his old gregarious self by the time he bid so-long to teammates Tuesday.
"He talked to us, told us to keep going," Andrew McCutchen said. "He didn't want us to be down. It was good to see him in a good mood, feeling better than he was [Monday] night."
"He needed some time. I think anybody would have. He got to see a number of teammates before he left," said manager Clint Hurdle, "and that was good for everybody. He told me, 'I just want to stay on the wave,' and I told him, 'We'll leave a light on for you.'"
Erstwhile setup man Mark Melancon, a fellow All-Star whose 0.97 ERA is the lowest among NL relievers, takes over closing duties, a role he filled for the Astros in 2011.
Meanwhile, Vic Black has been called up from Indianapolis to occupy the vacant bullpen seat. The 25-year-old right-hander will be making his Major League debut after posting a 2.31 ERA along with 15 saves for Indianapolis, where he had 51 strikeouts in 35 innings.
Hurdle called Black "another power arm. He's got a live fastball, a big-time breaking ball."
Black was a first-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, maintaining the Pirates clubhouse's population of former top Draft picks, which had included Grilli.
Designated with Walker back, Inge draws praise
WASHINGTON -- Baseball players with a winner's DNA are often credited with "doing those little things that do not show up in the box score."
Brandon Inge's entire Pittsburgh stay was like that. The veteran infielder was designated for assignment on Tuesday -- creating a roster spot for Neil Walker's return from the disabled list -- but his influence was far more pronounced than his stat line.
"He was here for the time he needed to be here," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He did everything we asked him to do, and he added value in specific areas. We just needed more on the field."
Inge batted .181 while filling in at various positions for 50 games, but his most prevalent recent role was one to which he couldn't adapt: Coming off the bench, for infrequent pinch-hitting appearances. He went 3-for-21 as a pinch-hitter, with eight strikeouts.
"It wasn't for lack of effort, or a lack of understanding the role [of a part-time player]. But he's a guy who has played five-plus times a week, and it got to the point I couldn't promise him any more opportunities," Hurdle said.
Inge was in the middle of the Pirates clubhouse Tuesday afternoon, dressed in street clothes, chatting up his now former teammates. Characteristically, he had asked for the opportunity to say his goodbyes in person.
"I've been with guys who just wanted to go [when released], but he wanted to come in. So he's out there touching them up one more time," Hurdle said. "We'll be better for the time he did spend here."
"I'm sorry my part of it didn't work out," Inge said. "But you've got a good group here. They're going to do good things."
First number, last word
31: Pirates record for being hit by a pitch, by Jason Kendall in both 1997 and '98. Starling Marte was hit on Monday for the 17th time, putting him on pace for 29.
"You know what? Guys like guys getting saves. Put away that third out [in the ninth inning], and we'll be in the same place mentally as we were with Jason." -- Hurdle, on how the Pirates' end-game changes from flamboyant disabled closer Jason Grilli to sedate pinch-closer Mark Melancon
• Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister observed a bittersweet anniversary Tuesday. Thirty-two years ago, he came off the Bucs' bench to single off Atlanta right-hander Dan Petry in his first Major League at-bat -- which, due to injury and bad breaks, would also turn out to be his last Major League at-bat.
• Home runs in his first two at-bats Monday had given Andrew McCutchen 44 hits, including 13 homers, in his first 99 career at-bats against the Nationals -- making him, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the second big league player to reach those numbers within 100 at-bats against one opponent. The first, Todd Helton, oddly had done it against the Nats' forerunners, the Montreal Expos.
• Jeff Locke has had two starts this season in which he has allowed only one hit: Against the Cubs on June 9, he allowed his only hit on his final pitch of the game -- and Sunday in Cincinnati he allowed his only hit on his first pitch of the game.
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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.