PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates accommodated newcomers Marlon Byrd and John Buck with a pair of Wednesday pregame moves, one anticipated and the other a bit of a shocker.
All-Star left-hander Jeff Locke was optioned to Double-A Altoona, along with rookie catcher Tony Sanchez.
Locke's Minor League detour was taken with the apparent agreement of all that the pitcher needed a break -- physically as well as mentally -- with a month to go in his first full big league season. Manager Clint Hurdle got that impression in a pregame talk with Locke.
"I think Jeff got to the point where he felt fatigued," Hurdle said, following the Pirates' 7-1 victory over Milwaukee at PNC Park, "and we needed to find a way to give him a pause button. That's basically what we've done."
With Buck available to provide catching support for starter Russell Martin, Sanchez's brief departure was expected. He will be able to rejoin the club on Tuesday, after the 25-man roster limit had expired and when Altoona's season will end.
Locke's demotion comes in the wake of his third straight short start, when he allowed five runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings against the Brewers Tuesday night. Since entering the All-Star break with a record of 8-2 and a 2.15 ERA, Locke has one win in eight starts, with an ERA of 6.18 and an opponents' average of .340.
"This move allows us to give Jeff Locke a short break," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "It also allows Tony Sanchez to get back to the Major Leagues as soon as the rules permit us to do so. In addition, this gives us the opportunity to maintain a full roster until both Jeff and Tony can return to the club on September 3. That is when the Double-A season is over and when the club intends to recall both players."
Hurdle emphasized the fact that Locke is the only starter who has been in the rotation from the beginning of the season. Gerrit Cole was a midseason callup, A.J. Burnett spent a month on the DL with a calf injury, Francisco Liriano's season was delayed into mid-May as he recovered from a right hand fracture, and Charlie Morton returned from Tommy John surgery in late June.
"Hopefully, we found a little refresher button for Locke," Hurdle said.
Byrd, Buck arrive, start 'meshing with new team'
PITTSBURGH -- The new "kids" on the Pirates' block checked in early Wednesday, ready to lend their efforts to the pursuit of a National League Central title.
Outfielder Marlon Byrd, No. 2 on your new scorecard, and catcher John Buck, No. 14, did have to get up to date on a couple matters. Having both driven west from New York, from where they were acquired in a Tuesday trade, they've had a hectic time, so their oversights were understandable.
"Couldn't be more happy ... worst to first," said Buck, coming from sharing the NL East basement with the Mets to, well, the second-place Bucs.
Byrd, in Wednesday night's lineup at cleanup against Brewers lefty Tom Gorzelanny, had to cram on the Pirates' "Z" hand signal for offensive contributions.
"I've seen it," Byrd said, "but I don't even know which way it goes. Someone's gonna have to teach me, because I plan on being on base at some point while I'm here."
No point better than Wednesday as Byrd turned his debut into a memorable night, highlighted by a 14-pitch fourth-inning battle he lost to left-hander Tom Gorzelanny -- who ended it by striking him out -- and his game-breaking three-run homer in the seventh off righty Burke Badenhop. The Pirates won, 7-1, to pull within a half-game of the NL Central-leading Cardinals.
Buck did not make an appearance.
Byrd's arrival triggered a massive shakeup of the Pirates' lineup. Catcher Russell Martin, who had batted cleanup against lefties with Pedro Alvarez lowered into the five-hole, moved all the way to No. 7.
Asked, almost rhetorically, for the rationale behind putting the new guy in the four-hole, manager Clint Hurdle replied, "His numbers against left-handed pitching this year make the statement about it. He'd had an incredibly solid offensive season."
Within Byrd's overall solid numbers with the Mets -- .285 average, 21 homers and 71 RBIs -- are a .345 average and .597 slugging percentage against southpaws.
Beyond the advanced age -- he turns 36 on Friday -- Byrd's resurgent season is remarkable following a bad year that ended on a worse note. After going from the Cubs to Boston in a deal on April 21, 2012, he drove in seven runs in 34 games with the Red Sox, then drew a 50-game suspension for violating MLB's Drug Policy.
"I went through the suspension last year, went home, and one organization believed in me: the Mets," said Byrd, who was not signed by New York until Feb. 1. "They gave me this opportunity, then gave me an opportunity again to come [here to] play in the playoffs. You can't take anything for granted in this game, but things like this happen when you put in the hard work. It's a privilege to be in the big leagues, period."
Buck, 33, began his Pittsburgh tenure as Martin's sole backup, with rookie Tony Sanchez being sent to Indianapolis for three days, until rosters expand on Sept. 1.
"To come in here as a pair softens the initial blow of meshing with a new team," Buck said.
Byrd on Buck: "A professional player. He pays attention to detail, and pitchers love throwing to him. He can surprise you every now and then and let one go, hit one 450 feet. An all-around great player."
Buck on Byrd: "He's a big boy. He covers some ground in the outfield. And he can hit it a long way."
Bucs get encouraging news on injury front
PITTSBURGH -- Good news all around Wednesday on key Pirates recovering from injuries. When a visit to Dr. James Andrews results in a positive development, you know it's a good day.
That was the latest twist in Wandy Rodriguez's protracted battle with a forearm issue. Not only did Dr. Andrews, who examined the left-hander on Tuesday, diagnose no need for surgery, but early indications were Rodriguez might even squeeze in a rehab outing before Minor League schedules run out the first week of September.
The 2013 participation of Rodriguez, who has been out since June 3, remains a longshot.
Not so for reliever Jason Grilli, who, in manager Clint Hurdle's words, worked "an encouraging" 25-pitch simulated game Wednesday afternoon in PNC Park. Grilli will rest for two days and, if he continues to feel well, is down for a Saturday rehab outing with Double-A Altoona.
Grilli's advantage is having to build up his arm for only one inning of work. The Altoona assignment would have him go one inning and throw no more than 20 pitches.
Outfielder Travis Snider has ramped up his own rehab with Indianapolis from his left big toe injury. He is 7-for-26 with four RBIs and four runs in seven games between Altoona and the Indians.
Hurdle spoke with Snider on Monday for a direct report on his progress.
"He's feeling better, getting in game shape. He's played nine innings multiple times," Hurdle said.
First number, last word
34: Pirates' club record for most home runs in a season by a third baseman, by Aramis Ramirez in 2001. Alvarez took 32 into Wednesday night's game against the Brewers (and Ramirez).
"He's been one of the guys I've gone out of my way to tell them how I respect the way they play the game. He has always played with energy, with an edge." - Hurdle, on Byrd.
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.