Locke gained confidence as Pirates reached playoffs

PITTSBURGH -- Jeff Locke's pitching and diligence earned him the comeback chance he will get Monday night, yet giving him the start against the Giants was also the product of circumstances.

Veteran left-hander Wandy Rodriguez's recovery from right knee inflammation remains on track, but the team staff prefers for him to make one more Minor League rehab start. Regardless, because of two off-days in the next eight days, the Pirates will not need a fifth starter again until May 13, so activating Rodriguez off the DL now made little sense.

Hence, Locke gets a shot to get his career back on the right track.

"The week's theme seems to be overcoming challenges," manager Clint Hurdle said, referring, among other things, to the Bucs' consecutive comeback wins over Toronto, "and he's certainly had his share since the second half of last season. This is a great opportunity for him to embrace what he has and to keep focused on where he wants to go, and how to get there."

The big league start will be the first since Sept. 22 for Locke, whose slide from midseason All-Star status led to his late-season removal from the rotation. Locke was also left off the Pirates' postseason roster.

Rodriguez's rehab start is penciled in for Tuesday, with the location (Double-A Altoona or Triple-A Indianapolis) not yet determined.

Hurdle, Sofield ejected for arguing strike call

TOR@PIT: Hurdle, Sofield tossed from game

PITTSBURGH -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who tied for the Major League lead by getting thrown out of six games last season, picked up his first ejection of 2014 at the end of the fourth inning of Sunday's game against the Blue Jays at PNC Park.

Jordy Mercer had ended the frame by taking a called third strike from Toronto right-hander Dustin McGowan. At least, in the opinion of home-plate umpire Greg Gibson.

Bucs first-base coach Rick Sofield expressed his disagreement with the call on his way back to the dugout, contending that the pitch to Mercer had been low.

Sofield was tossed by Gibson, who also ejected Hurdle when the manager came to his coach's support.

The Pirates had one prior ejection this season, with Travis Snider having been tossed for his participation in a May 20 on-field fracas with the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Blue Jays led, 4-1, when Mercer took that inning-ending strike, which came with two men on. That was the first time the Pirates had managed to get two runners on base against McGowan.

Pirates appreciate Pimentel reporting injury

PIT@STL: Pimentel fans Molina with bases loaded

PITTSBURGH -- Questions about Stolmy Pimentel's well-being circulated for quite a while before the right-hander acknowledged shoulder discomfort and went on the disabled list Saturday with inflammation in the joint.

"Just the eye-test, from what we saw in Spring Training and last year," Clint Hurdle said. "We're glad he got to the point where he felt comfortable enough to let us know where he was physically, so now we can calm it down and build him back up to the guy we really like. He's dealt with it for a couple of weeks.

"We'd ask him periodically."

Until their latest inquiry, they got the "I'm fine" response. The situation was common, with players known to downplay injuries for a variety of reasons, ranging from job insecurity to high thresholds of pain.

"You ask these guys [how they are], and there's a lot of reasons they'll tell you they're fine," Hurdle said.

The Pirates admire the upside of the Dominican native, rated the organization's No. 16 prospect by MLB.com and who had essentially been squirreled away in the bullpen until the need arose for a spot starter. Were it not for the shoulder inflammation and trip to the DL, Pimentel would most likely have made the start Monday night against the Giants that instead went to Jeff Locke.

Hurdle quiet on ideal lineup spot for Marte

TOR@PIT: Pirates walk off on Marte's solo home run

PITTSBURGH -- Starling Marte's dramatic awakening since being lowered from the top of the Pirates' batting order into the middle of the lineup has many people wondering: Had he been miscast as a leadoff hitter?

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wouldn't go there yet.

"Time will tell; this is another short window, four days," said Hurdle, who typically frowns on people jumping to quick judgments.

In those four days, Marte has gone 8-for-17, with more RBIs (three) than strikeouts (two). To close out April, Marte had nine hits over 12 games atop the lineup, and he struck out 17 times in that stretch.

Hurdle did imply that he had always concurred with scouts who considered Marte, with his aggressive and free-swinging approach, more a middle-of-the-order producer of runs but had to ask him to adjust to the team's needs. The Pirates did not have speed atop their lineup until Marte checked in late July 2012.

"I know where I've liked him all along, which I'm not going to share with you," Hurdle said. "But in my mindset, where I thought he'd be best … it all goes back to what's best for the team at the time, how the pieces best fit."

The lineup of the future could have Gregory Polanco at leadoff. Polanco, rated the club's top prospect by MLB.com, also has tremendous power, but in the Minor Leagues has displayed the required plate patience to become a table-setter, typically drawing a walk for every two times he fans. During his brief Major League career, Marte has 44 walks versus 227 strikeouts.

First number, last word

2: Runners picked off this season by reliever Bryan Morris, twice the entire Pirates staff's total in 2013; Pittsburgh pitchers already have five pickoffs this year.

"I woke up this morning and I heard all the clapping outside my window, and I thought, 'Hey, it's no big deal, I do this every morning.'" -- David Manel, who covers the Pirates and lives along the route for Sunday's Pittsburgh Marathon.

Worth noting

• The Bucs' 6-5 and 8-6 victories in the first two games of the Toronto series marked the first time they had won consecutive home games in which they allowed five or more runs since Aug. 28-30, 2006, when they scored three straight such victories over the Cubs.

• Perhaps it should not have been surprising for Jordy Mercer to break out of a season-long slump Saturday night with his tying, two-run double as a pinch-hitter: Pirates pinch-hitters lead the Majors with 12 RBIs, and Mercer has gone 2-for-4 in that role.

• Speaking of late-game rallies: When Pedro Alvarez and Marte struck ninth-inning homers for Friday night's walk-off win, it marked the first time the Bucs produced tying and winning homers in the same ninth inning since Aug. 25, 1997, when Joe Randa and Mark Smith teamed for a 4-3 win over the Dodgers at Three Rivers Stadium.