Locke gained confidence as Pirates reached playoffs

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jeff Locke has pronounced himself back, running on all cylinders. He also realizes he is likely running out of time to be a part of the Pirates' season-opening rotation.

The left-hander went through a 45-pitch session in the bullpen on Friday. He felt good, with no reminders of the right-side discomfort that surfaced soon after his only spring outing, two innings on Feb. 27. Locke expects to throw live batting practice on Monday.

"Then maybe get in a game," Locke said. "As far as I'm concerned, I'm back to normal. I hope to get back out there. Watching gets a little old."

Opening Day, two weeks away, is out. Even if the Bucs did not need a fifth starter until April 14 due to two off days, Locke would be a long shot for that. However, manager Clint Hurdle said after Sunday's 5-0 spring win over the Phillies in Clearwater that he is more likely to share the load and use a fifth starter earlier, which definitely rules Locke out.

So Locke's more realistic expectation is being ready, if needed, by the first of May.

Wilk's scoreless start advances case for rotation spot

PIT@PHI: Wilk throws three shutout innings

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Pirates have reached the point of running two Spring Training camps for pitchers: In one, those assured of jobs get ready for the season; in the other, those on the bubble get to fight for jobs.

The first takes place in Pirate City, where rotation locks started Minor League games last week and where Jason Grilli worked two innings on Sunday, following similar turns by Mark Melancon and Justin Wilson.

The second occurs in the Grapefruit League, where manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage size up hopefuls against stiffer competition.

"We try to give guys trying to make the club a more competitive lineup to pitch against," Hurdle explained.

Adam Wilk stepped into that bubble Sunday without having it burst, starting against the Phillies and blanking them for three innings on two hits, setting up the Bucs' 5-0 whitewash.

"Just working on keeping the ball down, getting good movement on the ball, staying ahead," Wilk said. "I'm not a guy that blows it in the mid-90s, so I've got to keep the ball down. I have my pitches working, and it's going well right now."

Wilk has pitched 10 innings and allowed one run and seven hits with one walk and six strikeouts.

"He was very efficient again today," Hurdle said. "He's shown command of the fastball, used his cutter extremely well, and it was a good go-to pitch versus left-handed hitters. And he threw some good changeups and curveballs to right-handers. He's kept the ball down."

Wilk is also keeping his nose down, to the grindstone, as it were. He won't concern himself with trying to figure out where he stands in the pitching competition.

"Whatever happens will be nothing new to me," said the 26-year-old onetime Detroit prospect. "I'll just go out and pitch and prepare myself, and let the manager or whoever has that decision, make it."

Phils, Bucs deny intent after five batters hit Sunday

Neil Walker was hit by a pitch in the third inning. (Getty)

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Maybe it was the fact the respective teams' batters were hit by pitches in alternate fashion, always a little suspicious. Or the fact that the fourth plunking was delivered by a reputed no-nonsense Pittsburgh pitcher.

Regardless, by the time Bryan Morris bounced a fifth-inning pitch off the Phillies' Cody Asche, it was enough for home-plate umpire Tom Hallion to issue a warning to both benches at Bright House Field -- a highly irregular development in a Spring Training game.

Yet another Pirates batter would get hit --- Josh Harrison, by Antonio Bastardo in the seventh -- but that was considered incidental enough to not trigger any discipline.

Phillies starter Sean O'Sullivan got in the first hit, on Neil Walker in the third. In the bottom of the third, Adam Wilk plunked John Mayberry Jr. In the fifth, Jonathan Papelbon got a big piece of a popular target, Starling Marte.

So to start the home half of the fifth, Morris hit Asche. Morris is the guy who earned tacit props -- from both teams -- for hitting the Mets' Jordany Valdespin last May 11, the day after Valdespin had overdone his admiration of a meaningless home run in Citi Field.

Sunday's extracurriculars received little and predictable attention.

"No chance," Papelbon said when asked if those pitches carried any purpose. "Did you see the way I was throwing? I wasn't really hitting my spots, was I? I felt good, and I wanted to throw hard. Of course, I have [my teammates' backs], but it's Spring Training, man."

"Maybe guys were just trying to pitch inside," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "There's a lot of different things you work on in Spring Training."

Reading between the box-score lines, one could assume that the Pirates are working on getting decked and then getting even.

After Sunday's game, Pittsburgh batters have been hit by pitches 14 times in 18 spring games and Pittsburgh pitchers have hit 15 batters -- both sets of numbers tops among the 30 Major League teams.

Worth noting

Andrew McCutchen raised his spring average to .560 with another 2-for-3 afternoon; he has 11 hits in his last 18 at-bats.

• Streaking the other way is Andrew Lambo, who drew another 0-for-4 collar and is now hitless in his last 17 at-bats and 1-for-30 since a hit in his first at-bat of the spring.

"Sometimes you learn as much, if not more, about your players when everything is not going well," Hurdle said. "How they handle themselves, how they continue to work, how they show up. This is part of the challenge for him, to find a way to push through it, and I believe he will."

• Grilli went two innings in a Minor League start at Pirate City, pitching hitless ball while picking up one strikeout.

• The Bucs continue to list a DH in their lineups, but their starting pitchers have begun to take turns at bat when pitching in Minor League games at the Pirate City camp.

First number, last word

May 6, 2011: Date of switch-hitting Walker's last home run batting right-handed -- off current teammate Wandy Rodriguez, then with the Astros -- prior to connecting Sunday off Antonio Bastardo; Walker's last homer off a lefty in Spring Training was in 2007.

"You have to have skin like an iguana. Don't worry about what others are saying about you. Don't let things from the outside distract you." - Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, on Edinson Volquez, the object of fan criticism as he works through Spring Training, hopeful of regaining his former stature