PITTSBURGH -- Even though he was facing his own teammates on Tuesday, Brandon Backe still felt a rush of adrenaline that was missing from his previous throwing sessions. After all, pretending to throw to hitters can't be nearly as interesting as actually doing it.
So when Backe stepped onto the mound early in the afternoon at PNC Park to throw a live batting practice session to Humberto Quintero, Mike Lamb and Orlando Palmeiro, the already excitable right-hander was even that much more eager.
Backe gave himself mixed reviews after throwing 25 pitches, all fastballs and changeups. He felt good physically, but he wasn't entirely pleased with the results.
"It's my first outing," he said. "I can't expect much. It's not like I intended to go out there and dominate and hit my spot every time. It wasn't like that. I think internally, I felt like I could have done a little better. I was expecting to do a little better. I wasn't expecting it to be as difficult as it was."
Backe, who is seven months removed from having Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, is mainly working on command of his fastball. Part of the rehab process is not only to recover physically, but also to learn how to pitch -- and command is the first thing a pitcher must master all over again.
"As much as I know it's just BP, I'm still trying to make a good pitch," he said. "When I throw a sinker away, I want the guy to ground out to the second baseman or the shortstop. It's the game of pitching against hitters. You can hit my pitch all you want, but are you going to hit it where I want you to hit it? That's the whole thing about BP. That was a good time for the hitters to work on trying to hit good pitches. But I didn't give them very many good pitches to hit."
Lamb was a little more generous with the praise.
"He looked pretty good," Lamb said. "It's encouraging as a teammate, as someone you'd like to see out there as quickly as possible. It was encouraging for me. You use cautious optimism. He'll see how he feels tomorrow and see how his elbow feels. Hopefully, he won't have any setbacks and he can come back as soon as possible and help us out."
Backe, who barring any setbacks could return to the starting rotation in August, will throw another session of batting practice next Tuesday. He could begin throwing simulated games in mid-May.
Early BP: Following Backe's batting practice session, manager Phil Garner stepped on the mound to throw a couple of rounds of BP to four players looking to get some extra work: Chris Burke, Jason Lane, Quintero and Luke Scott.
It's not the first time this trip that players have arrived early to the ballpark to take extra swings.
"It's a good time to work on stuff," Lane said. "It helps, especially the first couple days in a park, to take some swings, get a feel for the stadium."
"Really, for me physically, I'm just trying to reinforce good habits," said Burke, who was hitting .246 entering the Pirates series. "Right now, I've just got to get better with my pitch selection and with my frame of mind up there. Sometimes I'm up there thinking too much on certian pitches, trying to guess too much, and that's when I've been getting in trouble."
Jennings progressing: Jason Jennings was eligible to come off the disabled list on Tuesday, but the right-hander is at least a week away from returning to the mound.
Jennings threw on flat ground on Tuesday and hopes to throw fastballs off the mound on Wednesday. If that goes well, he'll take two days off and start throwing his breaking balls, first on flat ground and then off the mound.
However, everything involved Jennings' schedule is earmarked with the word "tentatively."
"It depends on how my arm does and how it responds from the different tests I'm going to give it," he said. "So far I've been doing exercises and so far, so good. But the true test won't be until I get off the mound and throw breaking balls in normal, game-type situations.
"I wish there was a timetable for myself mentally, but it's something we have to play by ear."
Coming up: The Astros and Pirates will meet again on Wednesday for a night game at PNC Park, beginning at 6:05 p.m. CT. Right-hander Matt Albers (0-0, 3.00) will face Bucs lefty Zach Duke (1-2, 9.00).
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.