PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates have certainly faced, and been subdued by, more than their share of blue-chip pitchers this young season. But there was still something different about Thursday's loss to Washington's Stephen Strasburg.

The Bucs were angry, disappointed, rueful about it. Not a single "Oh, well. He's tough. It'll be all good when we see someone easier" shrug.

And manager Clint Hurdle loved the remorse.

"Absolutely," Hurdle said. "We had a chance to win the game against a very good pitcher throwing a very dominating effort. For them to feel that way is a good sign. You've got to beat 1s and 2s if you want to be a championship team. Look past them, and you'll finish in third or fourth place with that mentality.

"You have to find a way to compete against those guys, to dig those wins out of the dirt."

The Bucs had Strasburg down, 2-0. After the Nationals rallied to take a 3-2 lead, three consecutive batters waited out Strasburg for walks in the sixth, giving Pittsburgh another legitimate shot at spoiling his evening.

"We had a true window of opportunity to get that done, and we missed it," Hurdle said. "We're not going to face anyone all year with any better stuff than last night. So we know where that bar was set. We learned a lot of lessons from that game."

"It says a lot for this team that a lot of guys in here expected to win that game," said shortstop Clint Barmes. "That game and that series (the Bucs took the first two after the Nationals hit town with an 18-10 record) says so much about how good we can be."

Presley adjusting to limited role

PITTSBURGH -- Friday night was another night for Alex Presley to deposit all the sideline work into the muscle memory bank. After having started Thursday night's game, Presley was back on the bench on Friday, continuing a week-long pattern.

Nate McLouth started in left against the Astros, in manager Clint Hurdle's hopes of "giving us a spark tonight."

Presley began the season as a lineup mainstay -- he was the only left-handed hitter starting against tough southpaws such as Cliff Lee and Clayton Kershaw -- and was the Pirates' most productive hitter. But a 3-for-32 slump since April 29 has Presley checking the lineup card every day.

"The hardest part is being in and out, because ... it's hard to get into a flow, the timing," Presley said. "The best way of getting into a rhythm is by being in games. It hasn't been the easiest thing not being in there."

Presley confirms having spent time in the cage trying to recapture the slash-and-dash approach that made him a catalyst following his recall in the middle of the 2011 season. But he hasn't quite been trying to re-discover the wheel.

"I'm not really doing that much [new stuff], really," Presley said. "It's stuff I shouldn't even have to think about in games."

Hurdle made no bones about choosing his daily left-fielder between two left-handed hitters: "It needs to be about production now."

For both McLouth and Presley, it's difficult to avoid trying to have the proverbial "good week" when they do get a start.

"You kinda try not to think that way, but it's human nature to go, 'I need to do something so I'm out there the next day,'" Presley said. "You don't want to put a lot of pressure on yourself."

Hurdle doesn't balk at rule-change talk

PITTSBURGH -- Clint Hurdle is neither puzzled nor alarmed to hear that Major League Baseball is considering legislating pitchers' third-to-first pickoff ploy out of the game.

However, the Pirates manager suggested that the deception is anything but a vain act.

"At least twice a year it gets somebody," Hurdle said. "It'll get someone on our team, and we'll get someone on the other team."

Concurring with a popular opinion, Hurdle called former Kansas City right-hander Steve Busby "the best ever" at the trick pickoff.

Hurdle also nominated Steve Reed, a right-hander who spent 14 years exclusively in relief for six teams, including Hurdle's 2003-04 Rockies, for the First-to-Third Hall of Fame.

"His move was the first thing anybody talked about at the [pre-game] scout meetings," Hurdle said. "And he'd go out there and still get a guy that night. That's how good he was."

Worth noting

• In a Minor League deal announced after the game, the Pirates acquired corner infielder Jeff Larish -- who is reporting to Triple-A Indianapolis -- from Boston in exchange for cash considerations. The 29-year-old has 101 games of Major League experience, most recently in 2010 with the A's.

• Hurdle and his staff expected to know by the end of Friday's game whether Erik Bedard will be able to make his next start on Monday in Miami. Bedard got pre-game treatment for the back spasms that had forced him out of his Wednesday start, and was to test his on-field maneuverability during pre-game workouts.

• Jeff Karstens' rehab for shoulder inflammation will reach a new stage next week, when he's due to throw a couple of bullpen sessions.

• Joel Hanrahan remains away while on the Bereavement List in the wake of his grandmother's passing, but the closer will be in PNC Park on Saturday in more than spirit: It will be Joel Hanrahan Bobblehead Day.

The Last Word: "Failure is never a person. It's an event." -- Hurdle's message to players on how to treat bad games and move on from them.