PITTSBURGH -- The desk phone rang in manager Clint Hurdle's office, he answered and politely told the caller, "No, this is not the Humane Society."

Hurdle was being serious. Apparently, he gets frequent mistaken calls through crossed wires for the Humane Society. Or, maybe it's not a mistake at all: Maybe the call is from the Humane Society, to compliment him for his use of relief pitchers.

The sidebar of the Pirates' terrific bullpen -- National League-best 2.30 ERA, second lowest in the Majors -- is Hurdle's commitment to not overwork anyone. That's an agenda of three nos: Pitching three consecutive days, warming up without getting into the game, 80 total appearances.

"I'm tied to the arm as well as to the human being," Hurdle said. "You see relievers max out and a year or two down the road, you never hear from them again. 'Well, if I get 80 games out of this guy and we win X amount of games, and he doesn't pitch after that, so be it.' There's got to be balance. You look at the long haul.

"I've managed against situations where you'll see guys up [in the bullpen] three straight innings and never get in the game. If you get hot three times and [do] not pitch, to me that counts as a game. Next day, you're down. You've got to be mindful of that wear and tear on the arm."

Jason Grilli, the most veteran of the Pirates relievers, said warming up without ever making it through the bullpen gate is just as good as an outing. "They can be pretty taxing on a relief pitcher. It's something you have to monitor. If you don't manage your bullpen effectively, you can burn out guys pretty quick and they won't have anything left at the end."

Hurdle shuttled four different relievers into 70-plus games last season, his first with the Pirates, and felt he paid a price with their overall diminished effectiveness down the stretch. Hence, his commitment to be more conservative -- and humane -- in how they are deployed.

Pirates competing despite scoring woes

PITTSBURGH -- This year's Pirates could be a special team. Fans may have to pull the plug on their 21st-century sensibilities and just enjoy the pitching ride. In the first two games of the series against the Cubs, Pittsburgh fell short of even its meager scoring average, and still won both.

With 130 runs through 46 games, the Pirates are on track for a 70-year low in scoring for a full Major League season. It may still seem outrageous, but wouldn't it be something if such a blemish coincided with the end of the club's drag of 19 consecutive losing seasons?

As they say in the dugout, however, sometimes you've just got to tip your cap to the pitchers -- and to their guides: pitching coach Ray Searage and catchers Rod Barajas and Michael McKenry. These Pirates may continue to be one-dimensional, but for over a quarter of the season, it's been quite a dimension.

Pittsburgh started play on Sunday within two games of the .500 mark, despite having scored three runs or fewer in 28 of 48 games; the Bucs won eight of those 28. The National League Central-leading Reds have three wins when scoring three or fewer.

At their current pace, the Pirates will score 457 runs, which would be the lowest full-season total since the wartime 1942 Phillies scored 394. Those Phillies were 67 games under .500.

In the post-1961 expansion era, the lowest runs total for a 162-game schedule is 463, by the 1968 White Sox. The 1963 Astros hold the NL-low of 464 runs.

Bucs won't rush Karstens back

PITTSBURGH -- Jeff Karstens was an Interleague animal last season, 3-0 with a 2.36 ERA in four starts. But that recent history will have no bearing on the timetable for his return to the Pirates' rotation.

Two of Karstens' 2011 American League prey -- Cleveland and Detroit -- are in the next round of the Bucs' Interleague schedule that kicks off on June 8. That won't influence the way the staff treats Karstens, on the disabled list since mid-April with shoulder inflammation.

"We're not going to rush him. His health is more important than statistics," manager Clint Hurdle said. "And how do we know that the Jeff Karstens that was effective in Interleague Play is the same Jeff Karstens we're looking at today?

"We'll see how it goes. If he can ratchet it up and is ready, so be it. If not, we're fit for duty with the staff we have in place."

In what Hurdle called "a step in the right direction," Karstens threw 59 pitches on Saturday night in his second rehab start with Indianapolis in Louisville. He will next progress to another rehab outing of five innings or 80 pitches, at a site yet to be decided.

Worth noting

• Jose Tabata left the game in the sixth inning with "discomfort and cramping" in his left leg. He was to undergo treatment, then be re-evaluated. Gorkys Hernandez, who was batting for Tabata when he singled for his first Major League hit in the sixth, is likely to remain in the lineup on Monday against Reds right-hander Bronson Arroyo.

• Hernandez said the ball from that first hit is earmarked for all the women in his life: his mom, his wife, and his daughter.

• Erik Bedard has hung a goose egg in 39 of the 52 innings he has pitched this season.

Last word

"We did pretty well in the camos. Maybe we can petition to keep them."
-- Hurdle, on the camouflage uniforms, worn on Sunday to honor the military, in which the Pirates scored a season-high 10 runs.