MILWAUKEE -- Six days after leaving a game with discomfort in his left leg, Jose Tabata continues to deal with the issue on a daily basis. The outfielder, who has become a catalyst atop the lineup, hasn't missed a game -- but neither has manager Clint Hurdle missed any chances to hold his breath when Tabata is on the move.

"The tightness kinda comes and goes -- and is not gone. We're keeping a pulse on it, inning by inning," Hurdle said. "We're trying to get the kid to play through an injury."

The Pirates don't have a spare experienced outfielder. Since the release of Nate McLouth, the fourth outfielder is Gorkys Hernandez, a defensive specialist whose big league experience consists of 10 plate appearances. Beyond the mere limitations of the roster, Tabata can be a game-changing talent, as he showed in Friday night's opener of the series at Miller Park.

In the 8-2 win over the Brewers, Tabata went 2-for-3 with a stolen base and a three-run double.

"I thought he ramped his game up from the start," Hurdle said of the 23-year-old. "He adds another dynamic when he plays at that level."

Tabata has his critics. But those who have recently questioned his effort on the field are probably unaware that he has been consciously trying to avoid aggravating the left-leg injury. Hurdle's own curiosity was recently raised when Tabata took six seconds to run to first on a routine grounder.

"That tweaks me a little bit," the manager said. "But he told me that coming out of the box it felt a little tight, and he didn't want to push it. He said, 'You asked me to give you what I can, when I can give it. I promise you that's what I'll do.' He's being challenged."

Since Tabata moved into the leadoff spot on May 3, the Pirates are 16-11 heading into Saturday night's game against the Brewers.

Karstens to make another rehab start

MILWAUKEE -- Jeff Karstens hit all his marks in his third rehab start with Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday against Syracuse. Still, he will stay in the Indians' rotation -- and Brad Lincoln will get some traction as a starter with the Pirates.

Karstens put in his five innings and went two pitches over his target of 80, walking one and striking out six. He did give up six runs, only two of which were earned. After rejoining the Brewers in Milwaukee, he reported having optimally thrown all his pitches, with the exception of the slider.

The righty, who is returning from inflammation in the shoulder, has already been scheduled to make one more rehab start with Indianapolis, on Wednesday in Pawtucket, where he'll try to step up to 100 pitches.

That pencils Lincoln in for another turn following his Tuesday start in Cincinnati.

"Karstens said his fastball command was good. The change and the curve were good. So he'll try to ramp up to 100 pitches on [Wednesday]," manager Clint Hurdle said.

Hurdle has already said he would not let the schedule influence the timetable for Karstens' return. Yet, if Karstens were to return after his next rehab outing and make his comeback start on regular rest, it would come against the Baltimore Orioles as the second round of Interleague Play kicks off. Last season, Karstens won all three of his decisions against American League competition, with a 2.36 ERA in four starts.

The Last Word

"Who knows where they are ... that's not as important to me as where we are."
-- Bucs manager Clint Hurdle, on the Brewers' and his team's relative struggles to overcome the early-season problems posed by some underachieving players.

Worth noting

• Let the record show that the last runs driven in against Johan Santana -- back on May 21, two shutouts (one a no-hitter) ago -- were by Michael McKenry, whose seventh-inning two-run homer that night sparked the Pirates to a comeback 5-4 win over the Mets.

"I hope he keeps pitching great and saves that note longer," said McKenry, adding, "I'm happy for him. It's nice to see one of the good guys accomplish something like that."

• When the Cubs' James Russell picked up his first career save last week, he joined dad Jeff in a rare club that also includes Jason Grilli and his father, Steve: father-son combinations each with saves in Major League history. Steve Grilli earned three saves in 36 appearances with the 1976 Tigers. The two other combos are Julio and Jaime Navarro, and Pedro Borbon Senior and Junior.

• The Bucs' Friday night win was their fourth straight in a series-opening game -- after they had dropped 11 of their first 14 series openers.

• Garrett Jones batted second Saturday night, the first time he'd been listed in that slot this season. However, Jones was frequently used as the No. 2 hitter last season, and had his best success there, hitting .286 in 28 games.

• Matt Hague (1-for-4) maintained his streak of hitting in every game since his recall from Indianapolis, now eight games long.