ATLANTA -- If you believe manager Clint Hurdle, the late-game theatrics that the Pirates have seen both sides of in April and May will only serve the team well if it continues to play well enough to stay in contention and experience the drama of September and October.
"I believe it can sharpen you, and that's the way I encourage our guys to look at it," Hurdle said on Wednesday. "The heightened sense of responsibility and the execution I really believe is going to continue to sharpen us and challenge us, because the beauty of what's going on is you have to meet the demands of the game if you want to win."
Eight of the Pirates' last 10 games have been decided by two runs or fewer, with the Bucs holding a 5-3 record in those close contests. The Braves turned the tables on the Major League leaders in comeback wins with a 5-4 walk-off win of their own on Tuesday, peppering a Pirates bullpen that pitched 15 innings in last weekend's series against Cincinnati.
However, the Pirates spoiled a two-on, one-out situation in the top of the ninth against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel that could have salvaged a game in which the offense offered some rare early run support for starter Jeff Locke.
"We get to the ninth, we get a chance to get one run up and our closer coming in, we miss that opportunity, and we had two shots at it," Hurdle said. "It'll be nice when this offense can pick up some steam and provide us with a little more of a safety net off the mound, because that's where the challenges have been with all these close games."
After Pedro Alvarez' solo home run gave the Pirates a 4-2 lead in the fourth, Atlanta pitchers retired 13 Pirates in a row until Pittsburgh's ninth-inning threat. Meanwhile, the Braves put at least one runner in scoring position in eight of Tuesday's 10 innings, stranding 13 runners in the process but still scraping across enough runs to win. According to Hurdle, the onus lies with the offense to create opportunities, even if it can't cash in every single one.
"To finish the way we did, with I don't know how many consecutive guys retired to finish out the game, that's hard," Hurdle said. "We have to keep battling. The guys have taken it upon themselves, they're aware. They just have to find a way to do better, get better results by trying less."
Wandy dealing with tightness in left forearm
ATLANTA -- The Pirates rotation's injury woes continued in Wednesday afternoon's 5-0 loss to the Braves when Wandy Rodriguez was forced to exit his start after just 14 pitches with tightness in his left forearm.
Rodriguez had recorded only one out in the first inning, allowing Braves leadoff man Andrelton Simmons to come around and score on an RBI groundout by Chris Johnson. After Rodriguez hit Freddie Freeman three pitches later, trainers and manager Clint Hurdle came out to the mound to attend to the southpaw, who was clenching and unclenching his left hand and pointing to his arm.
Hurdle had not spoken with Rodriguez about the status of his arm immediately after Wednesday's game.
"He caught a flight to get back to Pittsburgh to get looked at there," Hurdle said. "Basically, he said he had left forearm tightness, and anything past what he had gone out there to do at that point, he wasn't comfortable doing it. I completely understood."
Right-hander Bryan Morris came on to replace Rodriguez, escaping the inning without further damage and turning in a much-needed 3 2/3 innings of shutout relief. Morris pitched three scoreless innings on Sunday after starter Jeanmar Gomez exited after one inning with tightness in his right forearm.
Rodriguez took the loss, surrendering one run on two hits in the shortest outing of his 242 career starts.
It remains to be seen what Hurdle will do should Rodriguez need to miss extended time. With Gomez on the 15-day disabled list with an inflamed and strained right forearm but no ligament damage, the Pirates had planned to use their upcoming off-days to temporarily employ a four-man rotation. Starting next Tuesday, however, the Pirates begin a stretch of 13 consecutive days with a game.
Gomez joins growing list of Bucs starters on DL
ATLANTA -- The list of Pittsburgh starting pitchers on the disabled list grew by one earlier this week, when Jeanmar Gomez was diagnosed with a right forearm inflammation and strain, landing him on the 15-day DL.
The Pirates hope to use the off-days bookending this weekend's series with the Cubs to learn a little more about where their rehabbing arms stand before they make a decision about filling out the open spot in the rotation.
Manager Clint Hurdle said he hopes to push James McDonald to five innings and 80 pitches during the right-hander's next rehab start Thursday for Triple-A Indianapolis. The outing will be McDonald's third rehab start since hitting the DL with shoulder stiffness on May 7.
Meanwhile, Charlie Morton was scheduled to throw a side session on Wednesday and make his fourth start for Indianapolis on Saturday. Hurdle would like to see the right-hander make it to 95 pitches.
As Morton nears the end of the typical 12-month recovery timetable for Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, the Pirates are wary of Morton making a premature return to the big leagues that could put more pressure on the bullpen amid a heated National League Central race.
That sentiment holds true with McDonald's shorter-term disabled list stay, as the righty had made it past the fifth inning only twice in his six April starts.
"The challenge we have right now is we want to bring people back that are game ready, that are going to give us meaningful innings," Hurdle said on Monday. "We don't need somebody going out only giving us three or four innings off the starting bump right now -- the situations we've been navigating through."
The Pirates hope that the aftereffects of the 10-inning workload shouldered by their bullpen on Sunday are finally in the rearview mirror. Vin Mazzaro, Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson did not appear in the team's first two games against the Braves after combining for eight of those innings. The team's 5-4, 11-inning win over the Reds has carried a ripple effect throughout its trip to Atlanta.
"We've gotten through the hard part now, we've actually got some guys coming back available out of the 'pen today," Hurdle said before Wednesday's finale at Turner Field.
Eric Single is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.