PITTSBURGH -- Considering the rarity of five-game series, it should not come as a surprise that Clint Hurdle never had to manage one prior to this week's set against the Cardinals.
Nonetheless, instincts alerted him to the unique challenges of playing five games in four days against the same team. Chief among them: having fresh relief arms as needed every step of the way.
Through the first four games, things could not have gone better for the Bucs, due in large part to their first three starting pitchers -- Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and rookie Brandon Cumpton -- all going seven innings. That made Jeff Locke's unusually short shift on Wednesday -- four innings -- manageable.
"We have been able to navigate without too many overwhelming challenges, knock on wood," Hurdle said. "So far. … Got one more game."
If the Bucs win the finale and complete the five-game sweep, they will take their place on a short honor roll. Some outtakes from that list:
• MLB's last five-game sweep occurred relatively recently, on Aug. 18-21, 2006, when the Yankees swept out of Fenway Park, outscoring the Red Sox, 49-26.
• The Pirates' last five-game sweep was from Sept. 12-15, 1996, in San Francisco; in Pittsburgh the Bucs had a five-game sweep as recently as Aug. 18-21, 1995, against the Marlins in Three Rivers Stadium.
• Conversely, the Cardinals apparently had never been swept in a five-game series, a disclaimer that is semantic at best: They were swept in a six-game series on Sept. 23-27, 1916, by the New York Giants.
Wandy's recovery continues in encouraging fashion
PITTSBURGH -- Wandy Rodriguez continued his very conservative throwing program on Thursday, nearly two months after he walked off the mound at Turner Field complaining of discomfort in his left forearm.
Rodriguez played catch on flat ground from a distance of 60 feet, throwing "nice and easy, loose."
He was again encouraged by how his arm felt but, although the session might have moved him a step closer to resuming mound work, it did not really bring him closer to a return to the rotation.
Rodriguez feels he'll have a better idea of that timetable once he throws his first bullpen.
"I need to throw a side, hard. After a bullpen I'll be able to tell you guys more about how I feel," Rodriguez told reporters.
The Pirates' staff is closely monitoring Rodriguez's long-toss program as they try to determine the next stages of his comeback.
"We do believe there is a progression he needs to go through, completely," manager Clint Hurdle said, "before he gets on the mound, and we are following that. He is very encouraged with the improvement."
Rodriguez is not likely to return before September, at the earliest. Given his lengthy layoff, he would benefit from a rehab assignment, but even that may be out of the question, since Minor League seasons wrap a few days into September and he hasn't yet thrown off a mound.
The Pirates would welcome Rodriguez's veteran contribution down the stretch and even more in the postseason. His injured status would override the requirement for players to be on the Aug. 31 active roster for postseason eligibility.
Pirates to move forward with Tabata, Presley in right
PITTSBURGH -- Though fans clamored for the Pirates to acquire a right fielder, the asking price just wasn't right for general manager Neil Huntington, so Pittsburgh will move on, for now, with Jose Tabata and Alex Presley.
Travis Snider is recovering from a turf-toe-like injury. First baseman Garrett Jones and utility man Josh Harrison can play right field as well.
The Pirates rank 29th in the Majors in both average and OPS from right fielders entering Thursday's series finale against the Cardinals. It was an area where the club could have used an upgrade, although it's possible Huntington will make a move in the coming weeks, as teams can trade through waivers in August.
Manager Clint Hurdle would like to see someone take charge, but he added that a strength of his team is that everyone on the bench is seeing action and it's not often that someone enters a game after not playing for a few weeks.
"You'd like for somebody to get hot," Hurdle said. "If you can get somebody that can go out there and man that position, that could definitely help, but I also believe we can continue to go at it the way we've gone at it."
Hurdle said several weeks ago that he would give Tabata, who spent more than a month on the disabled list with a strained oblique, the chance to be the everyday right fielder. Tabata started 16 consecutive games before being hit on the forearm with a fastball on July 23 in Washington, and batted .278/.339/.389 over that span. That's slightly better than his .252/.327/.364 mark for the season.
Presley started the 2012 season as the Pirates' leadoff man before the emergence of Starling Marte. He's been up and down between Pittsburgh and Triple-A Indianapolis this season -- now in his third stint with the Bucs -- and has a .296/.296/.463 line in 54 at-bats. He has seven runs and four RBIs.
Had the Pirates acquired a right fielder before Wednesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, Presley likely would have been the odd man out. But now he's gotten -- and made the most of -- his chance, delivering a walk-off single on Tuesday afternoon to lift the Pirates over the Cardinals.
"It's the only way to come up -- contribute in a series like this," Presley said. "Five is a lot of games against a division rival, and having a hand in us winning some games is awesome."
Snider, 25, was traded to Pittsburgh from Toronto at the deadline last season, but he has underperformed this year. He has a .219/.287/.322 line with three homers and 23 RBIs in 242 at-bats over 95 games. He has been dealing with the toe injury since last season. In July he hit just .156, with a .369 OPS.
First number, last word
14-12: The Pirates' final record for July, a fourth straight winning month to start a season for the 15th time in the club's 126-season history, the first since 1991.
"Some GMs wanted to remind us that we've lost 20 years in a row -- in case we overlooked it. And they tried to tell us how important it was to do the right thing, given the opportunity we've created for ourselves." -- Hurdle, giving an insight into the type of inducements given Huntington in his pre-non-waiver Trade Deadline negotiations
• The Pirates' 14 shutouts, tied with the Indians for the most in the Majors, is a club high since the 1992 staff posted 20. Although that was only 21 years ago, here is how much deployment of pitchers has changed: Nine of those 20 were complete games; none of this season's 14 has been a one-man job.
• Hurdle was updated by Huntington every step of the way to the non-waiver Trade Deadline, and although several names that got the GM's attention were tossed around, there were no near-misses.
Asked whether any potential deal had come close enough to ultimately leave him feeling disappointed, Hurdle said, "No. Not even close And I was in on every conversation."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.