PIT@PHI: Stewart scores on ball lost in the sun

MILWAUKEE -- The battery of Jeff Locke and Chris Stewart, which worked effectively Wednesday in Bradenton, has moved on to Triple-A.

The left-hander and his catcher took different routes to Indianapolis, and have different agendas.

Locke was optioned upon being activated from the disabled list and his prospects are unclear.

"He'll be in the Indianapolis rotation, make starts, and we'll see where he can take them,'' a noncommittal manager Clint Hurdle said.

By contrast, Stewart, still on the DL recovering from right-knee surgery on March 19, has a pretty specific checklist.

"We've got a plan, and he's hitting the Indy portion, to get to [catching] a full game" Hurdle said. "We've got it all mapped out, and it's all predicated on how he feels the day after catching. We want to make sure he gets used the way we'll use him up here: Full game, maybe back-to-back full games, maybe some games he enters late.

"But as far as squatting, throwing, swinging, running the bases … he's met all the challenges."

The dynamics of Stewart's recovery are interesting. The longer he is absent, the greater chance for Tony Sanchez to have an impact and make it more challenging for the team to stick to its plan of optioning him when Stewart is ready. Sanchez is batting .333, and two of his four RBIs have been game-winners.

McCutchen exits game with ankle discomfort

PIT@MIL: McCutchen grimaces, exits early

MILWAUKEE -- The Pirates hope the game was their only loss.

Reigning National League MVP Andrew McCutchen took himself out of the Pirates' 4-2 loss to the Brewers on Friday night after making the final out in the eighth inning, complaining of some ankle discomfort.

"I couldn't even tell you what happened," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He came to me after that last at-bat and said, 'I think I did something to the ankle.' I didn't think it was worth pressing, so we took him out."

Told that McCutchen was seen re-entering the clubhouse after the game in the company of head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk -- absent any limp and even smiling -- Hurdle said, "Good! But I have no other information on that."

Prior to that, McCutchen was given as hard a time as anyone by Milwaukee right-hander Wily Peralta. After getting on base via a force-play grounder and a walk, McCutchen did steal his first two bases of the season, but couldn't find his way home.

Hurdle pleased with offense's versatility thus far

PIT@CHC: Alvarez gives Bucs lead with three-run blast

MILWAUKEE -- Somewhat obscured by a shower of power, the Pirates come off one of their most varied offensive series in Chicago. In three games against the Cubs they scored with home runs, by taking extra bags on the basepaths, on sacrifice flies, even without the aid of a hit.

It also added up to a productive series: The 17 runs were the most for the club in a three-game set since it totaled 21 in an Interleague series June 21-23 in Anaheim against the Angels.

"It showed our versatility, our capabilities," said a pleased Clint Hurdle. "You always wonder if you can do something, but after you've done it, you know. I think this offense will continue to grow, be gritty, and beat you in a couple of different ways."

The manager has preached the importance of opportunistic offense for "playing longer," getting deeper into the postseason. Yep, Hurdle does not shy away from that long-range agenda, not after he blamed St. Louis pitching's shutdown of the Bucs' big swings for last fall's Division Series exit.

"Quick-strike long-ball, guys able to put down a bunt or steal a base, even score without a hit. We've shown it," Hurdle said. "I like some of the things that have shown up in the first nine games offensively."

It is, of course, the payoff for hard work during Spring Training, when subtleties aren't as obvious as when they impact the standings. But they were obvious all along to the manager. For instance, you can't teach speed and the Pirates' team speed is on the low end. But you can teach reaction.

"We had more dirt-ball reads -- taking a base on catchers' blocks of pitches -- in this Spring Training than in my first three springs combined," Hurdle said. "We've got guys looking to make things happen, and their confidence for that has grown."

Worth noting

Pedro Alvarez became the first Pirates player with five home runs within the team's first nine games since Willie Stargell in 1971. Stargell wound up that season with 48 homers, and as runner-up to Joe Torre for National League MVP.

Jose Abreu of the White Sox tied a record -- quickest to post two multi-homer games -- first set by the Pirates' Dino Restelli in 1949. Restelli had a pair of two-homer games within his first nine games, then hit only nine more during his brief Major League career. Mark Quinn of the '99 Royals was the only other player with double-doubles within his first 10 career games.

First number, last word

25: Consecutive games won by MLB teams hitting five home runs in a game -- a streak snapped by the Pirates in their 7-5 Wednesday loss in Chicago.

"We've gone from the longest walk to the field to the shortest, and from the smallest clubhouse to probably the biggest." - Hurdle, on moving on from quaint Wrigley Field to ergonomic Miller Park.