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8/22/2013 10:42 P.M. ET

Marte nearing return to Bucs' starting lineup

SAN FRANCISCO -- Starling Marte still wasn't fit to rejoin the Pirates' lineup Thursday night -- but he definitely isn't unfit enough to go on the disabled list.

Marte missed a fourth straight start, while making incremental progress with his bruised right hand. Gripping and swinging a bat apparently is the last remaining stage.

"He's getting closer. He's right on the edge of coming back," said manager Clint Hurdle. "His throwing has improved, and the bat is getting closer. We could use him off the bench [Thursday night against the Giants]. He definitely can pinch-run and play defense."

Jose Tabata, himself sidelined Wednesday with a touch of tendinitis in his left knee, played left and batted leadoff against San Francisco right-hander Matt Cain.

In the first three starts missed by Marte -- whose 133 hits from the leadoff spot lead the National League -- three different players in the one-hole had combined to go 1-for-11 and score one run.

Grilli feels good in first bullpen session since injury

SAN FRANCISCO -- Clint Hurdle had spent mere seconds dealing with Wandy Rodriguez's gloomy turn of events, and the manager clearly was in the mood for some better news.

So he injected into his Thursday pregame media session, "Grilli threw today ..."

Jason Grilli indeed had an encouraging 25-pitch session in the Pirates' AT&T Park bullpen, his first time back on the mound since straining a tendon in his right forearm exactly a month earlier, on July 22 in Washington.

"No pain. Mixed in a few breaking pitches," Grilli said. "Now it's just fine-tuning and getting the strength back to be game-ready, and I think that'll happen before the end of the month."

Grilli's workout drew a large crowd of Buccos onlookers, with everyone walking away from it pleased.

"It was a good step in the right direction," pitching coach Ray Searage said.

"Went very well; another good day for Jason," said Hurdle, who expected Grilli's next step to be either another bullpen session or a simulated game facing hitters for the first time.

Being "game-ready" before September would not mean Grilli's return to The Shark Tank, but his ability to go on the rehab assignment Hurdle regards important.

"I absolutely think he would want to go out there and test it out in that type of environment, rather than jump right into a game," Hurdle said.

Grilli led the National League in saves when he was injured. A month later, his 30 saves are still tied for fifth in the league.

Wandy to see surgeon for arm diagnosis

SAN FRANCISCO -- Wandy Rodriguez's simulated game early Thursday afternoon did not go well. In fact, it was discouraging enough for Pirates manager Clint Hurdle to expect the release of a dire statement by team general manager Neal Huntington.

Huntington subsequently did release a statement, included in updates on all of the club's players recovering from injuries, that Rodriguez had "pain in his forearm during his simulated game/batting practice. ... Will see Dr. Andrews early next week."

A visit to Dr. James Andrews, the sports orthopedic surgeon who performs Tommy John elbow reconstructive surgeries, is foreboding enough. But Rodriguez still being at the stage of being diagnosed apparently is a better scenario than anticipated by Hurdle, who a couple hours earlier had declined comment on the pitcher's workout, saying, "Don't want to step on any toes. You'll get the statement, and I'll be here after the game or tomorrow to answer any questions."

Following Rodriguez's prior workout Monday in San Diego, Hurdle had freely discussed that "he had some discomfort. He didn't feel right."

Rodriguez, 34, has dealt with setbacks since suffering the original injury, described as "left forearm tightness," on June 5. He was moved from the 15-day to the 60-day DL on Wednesday, strictly a procedural move -- to open up a spot on the 40-man roster for outfielder Felix Pie -- since Rodriguez has already been on the DL for 71 days.

First number, last word

26: RBIs by Pirates pinch-hitters, entering Thursday night's game in San Francisco, led by Travis Snider and Gaby Sanchez, with five each. All last season, the Bucs drove in 24 runs in a pinch.

"It's a great environment here and they've earned it. And that's what I envision. We're in the right lane to have that type of atmosphere and sustained passion in our ballpark and in our city." -- Hurdle, on what the Giants in AT&T Park are, and what he foresees the Pirates in PNC Park becoming.

Worth noting

• Ten days after being clipped on the back of his left thigh by a Troy Tulowitzki comebacker, reliever Bryan Morris still sported a fat ice pack on his leg.

"After a while, the blood there thickened and stayed in the same spot. It took a couple of days of treatments to get better," said Morris, who never missed any mound time. "As long as I can throw the ball, I'm not laying off."

• The Bucs clearly intend to have Gerrit Cole skip his next start, to conserve some innings, but won't make that determination until seeing how Jeff Locke on Thursday and Charlie Morton on Friday fare in their starts.

"We're still formatting our plans for after the [Monday] off-day. We want to get through the next two outings, to see where we stand," Hurdle said.

Inference: If the Pirates have no need for long reliever Jeanmar Gomez, he'll take Cole's turn in Tuesday's home opener against the Brewers.

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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.