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5/24/2014 12:34 A.M. ET

Bucs welcome back Grilli, send Sanchez to Triple-A

Pirates plan to ease All-Star back into closer's role after nearly month on DL

PITTSBURGH -- Closer Jason Grilli was activated off the disabled list on Friday by the Pirates, who cleared his roster spot by optioning catcher Tony Sanchez to Indianapolis.

Both moves were anticipated. Grilli concluded his rehab from the strained left oblique that had landed him on the DL on April 26 with back-to-back simulated games Tuesday and Wednesday. Sanchez knew his fate when veteran catcher Russell Martin came off the DL on Thursday.

Before Friday's game against the Nationals, it seemed unlikely Grilli would be put in a high-leverage situation.

"I doubt under any circumstances Jason would get the ball in the ninth to close. I don't think that would be fair to him," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We'll give him the ball [in lower-pressure situations] a couple of times, and evaluate him after each time."

Grilli got a similar treatment last season, upon returning from a six-week absence with a forearm strain. He made two low-leverage appearances before returning to the end-of-the-relief line.

However, Mark Melancon was unavailable Friday night after needing 23 pitches to close out Thursday's 3-1 win over Washington, so Grilli had to get the call as closer.

The right-hander walked one, struck out one and got a big assist from Josh Harrison, who made a leaping catch to record the final out of the 4-3 victory.

Russell Martin remained "out" Thursday night as he served a one-game suspension, but he was in the Friday lineup, backed by another veteran, Chris Stewart.

Previously already earmarked to take over as the Bucs' No. 1 catcher in 2015, Sanchez solidified those prospects by batting .278 in 21 games, 19 of them starts, with 12 RBIs.

"Tony got great experience while he was here," Hurdle said. "He's been able to develop. He's done a very admirable, professional job while he's been here."

Grilli went on the DL soon after consecutive blown saves on April 19-20 against the Brewers. Prior to that, he had converted four straight saves.

While the fill-in closer, Melancon was successful on eight of 10 save opportunities.

Alvarez moved out of cleanup spot in Bucs' lineup

PITTSBURGH -- Pedro Alvarez has again flopped out of the cleanup spot. And when lowering him in the lineup this time, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle did not mince words.

"The production hasn't matched up with the opportunities," Hurdle said.

In 42 games at the cleanup spot, Alvarez has driven in 24 runs. But 15 of those RBIs have come on his eight home runs, and he has left 100 other baserunners on base.

Alvarez proved Hurdle right, launching a two-run homer in the fourth inning of Friday night's 4-3 victory over the Nationals.

Ike Davis moved into the No. 4 spot, with Alvarez lowered to the six-hole. Between them was Russell Martin, returning from 25 days on the DL and one day on suspension.

"It's to provide more consistency through the lineup. It's been seven weeks," Hurdle said of Alvarez's cleanup tenure, "and Pedro and I chatted. I just feel it's time, given Ike's work over the last three weeks -- and this is not a new situation for him."

Davis, who has hit .328 in 19 games this month, predominantly batted cleanup for the Mets, who dealt him to Pittsburgh on April 18. In 173 career games in that slot, he had hit .240, with 42 homers and 112 RBIs.

"We're not even looking for power (out of the four-hole), but quality of the at-bat," Hurdle said. "And Pedro has shown some historical success hitting sixth in the lineup."

At No. 6, Alvarez is a career .250 hitter, with 35 homers and 108 RBIs in 177 games. Through repeated trials at No. 4, he has hit .192 in 123 games with 20 home runs, and driven in 63 runs.

Worth noting

• Hurdle is honored to have been asked to deliver the commencement address at the June graduation ceremonies of Franklin Regional High School, touched by the tragedy of April 9's mass-stabbing incident.

Stolmy Pimentel left for Florida Friday night to step up his rehab from the right-shoulder inflammation that landed him on the DL on May 3. Pimentel will throw live BP and a one-inning sim game, working up to a rehab appearance with Class A Bradenton next week.

• Rudy Owens, one of the two Minor League pitchers the Bucs included in their July 2012 trade for Wandy Rodriguez, made his big league debut with the Astros on Friday -- the day after the Pirates cut ties with Rodriguez by designating him for assignment.

First number, last word

6: Wins by Pirates starters through Thursday, tied for the third-fewest after 46 games in Major League history; only the 1962 Mets and 2006 Royals had fewer with five.

"We don't want the guy to pitch with his hair on fire, to think that if he doesn't pitch well he is getting sent out." -- Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, on whoever is tabbed to step into the rotation spot vacated by the designation of Wandy Rodriguez -- most likely, right-hander Brandon Cumpton -- and start Monday in New York against the Mets.

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.