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8/15/2014 9:49 P.M. ET

Cole turns in strong fourth rehab outing

WASHINGTON -- Gerrit Cole was given a test for his fourth rehab start, and he aced it.

The Pirates had resisted the temptation to plug Cole back into their rotation following his previous sharp start for Indianapolis because he had logged only 74 pitches. Manager Clint Hurdle essentially dispatched him to the Triple-A Indians with orders to work up to seven innings and 90 pitches, "then we'll talk."

Cole took the mound in Louisville on Friday night, and he blanked the Bats on five hits for seven innings, walking one and striking out three. He made 92 pitches, 59 of them strikes.

The Bucs will wait for day-after reports to see how Cole feels. He went on the DL with a sore lat on July 9.

However, it is reasonable to expect him to merge back into the rotation. On a regular throwing schedule, he would face Atlanta in PNC Park on Wednesday in the finale of the brief upcoming homestand.

Alvarez returns to field at third base, not first base

WASHINGTON -- The way things were shaping up for the Pirates, one could have safely bet against the likelihood of Pedro Alvarez and Ike Davis again starting at opposite corners of the infield under normal circumstances.

Current circumstances being anything but normal for the injury-slammed Bucs, Alvarez's first start in 13 days in the field on Friday indeed came at his old position, across first baseman Davis. This wasn't the plan -- Alvarez was to roll out his first-base training wheels during this weekend series against the Nationals.

The plan changed when Jordy Mercer departed Thursday's game in Detroit with right forearm tightness that is still awaiting a medical diagnosis. Mercer was to visit with Washington's team doctor Friday night, with an MRI a possibility.

Josh Harrison had to shift over to shortstop, and a need arose for Alvarez at third.

"We need to be open minded," said manager Clint Hurdle. "With Mercer down -- he played a role in the offense as well -- I had to recalibrate with Ike and Pete. [Otherwise chances were] very good you would've seen Pedro at first base this weekend."

While getting a crash course in playing first base during his time out, Alvarez has continued to also take pregame grounders at third. If overthinking the position had been at the root of Alvarez's throwing issues -- 22 of his 24 errors have come on throws wide of first base -- Hurdle had to be intrigued by how he would react to this unexpected return to the position.

"Roll up your sleeves, get involved … he's got that opportunity tonight," the manager said.

Bucs fortunate to claim possible treasure in Axford

WASHINGTON -- Carlos Beltran did a lot to hurt the Pirates last year, both during the regular season and in the National League Division Series, in which his two homers and six RBIs were big in the Cardinals' five-game triumph.

Beltran may have made up for that with a game-deciding grand slam last Friday off John Axford, which may prove to have been a big help to the Bucs.

After that 10-6 loss to the Yankees, the Indians never again gave the ball to Axford. And on Thursday, they let him go to the Pirates on a waiver claim.

The remarkable fact: Until allowing that grand slam, Axford had a 3.14 ERA and a .210 opponents average in 48 relief appearances with Cleveland.

So it is easy to understand Clint Hurdle's enthusiasm in welcoming Axford into his bullpen.

"He's got great experience doing multiple things, from closing to going one-plus," Hurdle said. "He can help the back-end guys, help us find some outs when we're [losing]. He'll be a healthy addition to our club."

Most of the lanky, 31-year-old righty's experience has come in the NL Central. In fact, he has appeared in two of the last three NL Championship Series, for the Brewers in 2011 and the Cardinals last fall.

"Hopefully I can make it three of four with this team," Axford said. "I'm really looking forward to again being part of this race. I'm ready for anything, prepared to help any way I can.

"Other than the last outing, my worst of the year, it's been going all right. I've been attacking hitters a lot more. I've worked off the field, on my mental side, too. Things can get away from you pretty quickly in the game when things get a little stressful, but I did a lot of mental dry work to prepare myself, and it has helped."

Axford notched 105 saves in 119 opportunities for the 2010-12 Brewers, who used him in a setup role last season prior to an Aug. 30 deal to St. Louis. He has a career record of 24-22, with 116 saves in 140 chances, and 380 strikeouts in 317 1/3 innings.

First number, last word

49: Consecutive starts at shortstop by Mercer until he was forced by a tight right forearm to sit out Friday night's game. It was the Bucs' most durable streak at the position since 2005, when Jack Wilson started 96 straight games at short.

"I think he'll do a very good job. There's not a ton going on now -- replay is probably the biggest issue to deal with. I do know him, from having been in meetings. I don't foresee any negative in his election." -- Neil Walker, the Pirates' team player rep, on the election of Rob Manfred as Bud Selig's successor as MLB Commissioner.

Worth noting

• As anticipated, Stolmy Pimentel went on the 15-day DL Friday, turning over his roster spot to Axford. Pimentel sustained a "minor sprain of his right ankle" during his Wednesday outing in Detroit.

• Good friends (from their days together as New York Mets players) Ron Gardenhire (73) and Clint Hurdle (46) rank one-two in career ejections among active Major League managers.

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.