PIT@COL: Locke allows just two runs over 5 2/3 frames

PITTSBURGH -- Physically, Jeff Locke was still in the Pirates' clubhouse Thursday afternoon. Mentally, however, he was already where the National League All-Star pitcher believes he belongs for a few days: In Altoona.

Not Altoona specifically, the Double-A outpost to where Locke was optioned on Wednesday, the day after his latest short but bitter start -- just away from PNC Park's Major League mound.

"It's not really a situation you want to put yourself in, but at the same time, these guys gotta have somebody going out for them they feel good about," Locke said. "You gotta bring more than what I've been bringing. ... Just get away from it for a while, step back and hit the reset button."

Locke will not be away from it for long. Essentially, the Pirates are simply having him miss one turn in the rotation. The club has yet to announce a starter for that spot, which comes up Sunday in the weekend series against the Cardinals.

Given that decision on Locke, temporarily optioning him to Altoona freed a roster spot for John Buck, the catcher who was acquired from the Mets on Tuesday and was making his Pirates debut in Thursday night's game against the Brewers.

"I'm young, 25, but there is fatigue, and everyone says it's normal," Locke said. "And we're not the only team doing something like this. I'm gonna want to take it every time, gonna want to keep going, regardless of how it's going. But when I step back and look at the whole picture ... we're in a position we haven't been in the previous years."

Locke remained stuck on one win in eight second-half starts when Milwaukee chased him after 4 2/3 innings on Tuesday.

"I do think we saw enough positives to feel we're best served by just skipping a start," manager Clint Hurdle said. "No way we're unplugging him."

Reliever Black dealt to Mets as 'player to be named'

Top Prospects: Victor Black, RHP, Mets

PITTSBURGH -- Right-hander Vic Black went to the Mets on Thursday as the player to be named later in the Tuesday deal that brought outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck to the Pirates.

A relief specialist who has made 116 straight appearances out of the bullpen since 2011, Black had 17 saves and a 2.51 ERA this season with Triple-A Indianapolis. He was an Eastern League All-Star in '12, when he had a 1.65 ERA in 51 appearances with Double-A Altoona.

"The Mets did their homework. They're getting two good pieces," Pirates GM Neal Huntington said at the time the deal was struck, before the second Pittsburgh player in the transaction had been identified.

Infielder Dilson Herrera was the other prospect included in the trade.

Black, the 49th overall selection as a supplemental choice in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, made his Major League debut on July 25 with the Bucs and appeared in three games, working 2 2/3 innings and allowing one run.

Hurdle, Pirates readying to expand rosters

PITTSBURGH -- The door to the clubhouse swings open wider on Sunday, when the 25-man roster limit is waived. Expect the Pirates to bring in plenty of reinforcements from the Minors -- in stages, to a total complement of nine or 10 players.

"We'll get some in on Sunday, then more on Tuesday and later," manager Clint Hurdle said.

Triple-A Indianapolis' roster includes nearly a dozen players with past big league experience. But the Bucs won't raid the Indians, who are preparing for the International League playoffs after their regular season ends on Sept. 2. Pitchers Kris Johnson and Ryan Reid figure to be in the first wave of about four from Indianapolis.

The dynamics of these late-season promotions have certainly changed for the Pirates, because their circumstances have. Now it isn't about players who deserve the reward of a Major League introduction, but about players who could assist the chase of a division crown.

"The conversations we're having are different," Hurdle said, referring to internal talks about additions. "There's more talk about what we need to add competitively. We try to keep it simple. What makes sense to add? Where can we use additional help?"

The effect of the September influx of fresh players on the integrity of the baseball season has been a long-debated topic. Hurdle, who favored the system while managing developing teams in Colorado, has gradually had a change of heart about the "split-season."

"I've swayed to the side that the five-month game is much better," Hurdle said. "You see the league for five months, and you see what you got and you know what? We're better than they are. Let's go play."

First number, last word

.443: Highest August average ever for a Pirates player, by Pie Traynor in 1930. With three games remainining in the month, Andrew McCutchen entered Thursday's game batting .425 (37-for-87) in August.

"Sure, it can be a grind. But it would be tough to call what's going on around here right now a grind. We've put ourselves in a good position, and are having a lot of fun." -- Locke, on the suggestion that the long-season grind can wear down a pitcher and push him toward the break he now is taking.

Worth noting

• Well on his way to a faster recovery than expected, Starling Marte took one-handed swings Wednesday (with his good hand, the left one) and will try it two-handed, starting with air swings, this weekend. If the progress continues, the Bucs hope to get him out on a rehab assignment at the end of next week.

The regular Minor League season ends Monday, but four Pittsburgh affiliates will be in the playoffs as possible landing spots for rehab purposes.

• Buck was a little sheepish about taking the No. 14 off Gaby Sanchez's back when he reported to the Pirates on Wednesday.

"I didn't want to mess up any of the mojo Gaby had," said Buck about the number he has worn since 2006, while it had been relatively new to Sanchez.

What karma? Sanchez had been in a 6-for-28 dip. In his first game in his new No. 17, he produced a three-hit game, his first in a month and only his third of the season.