Pirates ready to roll with deep pitching staff

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Do you need a plot to follow during Spring Training? The mystery surrounding the pitching staff with which the Pirates will break camp sets up as a real page-turner.

Regard the pitchers that can reasonably considered to be guaranteed a spot:

Rotation: Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton, Wandy Rodriguez, Edinson Volquez (signed for $5 million, a sum the Bucs are not in the habit of eating).

Bullpen: Jason Grilli, Mark Melancon, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson, Stolmy Pimentel (out of options).

That's a dozen, full capacity.

So? Left on the outside looking in under that scenario are such worthy candidates as 2013 workhorse Bryan Morris, Jared Hughes, Duke Welker, lefty reliever Adam Wilk and lefty starter Jeff Locke - -who was merely a National League All-Star last summer.

Locke scratched Wednesday with right-side discomfort

Outlook: Locke looks to repeat first-half magic

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jeff Locke's hopes of continuing to pull away from a 2013 second-half slump have hit a pothole.

The left-hander had to be scratched from his scheduled start Wednesday in Dunedin, Fla., against the Blue Jays when he reported discomfort in his right side.

Locke, diagnosed with tightness, will give way to Jay Jackson. A 26-year-old righty who has spent six years in the organizations of the Cubs and Marlins, Jackson has pitched two shutout innings in relief this spring.

Locke was sporting therapeutic bandage strips in the affected area Tuesday morning in the Pirates' McKechnie Field clubhouse.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle could not provide an update on his pitcher's status following the Pirates' 5-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers.

Morton turns in second stellar spring start

Morton discusses being a veteran team leader

LAKELAND, Fla. -- After having started off behind everybody else the last two Spring Trainings, Charlie Morton has turned the tables.

Morton, who had hip surgery in 2011 and Tommy John surgery in 2012, on Tuesday became the first Pirates pitcher this spring to go three innings.

Morton did it so smoothly -- Don Kelly, with a two out double in the second, was the only baserunner against him -- that his toughest task may have been getting off the bench for a third time.

"Those ups and downs ... it's different," Morton said. "That's the reason why we do it; it's part of the process."

Morton went two hitless innings in his first start on Thursday against the Yankees, and he made it a point to do more pitching and less throwing this time.

"I started to pitch to the hitter -- who's up there, what's he trying to do? -- as opposed to throwing pitches just for the sake of throwing," he said. "That's how I'd pitch in a [regular-season] game. I threw a couple more offspeed pitches for strikes than the last time. Make sure the sinker's there, and we're good to go."

Clint Hurdle thought Morton was good to go, too.

"A very efficient outing," the manager said. "A good sinker, mixed in his offspeed stuff with the breaking ball, and pitched with a lot of commitment."

Worth noting

Josh Harrison had a busy half-game at second, starting off with Charlie (Ground Chuck) Morton's three-inning stint. Harrison handled five grounders, ranging up the middle for a couple of them, and a popup.

Harrison also drew Hurdle's kudos for a leg double to left-center field that triggered the Bucs' three-run third.

"That was a double because he got after it right out of the box," Hurdle said. "As a group, in the seven games we've played, we have been very good on the bases."

• Chase d'Arnaud got into his first game of the spring, taking over at third base in the bottom of the sixth.

• Conversely, infielder Alen Hanson remained the only Pittsburgh player to appear in all seven games when he pinch-ran for Jordy Mercer in the seventh. Hansen stayed in the game at short, and he singled and scored in the ninth.

Jaff Decker -- squeeze bunt for game's first run that led to a throwing error to set up a bigger inning, perfect throw home from right field to nail Hernan Perez carrying the potential game-tying run in the fifth -- continues to play up to his billing.

"Good outfielder, we were told, with a tick better than average arm," Hurdle said. "Plays the short game, moves the bat around, gets on base. Just a backyard ballplayer. That's what we heard, and that's what we've seen."

Decker was acquired from the San Diego Padres, along with pitcher Miles Mikolas (flipped by the Bucs to Texas for Chris McGuiness), in a Nov. 25 deal for Alex Dickerson.

First number, last word

11: Stolen bases by the Pirates in the first seven spring games, after swipes Tuesday by Quincy Latimore and Hansen.

"I don't get caught up in the record. I wasn't even sure of how many games we've played. I just love the way we're playing, the way we're going about our work -- extra hard. The focus has been really, really good."
-- Hurdle, on the Pirates improving their Grapefruit League record to 5-1-1 with Tuesday's 5-2 victory over the Tigers.