BRADENTON, Fla. -- Did left-hander Jeff Locke further his chances to land a spot in the Pirates' rotation by pitching in relief?
It certainly looked that way on Sunday, when Locke posted four scoreless innings in the middle of the Bucs' 11-9 loss to the New York Yankees.
The two-hit, one-walk performance was one of Locke's most effective of five spring outings, the other four having been starts.
"Well, we could start only one guy," manager Clint Hurdle said by way of explaining why Phil Irwin started the game on the mound and Locke started it in the bullpen. "And we wanted Phil to match up for the competition level [before subs overtook the Yanks' lineup]."
In his prior outing, Locke had been chased in the fourth by the Orioles, after allowing eight hits and two runs. But, remarkably, Hurdle said he did some things better in his last outing.
"He did have four three-ball counts [on Sunday]," said Hurdle. "As a staff, we've got to continue ramping up our first-pitch strikes. The last couple of games, we've pitched behind in the count more than we like to. [Jeff] is continuing to grow and learn."
Bucs hope Wandy's Classic run carries over
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Wandy Rodriguez has a reputation for getting off to hot starts as a tough April pitcher.
Apparently, he's not too shabby in March, either.
The left-hander's dynamic showing for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic bodes well for Pirates' hopes for a fast start to the 2013 season, with Rodriguez set as the No. 2 starter behind A.J. Burnett.
"He definitely got himself prepared for the Classic," pitching coach Ray Searage said. "We were keeping track of him, and he got himself ready a month earlier."
Rodriguez was stellar in a six-inning start in Saturday's 2-0 win over Puerto Rico, allowing just two hits. In two Classic starts, he has allowed five hits and one run over 9 1/3 innings, with three walks and six strikeouts.
"I heard he pitched inside well with his fastball, and also threw his breaking ball well," Searage said. "Hopefully, now he's on track for us. We're ready to get him back here."
The season's opening month has been, by far, Rodriguez's strongest through the first eight years of his career. He has a lifetime ERA in April of 2.95 and last season, with the Astros, he allowed only six earned runs in 31 1/3 innings (1.95) across five starts.
"I wasn't even aware of that, but that sounds good," said shortstop Clint Barmes, reunited with Rodriguez after being his Houston teammate in 2011. "It's very important that you get off to a good start, it's definitely what we need to do, and it's not surprising at all out of Wandy. He's got very good stuff, and when he's on, he's tough to handle."
Martin thinks Yanks were stealing signs
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Before an out was recorded in the first inning, New York Yankees runners had three stolen bases on their former catcher, Russell Martin, and wound up with four steals while he was in the game, an 11-9 Pirates loss at McKechnie Field.
Bases, however, may not have been the only things being stolen by the Yankees. At one point during Phil Irwin's start, Martin had a long mound conversation with the rookie about his signs getting picked up by runners on second.
"Maybe they were, maybe they weren't. Maybe [they were] picking up the location," said Martin, nonplussed. "We're going with really simple signs, right now. Teams practice the way they'll play during the season, and teams do do that. The only way for us to counter is just by being prepared, so it doesn't become an issue. So this is also the time for us to make adjustments."
In other words, an extension of the good, old, "That's what Spring Training is for," advisory.
As for the steals -- Eduardo Nunez had two, including a double steal with Brennan Boesch, and Melky Mesa had another -- Martin turned the other cheek, virtually gratefully.
"I'm glad they were running, because I finally got in some throwing," said Martin, who missed two weeks of catching activity with a sore shoulder. "They weren't running on me, they were running on the team.
"You can't be more confident than me behind the plate when it comes to throwing guys out. I know I have a really good arm, and I'm as quick as all get-out."
• Lefty Tony Watson went one inning and threw 23 pitches in a High-A exhibition at Pirate City, without any issues. His next step will be determined after he gets his day-after evaluation on Monday.
• Jason Grilli, formerly of Team Italy, will make his return appearance in Monday's game against Boston. Grilli's last outing for the Bucs was on March 3.
• This is why manager Clint Hurdle was serious months ago when he said he was considering Russell Martin to be his No. 2 hitter: Martin is batting only .143, but has reached base in each of his nine games and has an on-base percentage of .357.
• Ivan DeJesus trigged the Pirates' four-run rally in the ninth with his eighth hit in his last 16 at-bats, and is batting .407 (11-for-27) overall.
• Sure you've been wondering about this: Of the 1,768 players who have suited up for the Pirates through the years, only two were Green -- Fred (1959-61 left-hander) and Chris (1984 left-hander). Hank Greenberg (1947) does not count.
• Neil Walker was in the original lineup but, with a right-hander (Ivan Nova) starting for the Yankees, instead got some right-handed at-bats in a Minor League game at Pirate City.
• Matt Diaz, a semi-regular outfielder for the Bucs through most of the 2011 season, was coincidentally released by the Yankees on Sunday morning. He had been in their camp on a non-roster invitation.
"I was absolutely pumped up. I'm very proud of Wandy's effort, and excited to have him back." -- Hurdle on Wandy Rodriguez, who returned to Bradenton on Sunday after capping off his World Baseball Classic heroics with six scoreless innings in the Dominican Republic's 2-0 victory over Puerto Rico on Saturday.
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.