PITTSBURGH -- Pirates pitchers have found their groove in May, leading baseball in ERA, opposing batting average and strikeouts in the month entering Wednesday's game.
And there is even more help on the way.
Charlie Morton threw 80 pitches over four innings Tuesday for Double-A Altoona, giving up two hits, two walks and two unearned runs. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Morton, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, would pitch for Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday, then again May 31.
The right-hander's next rehab start will be ramped up to six innings and 90 pitches, then seven and 100 the following outing. Hurdle is not sure what Morton's role will be when he returns, and he will not worry about it for another 10 days.
"Starting is Charlie's niche right now," Hurdle said. "So we'll keep that in mind moving forward."
Jeff Karstens is also rehabbing in Altoona. He threw 60 pitches for the Curve on Saturday in his second rehab start while recovering from right shoulder inflammation. Hurdle said Karstens' next start had not been determined but should be announced soon.
Karstens was originally listed as the starter for the Curve on Thursday, but his name was removed Wednesday afternoon.
James McDonald, however, is not quite as far along as the two above. He threw a bullpen Tuesday, and Hurdle said the righty did not have any setbacks. He will throw another bullpen Friday. He has been on the disabled list with stiffness in his right shoulder since May 7.
"So far so good," Hurdle said of McDonald's recovery. "There were no repercussions from today. He didn't feel anything that set him back."
Pirates to support Penguins in road stretch
PITTSBURGH -- Pirates players will proudly don Penguins jerseys when they travel to Milwaukee and Detroit this weekend, and they are more than happy to represent their city doing so.
Support for their fellow athletes is running rampant through the clubhouse as the Penguins look to advance past the Ottawa Senators in the second round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"There's a large contingency that have their fingers on the pulse of Penguins hockey," manager Clint Hurdle said. "And they pull the other ones in regardless of whether they want to be pulled in or not."
Gaby Sanchez falls into the latter group but said he realized the importance of supporting other teams in the city.
Sanchez played for the Triple-A New Orleans Zephyrs in 2010 when the Saints won the Super Bowl. He said the success of another team in a city does not motivate him because each team has their own motivation and level of confidence, but at the same time, there is something to be said for collective success.
"We're motivated on our own to go out and do something special," said Sanchez, who will wear a No. 14 Chris Kunitz jersey this weekend. "But on the other hand, if they go out and they win, we're going to want to do the same thing, because we'll see how the city reacts. So of course we're going to want that same feeling."
Brandon Inge, who played 11 seasons for the Tigers, first became interested in hockey in Detroit --- one of the country's most passionate hockey cities.
He said both Pittsburgh and Detroit were especially tight-knit sports communities, and he was happy to support the Penguins because of the positive effects they could have on the city.
"Other athletes understand what you're going through, the everyday stress, and what it takes to become a good team," said Inge, who had not decided which jersey he would wear. "It's good for the city. It's something about community."
Not every team supports the other athletes in its city as with the places Inge has been. He says it starts with the character of players.
"Selfish players don't care about stuff like that; they just do their own thing," he said. "It says a lot for the owners, GMs, the city and the quality of guys that they're bringing in."
The Pirates' hometown NHL franchise even gave Hurdle his own custom Penguins jersey -- a No. 13 with his name on the back -- which was delivered to his office Wednesday afternoon.
All joking aside (not really), Bucs have chemistry
PITTSBURGH -- Bryan Morris could not take the heat for much longer.
After finishing his pregame run, the Pirates' reliever crawled into closer Jason Grilli's life-size Chewbacca costume and hid in his teammate's locker. When Grilli entered and sat down, Morris popped out, causing the 36-year-old Grilli to jump up from his chair. The costume of the furry "Star Wars" character usually sits upright in Grilli's locker.
"It was hot in there," said a laughing Morris, who waited about five minutes for Grilli and had to take the mask off several times because of the sweat pouring down his face.
Team chemistry is a facet of sports discarded by some and encouraged by others.
The consensus in the Pirates' clubhouse this season, however, is that the players genuinely get along and enjoy one another's company. And they love to play practical jokes.
"Everybody on the team likes one another; that doesn't always happen," Gaby Sanchez said. "And it's not one of those cliché things. It really happens."
• Grilli was not available Wednesday after he threw 34 pitches Tuesday, Hurdle said. Grilli may not be available Thursday afternoon, either.
• Travis Snider was the first Pirates pinch-hitter to hit a go-ahead, bases-loaded home run since Kevin Young on Aug. 31, 1999.
• Entering Wednesday, Andrew McCutchen was a career .324 hitter against the Cubs. He had reached base safely in 55 of his 60 games against Chicago.
• On this day 45 years ago, Willie Stargell hit three home runs at Wrigley Field against the Cubs. He set a franchise record for total bases in a game with 15, a mark that has not been broken.
• West Virginia Power infielder Stetson Allie had two home runs Tuesday night, leaving him with nine RBIs in his last four games. Allie was drafted as a pitcher by the Pirates in the second round of the 2010 Draft, but he struggled mightily on the mound in 2011 before being converted to a position player. He ranks second in the Class A South Atlantic League with 12 home runs.
First number, last word
14 The number of Pirates comeback wins this season (of 27 total wins), tied for the most in baseball with Atlanta and Texas through Tuesday.
"It will be later this week, because earlier this week has already passed." -- Hurdle when asked if Morton's next rehab start would be later this week.
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.