TAMPA, Fla. -- The Pirates' Grapefruit League schedule is over, and they've headed north for the summer. They have one last game to play before they start counting toward the final standings and statistics, but it's more than just a tuneup to them.
The Pirates will host a game against their Double-A affiliate in Altoona, Pa., on Saturday. Right-hander James McDonald will get the start for Pittsburgh, and right-hander Mark Melancon is also scheduled to pitch.
In an attempt to get their pitchers more work before the regular season, Pittsburgh will also supply the Altoona Curve's pitching staff. Left-hander Tony Watson, right-hander Jared Hughes and lefty Justin Wilson are scheduled to pitch, and closer Jason Grilli will start.
"Back in the day, he said he can start, so we'll throw him one more bone," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, smiling. "One more thing off his bucket list."
Hurdle said the Pirates will "throw a starting lineup out there that's going to be one of our best" while playing everyone on the roster. That's the other important part of this exhibition, to Hurdle: putting on a big league show for the loyal fans in the Minor League city.
"They're amped up in Altoona. This is one of the things that doesn't get done a lot anymore, where the Major League team plays an affiliate," Hurdle said. "There can be some challenges with it. I've done it in Colorado. We did it in Texas the year I was there. I just see a lot of value in it, because they came to me and asked, and I just said, 'Let's do it whenever it makes sense.' You can't do two of them in the spring, but you can take a shot. Maybe it's an opportunity for somebody else next year.
"It's great for the fans. It is great for that affiliate. It's sold out. It'll be pretty much packed for BP. ... I'm all for stuff like that."
Hurdle laughed that the sold-out stadium will be a "madhouse" for the Pirates considering the fact that everyone in attendance will be there just to see them, get their autographs and take a rare in-person look at the big league club before the season begins.
Hurdle also praised the Double-A club's work as part of the Pirates' player development system, saying, "There's nothing they won't do for these players."
Locke heads into season with confidence high
TAMPA, Fla. -- Jeff Locke took the mound Thursday afternoon with all the confidence in the world, having been named the Pirates' fifth starter a day earlier.
But after tossing six shutout innings against the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field with his best fastball-changeup combination all spring, he can head north feeling that much better.
Locke allowed four hits and struck out three in six efficient innings on both clubs' getaway day. Sure, the Yankees were swinging early and often as they prepared to break camp, but Locke still looked at the outing as a confidence-booster.
"It's easy to feel good about today's outing, especially when it's the last one, heading out today," Locke said. "I'll be in Pittsburgh tonight at some point, and you feel a lot better about that outing when you're in Pittsburgh. I'm excited, ready to get roaring."
Locke finished the spring with a 3-1 record and 2.63 ERA, leading the Pirates with three wins over his seven games (six starts). He felt like he was getting ahead of hitters better than he had all spring, and he worked in his changeup more often and more effectively than in his previous Grapefruit League starts.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle added that Locke was throwing all his pitches well, but the changeup was an "equalizer" for him. And pitching with the comfort that his next start would be in the Majors didn't hurt, either.
"Time will tell. I've seen it happen, and that's one of the best things you get to enjoy as a manager," Hurdle said. "As hard as the day is in some areas, there's equally a lot of opportunities that you're bestowing upon guys and being the one at least to share the good news with them first. He cut his teeth twice at the Major League level and took some hard lessons. He didn't get his first win until his last start, and he had a few starts."
Locke will have to pitch somewhere between now and his first turn in the rotation, but he didn't know exactly when or where that will come. He did know that he will be with the Pirates at PNC Park for Opening Day -- his first in a Major League uniform.
"It's super exciting, just talking to the veteran guys around here saying all the time that Opening Day doesn't get old. It's never the same. It's always exciting," Locke said. "It's going to be like a playoff-type, World Series-type environment just because everyone's so happy to be out there again playing in front of the home crowd. So it's going to be a lot of fun, I'm sure, for me because I've never been a part of a big league Opening Day before.
"I can only speak to Triple-A Opening Days. I was so excited for that one, so I can only imagine that this one will definitely hold a candle to it."
The Pirates finished their Grapefruit League season with 13 victories, their most since winning 17 in 2009. Obviously, wins and losses are not the marker of a good or bad spring, but Hurdle was happy overall with what took place in Florida this year.
"I am pleased with the work that was done and the things that we were able to get put into place," Hurdle said. "The goal of Spring Training is to get ready for the season. We had some things to take care of before the season started, and I believe we've got programs in place to give us an opportunity to have more success, absolutely."
Gaby Sanchez was Pittsburgh's leader in home runs (four) and RBIs (11) this spring, while Starling Marte led the club in batting average (.323) and steals (four). Josh Harrison led the team with 27 games played, while Melancon appeared in a team-high 11 games with a 1.64 ERA. Jonathan Sanchez and Justin Wilson tied for the club lead in strikeouts with 16 apiece.
The Pirates announced Thursday that they agreed to a sponsorship deal with the Pittsburgh area-based Rivertowne Brewing Company that includes naming rights to the PNC Park Hall of Fame Club. The Rivertowne Brewing Hall of Fame Club is open to all ticket holders before, during and after every game and will now feature a complete selection of Rivertowne craft beers available on tap.
"The Pirates continually strive to use local vendors at PNC Park when possible and this is another great example of the success the team has had in incorporating local businesses," Pirates president Frank Coonelly said in a statement. "The inclusion of Pittsburgh businesses like Rivertowne Brewing in and around the ballpark is what makes every visit to PNC Park a true Pittsburgh experience."