PHOENIX -- The Pirates' season-starting offensive slumber has obscured other positives that bode well for the long season. The focus on the lack of hitting is unavoidable when through six games you've scored only one more run than Royals slugger Billy Butler drove in Sunday (seven).
Still, more props were in order after Sunday's finale of the series in Dodger Stadium. Bucs pitchers, already overshadowed by the offensive black hole, were joined that day by the Pittsburgh defense.
We're talking three exceptional plays in that losing effort:
• In the fifth, third baseman Pedro Alvarez dove to smother Matt Kemp's smash and start an around-the-horn double play, remarkably turned by second baseman Neil Walker.
"Maz taught me well," Walker grinned Monday.
That would be Bill "No Hands" Mazeroski, whose double-play pivots were David Copperfield-grade.
• Later in that same fifth inning, left fielder Starling Marte backhanded Adrian Gonzalez's single into the gap and in one motion unloaded a throw to second that got there so early, when Walker turned to apply a tag, Gonzalez hadn't yet arrived.
• In the bottom of the sixth, shortstop John McDonald gloved a grounder in short left and sidearmed a timely throw to first so on target, Gaby Sanchez didn't have to move his glove at all.
"You watch your guys play defense," manager Clint Hurdle said, "and there's not a day I don't walk away appreciating how hard the game is to play, and how easy these guys make it look sometimes."
Off-day gives Hurdle rotation options for Reds series
PHOENIX -- The Pirates have not yet set their rotation for the first big NL Central series of the season, a three-game meeting with the Reds, opening Friday night in PNC Park.
An off-day between that series and the one in Arizona gives manager Clint Hurdle some alternatives, and consideration is being given to having left-hander Jeff Locke skip his next turn.
A.J. Burnett, who pitched Saturday in Los Angeles, is the likely choice to go in the opener in the Cincinnati set. Wandy Rodriguez, who started here Monday night but left with apparent cramping in the third inning, could come back for the second game, with James McDonald starting the finale.
Having their top three pitchers lined up for the defending division champs makes sense, but Hurdle was not yet ready to commit.
"We wanted to wait until A.J. pitched, and to evaluate Locke's situation," Hurdle said. "With the day off, we're looking at a couple of different options. We'll bring all the pitchers in here tomorrow and discuss it."
• Starter Wandy Rodriguez and relievers Jason Grilli and Chris Leroux were making their second visit of the year to Chase Field. They pitched here for three different countries in the first round of the World Baseball Classic.
• Pirates players spent the early afternoon attentively watching the clubhouse big screen as former Bucs pitcher Kevin Correia took a shutout into the eighth inning for the Twins in Kansas City.
• The Pirates hadn't scored more than three runs in any of their first six games for the first time since 1955, when they had scored a total of 12 (against eight this year) in an 0-6 start.
• When he made his first appearance for the Pirates as a ninth-inning sub at shortstop on Opening Day, John McDonald drew a throwing error on the very first ball hit to him.
How bizarre was that? Last season, in 63 appearances at three different positions with the D-backs, Johnny Mac had one error in 469 chances.
First number, last word
26-52: The Pirates' record in National League West cities, since 2008, going into the opener of the three-game series in Phoenix against the D-backs.
"Platoon him? No way. One swing of his bat can change the dynamic of a game. Like a lot of us, he has more work to do. But he's going to have to cut his teeth up here." -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, on Pedro Alvarez and his struggles against left-handed pitching.
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.