Alvarez homers in four consecutive games

SEATTLE -- Going down the stretch last season, the Pirates were 1-6 in games following off-days, conditions in which they had an overall 2012 record of 8-10. Manager Clint Hurdle noticed and, rather than lump it in with the other factors that greased the Bucs' exit from postseason race, decided to try to do something about it.

"We didn't show up very well last year after off-days, and it was something we gave a lot of thought to," Hurdle said. "We had conversations about a different way to go into off-days, and change the prep work coming out of them. We tactically tried to change it."

The gist of the new approach was allowing, even encouraging, the players to completely pull the plug on baseball activities on the off-day. To stay away from the ballpark.

"Go hard until the off-day shows up, then disengage," is the way Hurdle put it. "We've done some things as a group [around the off-days, such as the team dinner hosted here by area native Travis Snider]. We changed the workout routine on that first day back."

Have the new wrinkles straightened out that post-bye liability?

Entering Tuesday night's game, the Pirates were 8-0 after off-days in 2013.

McDonald, Wandy slowed on comeback trail

PIT@ATL: Wandy leaves the game with injury in first

SEATTLE -- Two cogs of the Pirates' season-opening rotation have hit snags of various severity in their rehabs from injuries.

James McDonald continues to have difficulty getting his shoulder loose and remained on the disabled list, even after his 30-day rehab assignment expired on Tuesday. Plans to have McDonald visit Dr. James Andrews fell through due to the renowned sports orthopedist's schedule, so the pitcher instead will consult club doctors in Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, left-hander Wandy Rodriguez's throwing program has been slowed after he reported some soreness following his first rehab outing on Sunday for Triple-A Indianapolis. Rodriguez's planned bullpen session was pushed back from Tuesday to Friday. If that goes well, he would make another rehab start on Monday.

The soreness experienced by Rodriguez was not in the same forearm area that landed him on the DL on June 11. He was quite effective in that initial rehab start, allowing four hits and a run in four innings against Charlotte, while striking out five and walking one.

"We're just taking precautions," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Wandy wasn't sure if he was sore because of the 18 days [between pitching appearances] or was just sore."

McDonald, disabled on May 7 with shoulder discomfort, made four starts for Indianapolis, allowing 26 hits and 16 runs in 20 2/3 innings. Two days following his most recent outing, he reported the continuing discomfort.

"He continued to be challenged trying to get loose, and it became a concern," Hurdle said.

Worth noting

• Neil Walker completed his batting-order card on Tuesday: He was batting eighth for the first time in his career, the only spot in the lineup he had not yet appeared.

• In case you wondered, when Jason Grilli allowed five hits in the 10th inning Sunday before closing out the Pirates' 10-9 win in Anaheim, it equalled the number of hits he had given up in his previous seven outings combined.

• Rookie pitcher Duke Welker received a pair of belated gifts Tuesday from clubhouse manager Scott "Bones" Bonnett -- the ball he'd used for his first Major League pitch in his debut in the eighth inning of Sunday's game, and the ball with which he'd posted his first big league strikeout, of the Angels' Chris Iannetta.

"I'll give them to my dad," Welker said. "They'll mean more to him. I got it all in my memory."

• A.J. Burnett (Grade 1 tear of left calf muscle) went through a 46-pitch session in Safeco Field's bullpen, throwing from both the windup and stretch. He has at least one more side session in the works before the rest of his rehab agenda is determined.

First number, last word

.374: Cumulative average of the 3M Co. -- Starling Marte, Jordy Mercer, Andrew McCutchen -- when they bat 1-2-3 in the Pirates' lineup, which they did for for the eighth time Tuesday night against the Mariners.

• "The topic can be brought up for discussion. But is it one to beat the drum on? Not for me. I just like where his stroke has gotten to now. I'm not a big fan one way or another; I don't know whether it would help or hurt." -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, on whether reigning NL Player of the Week Pedro Alvarez should be considered for the All-Star Home Run Derby