Outlook: Locke looks to repeat first-half magic

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Two days after skipping a start with discomfort in his right oblique area, Pirates left-hander Jeff Locke took the mound Friday to test how he felt throwing.

He didn't stay on the mound long.

"It still didn't feel right," Locke said. "I didn't see any point to keep throwing. So I stopped."

While the Pirates traveled to Port Charlotte to meet the Rays, Locke planned to consult with the team's training staff, and possibly even a doctor to get an updated diagnosis and recommended course of action.

This is a disappointing setback for the 2013 National League All-Star, whose first and only exhibition outing had been encouraging regarding his prospects of bouncing back from a disappointing second half of the season. Facing the Yankees on Feb. 27, Locke had pitched one-hit shutout ball for two innings, with one strikeout.

Another red flag: Locke could be affected if, even after he resumes pitching, the tender right side causes him to cut back on his normal workout routine. Reducing his between-starts regimen following a lower-back issue was partly blamed for his 2-5, 6.52 ERA performance after the All-Star break.

After delayed start, Liriano settles in

Hurdle tabs Francisco Liriano as Opening Day starter

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- In Spring Training, matters are programmed pretty strictly -- when pitchers work, how long they work. Francisco Liriano's program on Saturday had a bug: The Pirates scored six runs in the top of the first, and the 25 minutes that took essentially wiped out Liriano's pregame warmup in the bullpen.

"I was trying to stay loose in the dugout, moving around and trying to stretch," said Liriano, who could also be seen peppering the dugout steps with a ball while the Bucs batted around against Rays lefty Matt Moore. "But it's hard to stay loose, especially when it's a little cold."

Soon after finally being able to take the mound, Liriano gave up a booming triple to Tampa Bay leadoff batter Logan Forsythe. But don't get the idea Liriano had a disastrous outing -- the run Forsythe scored on a sacrifice fly was the only one the lefty allowed in three innings, in which he walked one and struck out three.

But this is how good Pittsburgh's starting pitching has been early in the Grapefruit League: Liriano's effort was the worst of the week, as the Bucs' Opening Day starter was the first to allow any scoring in seven games.

"I'm right where I want to be," said Liriano, who focused his third spring start on "getting ahead with the fastball, trying to throw first-pitch strikes."

"What I'm working on right now is getting a better feeling for my fastball, being more consistent with it, repeating my delivery. I'll just continue working, getting myself ready for Opening Day."

Alvarez, Walker get brief test against lefty

Outlook: Despite K's, Alvarez poised to slug in '14

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates were looking for both Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker to get in multiple at-bats on Saturday against a quality left-hander. However, neither Matt Moore nor the Tampa Bay fielders cooperated.

After allowing five hits and seeing his defense make one error and loosely play other balls, Moore's day ended before the first inning did. Alvarez and Walker, thus, got one at-bat each against the southpaw.

"What is it they say about 'Best-laid plans?'" asked Jeff Banister, the bench coach who managed the Pirates' 10-5 win over the Rays as manager Clint Hurdle spent the day at Pirate City, getting a close look at some of the organization's prospects. "We set up the lineup to get those guys some at-bats against a left-hander, but in that first inning, the boys came out and barreled up some balls and made [Moore] pitch."

"I don't think Moore's had too many days like that," Walker said.

Walker did single in this only meeting with Moore (Alvarez hit the ball squarely, but got under it and flied out to right), leaving him 2-for-3 against lefties in exhibitions. The switch-hitter's spring focus is improving his production from the right side.

"Sometimes it's nice to see a starter a couple of times through the order, to be honest, but we strung together some decent at-bats and are in a pretty decent place right now as a team," Walker said. "I'm just trying to make good contact [against the lefties]. I'm happy, very happy with where I am right now."

First number, last word

15: Total number of runs Pirates pitchers have allowed through the sixth inning in the first 10 Grapefruit League games, compared to 16 runs in the seventh or later, when Minor Leaguers and other hopefuls typically take over exhibitions.

"You watch Pedro, and you see he hasn't been chasing balls. He's been stubborn good with that approach." -- Banister, on Alvarez, who fanned a National League-high 186 times last season, but only four times in 20 at-bats thus far this spring

Worth noting

Russell Martin played back-to-back games for the first time -- kind of. He was the DH on Saturday, after starting at catcher in Friday's game against the Twins. Martin went 2-for-3 with a three-run homer and four RBIs. He had three RBIs all last spring.

• Right-hander Phil Irwin, who has been resting a tender right elbow, has begun playing catch and is due to toss a bullpen session on Monday. Barring setbacks, he will take his first game turn in a Thursday return to Port Charlotte.

Josh Harrison went 2-for-2 to raise his spring average to .462.

"His bat has been loud, and he's been good on defense," acting manager Banister complimented Harrison's play. "Josh has been focused. He knows what his job is and what he needs to do to get ready. It's been a nice sight to see."

Adam Wilk put up three more zeroes. The lefty reliever has pitched six shutout innings, allowing three hits.

• Randy Gravitt, a self-described "leadership coach" on the lecture circuit to help "people reach their full potential," spoke to the Pirates prior to the start of Saturday's agenda.