PHILADELPHIA -- The Pirates are eagerly awaiting the return of three pitchers to their active roster, and for the first time in a long time, all three appear close to accomplishing that goal.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle clicked off reports of Jeff Karstens, Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton with not one setback to report. Karstens (sore shoulder) and Liriano (fractured right forearm) were looked upon as key components of the staff before Spring Training started while Morton (Tommy John surgery) remained a bigger question, but all three look to be on schedule. Karstens and Liriano are expected to join the Major League roster in May, with Morton on track for midseason.
Morton's second rehab start, this one in Altoona, went well as he allowed one hit in four innings of work and struck out three. More to the point, the reports from those watching were positive.
"His fastball played well," Hurdle said. "He had late life to his sinker. He threw some changeups and some cutters. After the first inning, he went to work and repeated his delivery well."
Coming through with RISP work in progress for Bucs
PHILADELPHIA -- In a 2-0 win over the Phillies on Tuesday night, the Pirates had plenty of things to build on as they continue a 10-game road trip that can give them plenty of momentum heading into May.
The return of Brandon Inge from the disabled list (sore scapula) resulted in a key RBI double that played big in the win. There also was a strong outing by starter Jeff Locke, who set a personal best as he went six scoreless innings.
At the same time, a recent stretch of struggles with runners in scoring position, including 0-for-13 in the win, is hard to look past even as the Pirates have won 10 of their last 14 games.
"There were two teams in the big league games last night that won games," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said with a wry smile. "We were 0-for-13 [RISP] and the Astros were 0-for-14. That doesn't happen often. Not a way to make a living."
Clearly not, but the Pirates did do one thing well -- they got those runners into scoring position. That's the important first step.
"At home, we've managed it much better," Hurdle said. "It's something that we continually look for answers. There's two ways to look at it: 'We have to get them in or the pitcher's in trouble' and 'I need a good pitch to hit.' Sometimes the guy on the mound is that good to shut things down, but we've had more than our share of opportunities that I believe could have played out better.
"We have to keep this in perspective. You can create the wrong mindset, so it's not like were joking either, but you reaffirm, encourage and sometimes just put your foot down and compete."
Pirates pair of Gaby, Jones cleaning up well
PHILADELPHIA -- It's not set in stone that Gaby Sanchez and Garrett Jones will form a platoon in the cleanup spot of the Pirates' lineup. Still, it's hard not to notice that the two have combined to hit .367 (22-for-60) with three home runs and 16 RBIs batting fourth.
"We've had some guys at the top of the order create opportunities for them; Gaby [.381 with two home runs in eight games batting fourth] has matched up well against some left-handed pitching," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "They've been able to collectively, in a small sample size, have some pretty good productivity. They are comfortable with it."
Jones, who returned to the lineup on Wednesday night against Phillies right-handed starter Roy Halladay, had played 11 games in the cleanup slot and hit .359 (14-for-39) with 16 RBIs.
• Russell Martin entered Wednesday night's game riding an eight-game hitting streak. In that time he has hit .444 (12-for-27) with three doubles, two home runs and three RBIs.
• The Pirates' bullpen entered Wednesday night with a 1.98 ERA, the lowest it had been after 20 games to start a season since 1990. In that season, the Pirates' bullpen had a 1.45 ERA in the same span.
Michael Radano is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.