Locke called up to start tonight

PITTSBURGH – Left hander Jeff Locke is coming back to the Pittsburgh Pirates, but probably for just one game.

Locke is expected to start tonight’s home game against the San Francisco Giants, then return to Class AAA Indianapolis on Tuesday.

The Pirates need a spot starter to cover Wandy Rodriguez’s place in the rotation. Rodriguez is on the disabled list with inflammation in his right knee and is scheduled for a second minor league rehab start before he can rejoin the active roster.

With two open dates looming in the schedule, the Pirates won’t need a fifth starting pitcher until they play the Yankees in New York (May 16-18), so it’s possible a position player will replace Locke on the roster on Tuesday.

One prime candidate for a promotion is Andrew Lambo, who failed to make the team in spring training.

Lambo has been hitting well at Indianapolis, and the Pirates are still looking for production from right field. Travis Snider and Jose Tabata have failed to nail down the position. Utilityman Josh Harrison started the last two games in right field.

Although Lambo was trying to win the lefthanded first base position in spring training, he’s primarily been an outfielder. The Pirates are always looking for power, and they haven’t given up on Lambo despite his poor performance in spring training.

“Andrew is swinging the bat very very well,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “When we traded for Ike Davis, who knew where he was going to go with it? [He was] not happy. Not satisfied, not pleased with the move at all, but he’s handled it well.

“He’s bounced back into the outfield fine, and he’s swinging the bat very well right now.”

It remains unlikely the Pirates will bring up prospect Gregory Polanco before June.

Meanwhile, Locke made the All-Star team last season, but was far less effective in the second half as he battled a back injury. This spring he was sidelined by an oblique strain and didn’t make the opening day roster.

“This week’s theme seems to be overcoming challenges, and he’s certainly had his share since the second half of last season,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

Time for some change

Starling Marte hasn’t been effective as a leadoff hitter this season because of a high strikeout total.

Hurdle recently put Marte lower in the order, and he’s responded to the change.

Long-term, the Pirates think Marte will hit in the middle of the order. But his best spot for now is still to be determined.

“Time will tell, this is a short window, four days,” Hurdle said. “I know where I’ve liked him all along, which I’m not going to share with you. It all goes back to what’s best for the team, and where the pieces best fit at the time.”

Patience needed

Hurdle used his pre-game radio show to take a shot at the fickle nature of fans, as it applies to shortstop Jordy Mercer.

Mercer broke a 0-for-25 streak with a pinch double on Friday. Mercer has struggled badly at the plate since the start of the season.

“Some of the people who wanted him in there more last season and the same ones who want him out of here now,” Hurdle said. “He’s going to be fine. The bat will play.”