PITTSBURGH -- Pirates staff had already been plotting ways to get rookie right-hander Gerrit Cole extra rest down the stretch, and Jeff Locke's latest hiccup raised the possibility of the left-hander also benefiting from a break.
Would trying to adjust two-fifths of the rotation complicate things? Not according to manager Clint Hurdle, who said the Bucs can consider their cases independently thanks to the trusted depth in the farm system.
"They're individuals," Hurdle said of Cole and Locke, "and we'll look at both on an individual basis. One does not affect the other. We have the organizational depth. We've been very confident in the moves we've made all season. We've got guys down there who are trending ... I love that word."
While Cole is being handled with care as a second-year pro, Locke has been trending downwards since the All-Star break. In 18 starts before the hiatus, he was allowing 6.3 hits per nine innings; in six starts since, that number had jumped to 12.1.
Left-hander Kris Johnson, called up from Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday for immediate help in the bullpen, becomes a candidate to make a spot start. If he gets that opportunity, he would become the 12th different starter used by the Pirates, which would be the most since they went through 13 of them in 2008.
Pirates promote lefty Johnson to bolster bullpen
PITTSBURGH -- Seeking relief for their besieged relievers, the Pirates called up left-hander Kris Johnson from Triple-A Indianapolis prior to Sunday's 4-2 loss against the D-backs.
Johnson, a 28-year-old veteran of eight Minor League seasons, made his big league debut -- and took the loss -- after throwing six innings of two-run ball during extra innings. He held Arizona off the board from the 11th to 15th innings before allowing a two-run double in the 16th.
"It was a little nerve-wracking at first," Johnson said after the game. "I know we're in a pennant race. You see some of the younger guys come up [from Indianapolis], and you don't want to be that guy [who falters]. Same game. Bigger stage."
Michael McKenry was transferred from the 15- to the 60-day disabled list to open room on the 40-man roster for Johnson, while outfielder Andrew Lambo was optioned to Indianapolis to create a vacancy on the 25-man active roster.
The Bucs made the move with three members of their bullpen unavailable Sunday due to recent workloads.
Selected in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft by the Red Sox, Johnson becomes the latest former No. 1 Draft pick to land in Pittsburgh.
Signed by the Pirates as a Minor League free agent following the 2011 season, Johnson has remarkably reignited his career in the Bucs' system, combining for an 18-8 record and 2.75 ERA in nearly two full seasons with Double-A Altoona and Indianapolis. Significantly, in between he also had a fabulous Winter League season in the Dominican, posting a 1.06 ERA while allowing only 37 hits in 49 1/3 innings.
Johnson has spent this season mostly in Indianapolis' rotation, going 10-3 with a 2.18 ERA in 20 starts. He has made five relief appearances, none since June.
Right-handers Vin Mazzaro, Jeanmar Gomez and Bryan Morris were not available to pitch Sunday.
Since last Sunday, Morris in particular has been pressed, making four appearances and throwing a total of 99 pitches -- including 36 in working the final 1 2/3 innings of Saturday's 15-5 loss to Arizona.
"I certainly threw more pitches [Saturday] than I would've wanted to. It does wear on you, but that's how the season goes," said Morris, who had specifically told manager Clint Hurdle that he didn't want to sit out any of the recent series in St. Louis, in which he wound up throwing 46 pitches. "Those were important games, and when you're feeling good, you don't want to not pitch."
First number, last word
.402: Starling Marte's season average against left-handed pitchers, tops in the National League, going into Sunday's confrontation with Arizona southpaw Wade Miley.
"I'm the wild horse they have to rein. I'm feeling really good, getting real close. But you can't run a marathon after doing 10 sprints." -- Jason Grilli, on fighting the temptation to exceed the conservative throwing program laid out for his comeback from a forearm injury.
• Andrew McCutchen's current slash line of .318/.391/.511 (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage) puts him in position to become the seventh Pirates player since 1901 to have consecutive .300/.400/.500 seasons.
The predecessors on that count: Paul Waner (five straight), Honus Wagner (streaks of three and two), Brian Giles (three) and Kiki Cuyler, George Grantham and Arky Vaughan (two each).
• Texas third baseman Adrian Beltre is batting about 100 points higher than Pirates counterpart Pedro Alvarez. So who would you rather have on your team?
The name of the game is run production, and Alvarez has 30 homers with 81 RBIs compared to Beltre's 25-74.
• The home runs by Martin Prado and Paul Goldschmidt in Saturday's game made the D-backs the first visiting team with a two-homer game in PNC Park since May 31, when the Reds' Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips went deep.
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.