Closer Jason Grilli is expected to take another step in his recovery this weekend.
Grilli is expected to play catch, said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, which means the timetable for the return of his save leader theoretically could be as early as Sept. 1.
"Making progress as scheduled, as hoped, as planned," said Grilli after the Pirates completed a sweep Thursday of the Miami Marlins. "There has been no backpedaling. Let's just say that. There's been nothing in the progress to hold me back of where I needed to be.
"We've assessed and listened to the doctors and trainers and done exactly that. That's why I'm going to be out there sooner than later."
Hurdle said Wandy Rodriguez likely will throw a bullpen session this weekend, but will not be ready to return as early as Grilli might be able to.
"There's a couple question marks out there that prove to be very interesting for us," said Hurdle. "Wandy [Rodriguez] won't be a Sept. 1 add. He's not going to be ready. Theoretically, Grilli could be a Sept. 1 add. He could be ready. You only have to build this guy up to one inning. We get them back? That'd be nice. If not, we know we're capable now with what we have."
Grilli was evaluated by Pirates doctors again earlier this week and was reported to be making "quality progress" in his rehab for a flexor strain July 22.
"I actually think he's going to start playing catch later this week, maybe over the weekend," said Hurdle. "He's still ahead of schedule right now."
Mark Melancon has hardly missed a beat as the closer in Grilli's absence. He has been scored on once in his 14 appearances in the ninth inning.
Relievers Tony Watson, Bryan Morris and Justin Wilson have been filling the setup role by committee, and that is unlikely to change.
"I'm kind of comfortable the way it is right now," said Hurdle before the game Thursday. "Tony's jumped out a little bit here the last few days based on the lineup construction of the other team. I think we'll be mindful with that as well."
Grilli said watching his teammates in the bullpen get things done has been inspiring.
"It's awesome. I'm proud of these guys. It stinks to watch baseball going on without you," he said "They're carrying the torch well. I just can't wait to rejoin them."
Center fielder Andrew McCutchen had a pinch-hit single to load the bases in the seventh Thursday after being scratched from the starting lineup because of discomfort in his right shoulder.
He did not pinpoint a time when the discomfort began.
"I don't know, man, I couldn't even tell you. Just been playing, playing, playing, and guess it got sore over time. Not a big deal, though," McCutchen said. "I'll take [Thursday off] and be ready to go [Friday]."
Hurdle called the move "preventative maintenance" and did not sound overly concerned.
"We talked about it before the game. We were only going to use him to hit [Thursday], back him away from any throwing opportunities. Preventative maintenance as much as anything. That ball he laid out on the other day to make the catch ... so we're just going to use him in a situation to hit. Opportunity there obviously to jump on top, get him involved. He did all we could ask him to do."
Hurdle said McCutchen's shoulder was just sore.
Starling Marte was shifted to center and Alex Presley started in left field.
McCutchen was on a streak of five consecutive two-hit games before Thursday.
Thursday marked the 28th comeback win this season, something Hurdle said has to do with his team's mental makeup.
"I think it's just our mindset. Offensively, we know we've got work to do. We know there's some areas we can improve. We also know we're long on guts and we're going to play to the end," he said. "Drag out at-bats the best you can. So we've shown some resolve when we've been down, come back to take advantage of opportunities.
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1959 and Twitter @JennMenendez. First Published August 9, 2013 4:00 AM