SAN DIEGO -- Best bullpen in the game?
It is far too early, of course, to make any such assessment, but the Pirates are off to quite a start: Their 2.32 bullpen ERA is the best in Major League Baseball, just ahead of San Diego's 2.39, which has all its statistics skewed by pitcher-friendly Petco Park. The 88 strikeouts are tied for fourth in the majors. The average number of walks and hits per inning pitched -- a key relief figure -- is 1.22, ninth in the majors. The rate of 2.04 ground-ball outs to all outs also is ninth. And the nine saves, all by closer Joel Hanrahan, rank third.
All this has come, remember, without a healthy Evan Meek, the Pirates' lone All-Star last summer.
"We've seen what you want to see out of a really good bullpen," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Our guys have handled some very challenging opportunities. It hasn't all been 1-2-3 innings. They've inherited runners. They've had a lot of close scores. I like what I see.
"You've got some big arms, different angles, some guys who can spin it better than they throw it hard. I think it could be a very good bullpen."
"It's a group that throws hard and comes at you from a lot of different ways," pitching coach Ray Searage said. "They've got three different pitches they throw, so nobody can sit on any one pitch. When Clint uses a guy, it's usually because of the matchup. And he's got a lot of good options."
Are they No. 1, as their ERA ranking had been early in the week?
"Well, that's what we shoot for," setup man Chris Resop said. "We're coming together. We've got a lot of good arms, a lot of hard throwers."
Third baseman Pedro Alvarez was held out because of the tight right quadriceps that forced him out of the game Tuesday night. Hurdle called his status "non-playable" before the game but had no specifics. Alvarez said afterward that he did not think the injury was significant.
Left fielder Jose Tabata missed a fourth start because of the tight right hamstring, but his condition improved to the point he was cleared to pinch-hit.
Both will be evaluated in Pittsburgh before the game Friday.
When Brandon Wood was thrown out at third Tuesday night for a key out in the ninth inning of the 6-5 loss, some might have wondered why the batter, Ryan Doumit, ducked while San Diego catcher Rob Johnson threw for the out.
The reason was simple: That's the rule.
"I know as a catcher that, if he makes contact with me, the runner's automatically out," Doumit said.
• Outfielder John Bowker cleared waivers and was outrighted to Class AAA Indianapolis. The Pirates had designated him for assignment last week. He is the only player left from the trading of reliever Javier Lopez last summer.
• The Kansas City Star reported that reliever Nate Adcock, lost by the Pirates in the December Rule 5 draft, is assuming a more prominent role in the Royals bullpen after posting a 2.45 ERA in his first 11 innings. The Pirates left Adcock unprotected while protecting another reliever, Wil Ledezma, who was released three weeks later.
• McKechnie Field, the Pirates' spring stadium in Bradenton Fla., was closed Wednesday after rust was discovered on the steel supports underneath the roofs covering the seating areas. The Pirates' Class A affiliate, the Bradenton Marauders, will move their next two home games to Port Charlotte, Fla., while repairs are made.