The Pirates are not ruling out the return this season of left-handed pitcher Wandy Rodriguez, who got a good prognosis after he met with noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews earlier this week.
Rodriguez did not require surgery, though an evaluation with Dr. Andrews revealed continued inflammation in his left forearm. But Rodriguez and the Pirates will push on with a throwing program in the next couple of days, and Rodriguez could start a rehabilitation assignment soon.
It was unexpected good news for the Pirates, as many player visits to Dr. Andrews result in season-ending surgery.
Rodriguez has been on the disabled list since June 6 with what the Pirates have described as left forearm tightness.
If he is able to rejoin the rotation before the postseason -- which at this point is still a big if -- it would be a boost to a starting staff that entered Wednesday with a 4.71 ERA in August.
Rodriguez went 6-4 with a 3.59 ERA in 12 starts before his injury.
The Pirates optioned All-Star pitcher Jeff Locke and 2009 first-round draft pick Tony Sanchez to Class AA Altoona Wednesday to make room on the 25-man roster for outfielder Marlon Byrd and catcher John Buck.
After a stellar first half, in which he posted a team-leading 2.15 ERA, Locke has struggled since the All-Star break, posting a 6.18 ERA in eight starts. He has failed to finish six innings in his past six starts.
Byrd and Buck were acquired Tuesday in a trade with the New York Mets.
The Pirates anticipate recalling both demoted players Sept. 3, after Altoona's season ends. The players were optioned to Altoona and not Class AAA Indianapolis because Indianapolis made the playoffs, and they would have to wait at least 10 days or until Indianapolis was knocked out of the playoffs before rejoining the major league roster.
It is unlikely Locke, 25, will pitch in Altoona as the Pirates are using this as an opportunity to give him some rest. The Pirates will need to fill Locke's spot in the rotation Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Sanchez will see some at-bats in Altoona, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Neither player will be eligible automatically to compete in the postseason, but either could be added to the playoff roster if the Pirates place a player on the disabled list after Aug. 31.
Pirates closer Jason Grilli threw a 25-pitch simulated game without issue Wednesday and is scheduled to make a rehabilitation outing Saturday for Class AA Altoona.
"I'm going day by day. Do I think I could jump in to get some outs here [in the major leagues]? Sure. That's my confidence talking. But I'm just fine-tuning things. I think everybody wants me back the way I was, and so do I."
Grilli has been on the disabled list since July 23 with a right forearm strain.
He is scheduled to throw 20 pitches or one inning, whichever comes first, for Altoona. If that goes well, he could rejoin the major league roster shortly thereafter.
Grilli gave up one hit -- to Josh Harrison -- in his simulated game, but no runs. His focus in his rehabilitation is on throwing strikes.
"I'm not worried about velocity," he said. "It's just like weights in the weight room -- I can always add more weight. I know I can add some more [velocity] to that. It's not about throwing hard, it's about throwing strikes. My arm strength is there. If people want to see if my arm strength is going to be there, I can guarantee it's going to be there."
Shoppach is released
The Pirates released minor league catcher Kelly Shoppach Wednesday a little more than two weeks after signing him to a minor league deal. Shoppach, who hit .192 in seven games with Indianapolis, became expendable Tuesday after the Pirates acquired Buck.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 and Twitter @msanserino.