Jason Grilli will return to the mound in the late innings with a lead, manager Clint Hurdle said Thursday, signifying another step in Grilli's return to the closer's role.
Hurdle said Grilli will pitch the seventh and eighth innings when the Pirates are ahead, though Mark Melancon will remain the closer for now. Grilli met Thursday with Hurdle.
"We wanted to ramp up the adrenaline, get him more in the positions he's pitched in in the past," Hurdle said. "I think each outing its gotten a little bit better. I think there are still some finishing touches to it."
Grilli has allowed a run in two of his three outings since returning from the disabled list because of a flexor strain in his right arm. He struck out three batters and walked one in 21/3 innings.
"I do like the way that Grilli's developing," Hurdle said. "I think he's getting closer."
Melancon has a save in each of his past four appearances, all one inning apiece. He pitched three consecutive scoreless appearances before allowing two runs on four hits to the Texas Rangers, but he still saved the game Tuesday.
Morton will start tonight
Hurdle confirmed that Charlie Morton will start tonight, five days after leaving in the second inning due to an apparent foot injury.
Morton threw a touch-and-feel side session this week and said he felt good.
"He said he was good to go and he said he was going to go out and pitch and have some fun and stay with the plan and program that he's been running out there with," Hurdle said. "We'll give him that opportunity."
Morton left the game Sunday against the St. Louis Cardinals after 12/3 innings. The Pirates said he hurt his left foot covering home plate after a wild pitch. Before that, he had allowed five runs, six hits and two walks.
Morton returned to Pittsburgh later Sunday for evaluations on the foot, but rejoined the team in Texas.
Marte's next steps
Starling Marte, who has not batted in a game since Aug. 18 due to a contusion and sprained ligament in his right hand, hit against Wandy Rodriguez during a simulated game Thursday.
Hurdle said the Pirates would decide on Rodriguez's next step after seeing how he feels today. He threw 67 pitches in five innings. Marte continued his push to return to the field.
"I saw some early swings, and he was letting it go," Hurdle said.
The Pirates want Marte to reacquaint himself with velocity and breaking pitches. They will use pitching machines, Hurdle said, or have one of the relievers throw to him.
"I don't know how much pain he's going through," Hurdle said. "We're going to find out more about that as well. We'll find out what the level of pain was."
More on Barmes-Burnett
Clint Barmes spent several minutes Thursday telling members of the media that A.J. Burnett's interaction with him in Wednesday's game was long past.
"I think it's overblown, but that's just me," Barmes said.
Hurdle agreed. "What's a big issue in [the clubhouse] isn't the same as what's a big issue out there."
Burnett grew frustrated and dismissed a question regarding the incident Thursday before the game.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.