Closer Jason Grilli is scheduled to throw a simulated game for the second consecutive day today in what could be the final step before his return from the disabled list.
“I feel good,” Grilli said. “Just following the protocol that’s necessary. Every athlete’s always ready and I certainly feel that. One more [today] and I think we’re good to go.”
Grilli, who is on the 15-day DL because of a left oblique strain, threw 20 pitches Tuesday in a one-inning simulated game at PNC Park. He threw fastballs, breaking balls and changeups.
“He feels fine,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He feels healthy. It was just another good day for him to go and throw all his pitches.
Grilli went on the disabled list April 26 and the Pirates back-dated the move to April 21, so they can activate him at any time.
“The challenge will be for him to get out there again on back-to-back days and see how the fastball command shows up and how sharp the breaking ball is and those kind of things,” Hurdle said.
Martin on track, too
Russell Martin will catch Grilli’s simulated game today as he nears the end of rehabilitation for a strained left hamstring. He was scheduled to meet with Hurdle, general manager Neal Huntington and bench coach Jeff Banister after batting practice Tuesday to discuss the next step in his comeback. Martin has said he does not think he needs a rehabilitation assignment.
“The catching component is obviously the most critical right now for everything involved,” Hurdle said.
Martin also went on the DL April 26. When he returns, he must serve a one-game suspension for his role in the April 20 fight between the Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers.
“He’s shown the ability to swing the bat,” Hurdle said. “He actually fired a checked swing off [Tuesday] in the simulated game. Held his ground, didn’t feel anything. That’s encouraging. He’s ramped up the running portion of it to as aggressive as he’s been.”
With more than a quarter of the season complete, the Pirates planned to address their starting rotation’s problems in the early innings of games. Pirates starters have a 4.81 ERA in the first inning this season.
“That’s one of the areas that we’ve definitely identified,” Hurdle said.
Charlie Morton in particular has had problems in the first inning. He allowed seven combined runs in the first inning in each of his past two starts, then allowed one run in the next 11 innings combined.
Morton said after his start Sunday that better pitch selection and location early in the game would help, but also said, “We have bad innings. That’s just the reality of pitching. There’s momentum shifts.”
Stolmy Pimentel, who is on the DL because of inflammation in his right shoulder, will throw one more bullpen session with the team before heading out on a rehab assignment, Hurdle said.
Pimentel threw a side session Monday.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.