Pirates notebook: Once-promising Phil Irwin dropped off 40-man roster

Minor league right-hander Phil Irwin, at one point a promising pitcher who made a spot start for the Pirates last season, lost his spot on the 40-man roster Thursday in lieu of a waiver claim.

The Pirates claimed right-hander Josh Wall from the Los Angeles Angels and designated Irwin for assignment. The Pirates optioned Wall to Class AAA Indianapolis.

Irwin missed most of 2013 after having surgery to transplant the ulnar nerve in his right elbow. He returned this season and struggled in two starts with Indianapolis before being moved to the bullpen, where he improved.

"The fastball velocity is down a touch," general manager Neal Huntington said. "The breaking ball at times has been very good but the consistency of it has been a challenge. We moved him to the pen to see if one or two times through the rotation would play a little bit better, because the [changeup] hasn't come along the way we hoped it would."

Irwin, 27, had a 2.83 ERA in 1301/3 innings across three levels in 2012, including 28 strikeouts in 21 innings at Class AAA. He started twice for Indianapolis in 2013 and once for the Pirates before needing surgery.

"The injury took its toll on him," Huntington said. "He's healthy. We're just not seeing the same crispness and sharpness."

Wall, 27, has spent most of this season at Class AAA Salt Lake, where he has allowed seven runs, five earned, in 102/3 innings. He has appeared in the majors in each of the past three seasons. Huntington said Wall's fastball can reach the mid-90s and he has a good slider but command has been an issue.

"It's a guy we've tracked for a handful of years back through his days with the Dodgers," the team that originally drafted Wall, Huntington said. "Have tried a couple times to get him and haven't been able to."

Martin returns from DL stint

Russell Martin was activated from the 15-day disabled list, allowing him to serve his one-game suspension in the series opener against the Washington Nationals and return to the lineup tonight.

Martin went on the DL April 26 because of a strained left hamstring. He had to serve his suspension for his actions in the April 20 fight between the Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers. He convinced the Pirates to bring him back without sending him on a minor league rehabilitation assignment.

"At the end of the day, that was a topic that we talked about," manager Clint Hurdle said. "I think we all got to a place that that wasn't going to be something that needed to be done based on what he was able to accomplish here."

Because the Pirates designated Wandy Rodriguez for assignment, they can carry three catchers, if they want, until Jason Grilli comes back from the DL. That could happen as early as Saturday. They will have to make another move Monday to add that day's starting pitcher to the active roster.

Swatting the 'Nats'

Andrew McCutchen entered the four-game series against Washington hitting .441 with eight home runs in 59 career at-bats against the Nationals at PNC Park.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.

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