MILWAUKEE -- For a player already optioned and recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis three times this season, it stands to reason that Pirates reliever Jared Hughes would look at every opportunity on the hill as a tense audition. But the 6-foot-7 right-hander said it's "almost the exact opposite."
"When I get here, I know all these guys, and we played together through the Minors," he said. "We were talking the other day, me, [Justin] Wilson, [Tony] Watson, [Bryan] Morris, we were all starters in Altoona in 2010. We played all together for a number of years. So I get up here, and it's nice to fit in with this clubhouse."
His pitching is fitting in just fine, as well.
Hughes has posted a 1.13 ERA in eight innings of work, most recently a 10-pitch, scoreless ninth on Sunday in a loss to the Cardinals. In 15 2/3 innings this season combined between Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, he has only allowed two earned runs, and he hasn't allowed a hit in five of seven outings with the Pirates thus far.
"I'm not that guy who's going to go out there and throw a bunch of breaking balls and try to strike people out," he said. "That's not who I am. I'm the guy that wants to get early action and trusts the fielders to field it."
Hughes appeared in 66 games in 2012 for the Pirates, posting a 2.85 ERA, but that mark ballooned to 4.78 in 32 innings last year.
"I struggled with the shoulder injury last year in the middle of the year, so having my arm healthy is good," he said. "I'm just continually working on the sinker, talking to other guys who throw it. The repetitions and work over the offseason on that pitch has allowed me to put it in the zone more often."
That aforementioned 2010 Altoona rotation happens to be 9-1 this year for the Pirates with a 2.53 ERA out of the bullpen. So even though Hughes has done his part, he acknowledges that it doesn't mean he has locked down a permanent place with the parent club yet.
"I have two options left, so they have the ability to move me up and down without losing me," he said. "I just have to stay positive and go out there and compete."
Back tightness keeps Marte out of lineup
MILWAUKEE -- Pirates outfielder Starling Marte did some light throwing and running before Tuesday's series opener in Milwaukee, but the back tightness that kept him out of the lineup Sunday persisted, and he was absent from the starting nine again.
"We're still going through the process of evaluating him," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said before Tuesday's tilt with Milwaukee. "We're just trying to work through whether he'll be available off the bench."
Hurdle said there was "a chance" Marte could see the field Tuesday, but he hinted that those odds were remote, likening it to the same volume of "chance" in the famous "Dumb and Dumber" quote, "So you're saying there's a chance."
Marte showed signs of the back bothering him during at-bats against the Cardinals on Friday and Saturday. When he left Saturday's game, a Pirates team already resting ailing Andrew McCutchen and missing a suspended Travis Snider resorted to playing first baseman Gaby Sanchez and shortstop Jordy Mercer in right field.
Josh Harrison made the start in right field and led off Tuesday. The club also elected to pair starter Gerrit Cole with catcher Chris Stewart, as was the case in Cole's last start May 7, when he lasted eight strong innings.
Pittsburgh wasn't the only team coming into Tuesday's opener in Milwaukee a bit hobbled. The Brewers placed third baseman Aramis Ramirez on the disabled list with a hamstring issue prior to the game, activating Ryan Braun. The club elected to not send Braun, who spent the minimum amount of time on the DL with a strained oblique, on a rehab assignment Monday in Appleton, Wis., because of inclement weather. That meant Tuesday marked his first experience with live pitching.
Pirates, Brewers face off for first time since fracas
MILWAUKEE -- With the potential of bad blood between Pittsburgh and Milwaukee making Tuesday's game an intriguing one for many onlookers, the Brewers were still awaiting word from the MLB league office on the suspension of outfielder Carlos Gomez after the benches-clearing confrontation in Pittsburgh on April 20.
Gomez, originally docked three games, appealed his case Friday, but it was unclear when a final ruling would be made. He started Tuesday against Gerrit Cole, the pitcher with whom he exchanged words on Easter Sunday to catalyze a benches-clearing brawl.
Gomez has mended fences with outfielder Travis Snider, who emerged from the dugout and rushed into the fracas with Gomez, actions that garnered Snider a two-game suspension. When the two had a chance encounter at a Milwaukee steakhouse Monday, they chatted and shook hands.
"There's no hard feelings," Gomez said before Tuesday's game. "We're all professionals. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see Snider personally. We shook hands and he gave me a hug, and everything is good. There's no hard feelings. … Like I said before, we don't want any player to get hurt from stuff like that. When this happened, it's just a lot of emotion and adrenaline. It's not fun, but it's part of the game and you deal with it."
Gomez also made good with Yankees catcher Brian McCann over the weekend when New York paid a visit to Miller Park. McCann, then a member of the Braves, had a similar confrontation with Gomez in 2013 when he took exception to the outfielder's demonstrative methods during a home run trot.
Though Tuesday marked the clubs' first meeting since Easter, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he had not been contacted by umpires prior to Tuesday's game.
"There's not too many people tied to the game who don't know we're back in Milwaukee," Hurdle said. "Sometimes I've been involved in situations where you get a warning before the game. Other times, they just let you go play and figure things out as you go. I imagine if there's any type of out-of-behavior play, there could be some quick responses to slow things down."
Hurdle didn't sound like a man who anticipated retaliation.
"I expect us to play with emotion and not play emotionally. I think that can take away from your play," he said. "This is a good team we're playing, playing a team in first place. There's enough adrenaline flowing where we're just trying to stay focused on what we can control and beat the Brewers. We don't need to beat them a certain way. We don't need X, Y and Z to happen. We need to stay focused on the job and go from there."
Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said over the weekend that his club had lodged a complaint with the league office regarding the suspension's potential timing. With Snider's appeal heard and rejected and his suspension served, the Brewers felt it would be unfair for the Pirates to be playing at full strength while the club played without Gomez in a head-to-head setting.
Prospect Polanco nearly completes cycle
Despite Tuesday's game being shortened to six innings by rain, outfielder Gregory Polanco collected four hits and finished a home run shy of the cycle. Led by the Pirates' No. 1 prospect, Triple-A Indianapolis defeated Pawtucket, 6-2.
Polanco, ranked No. 12 on MLB.com's Top 100 prospects list, went 4-for-4 with a double, a triple and two runs Tuesday. It was his third four-hit game of the season.
Polanco began his night with a double in the first inning and tripled in the second. He added singles in the fourth and the sixth. He would have had at least one more chance to try for the cycle if rain hadn't washed out the final three innings.
In 37 games this season, Polanco is hitting .378 with a 1.061 OPS. He leads the International League in both categories, as well as on-base percentage (.439), slugging percentage (.622), hits (56), runs (28) and RBIs (35).
• Pirates closer Jason Grilli will throw a simulated game Wednesday as he works his way back from an oblique strain that landed him on the disabled list April 26. Hurdle said he had not yet had a conversation with Grilli about whether or not a rehab assignment would follow.
• Ike Davis entered Tuesday's game with a five-game hitting streak, his longest streak since mid-August, 2012.
JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.