The Pirates scratched Jeff Locke from his start before the All-Star break because of tightness in his lower back, but that injury appears to be in the rearview mirror. Manager Clint Hurdle said the lefty threw a "clean and efficient" bullpen session Friday and should be 100 percent Sunday against the Reds and righty Homer Bailey.
Locke hasn't pitched since July 8, and has a 2.75 ERA and .200 batting average against over 19 2/3 innings in his last three starts. He's 8-2 with a 2.15 ERA this season, second best in the National League, and the Pirates don't plan to limit the 25-year-old down the stretch.
"I don't think we're going to monitor him other than just letting him pitch. I think he'll let us know how he feels," Hurdle said. "He seems to be very encouraged by what he feels so far, and he's looking forward to the outing. I don't think we'll have him under a microscope by any means, but we'll just watch him pitch. I think his body will tell us how his back shapes up."
Bailey hasn't been the same since tossing his second career no-hitter on July 2 against the Giants. He's allowed 20 hits, eight earned runs and four walks with 10 strikeouts in his last two starts.
In his previous start, Bailey allowed a handful of infield singles and back-to-back doubles to the Braves' Nos. 8 and 9 hitters in the fifth. The Reds fell, 5-2, dropping Bailey to 1-4 in his last six starts.
"Freddie Freeman came up with guys on, he's probably their hottest hitter right now, and I got him on three pitches. So, go figure," Bailey said after the loss. "It was more the bottom of their lineup that really beat us today. You give up seven infield singles, what do you really do?"
Going for the series sweep, the Reds can pull within one game of the second-place Pirates in the National League Central.
Pirates: Wandy, McDonald to start throwing
Starters James McDonald and Wandy Rodriguez are tentatively scheduled to begin throwing programs within the next week.
McDonald has been on the disabled list since early May with stiffness in his right shoulder. He made six rehab starts, his last on June 21, but admitted he rushed back and wanted to give the injury more time to heal, so he stopped the rehab assignment.
Rodriguez went on the DL on June 11 after leaving a June 5 game against the Braves with a forearm strain after just 14 pitches. He's 6-4 with a 3.59 ERA this season.
Reds: Phillips continues dominance over Bucs
Brandon Phillips was hitting .316 with 12 RBIs against Pittsburgh this season entering Saturday, and turned in another strong performance in the second game of the weekend.
Phillips went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. Friday, he helped the Reds to a 5-3 win with a three-run double in the fifth.
• Locke has allowed one earned run, eight hits and seven walks in 12 innings against the Reds this season.
• Bailey allowed two runs on six hits over six innings on June 20 against the Pirates. His last start against Pittsburgh before that was his first no-hitter, which came on Sept. 28, 2012.
• The Pirates and Reds will meet just six more times the rest of the season after Sunday -- three games in Pittsburgh and the next weekend three in Cincinnati to close out the regular season. Each team has won six games in the 2013 season series.
Steven Petrella is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.