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MIA@PIT: Locke strikes out seven over seven frames

Jeff Locke may be pitching for his spot on the Pirates' big league roster Saturday when he takes the mound at Nationals Park.

Right-hander Gerrit Cole (right lat soreness) made his fourth, and likely final, rehab start for Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday night. He spun seven innings of scoreless ball, surrendering five hits and one walk while striking out three on 92 pitches -- a performance indicative of Cole's readiness to be activated from the 15-day disabled list.

And it seems Locke -- who will face off against Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez in the middle contest of the three-game set in Washington -- might be the odd man out of Pittsburgh rotation with Cole's return. In his last four starts, he's given up 17 runs on 33 hits, including six home runs, over 24 innings.

Gonzalez's circumstances, meanwhile, are not as dire, as the first-place Nationals aren't likely to make any significant addition to their rotation in the near future.

Still, the southpaw, who is 6-9 with a 4.00 ERA on the season, has compiled the worst statistical season of any Washington starter. And with a postseason appearance looking more likely for the Nationals with each passing day -- they boast a six-game lead over the Braves after Friday's action -- there remains a lot for Gonzalez to prove if he wishes to be a lock for the team's playoff rotation.

His last start on Sunday didn't help his cause. Gonzalez struggled significantly with command, an issue that has plagued him since he returned from the disabled list in June after missing more than a month with shoulder inflammation in his shoulder. He threw 111 pitches in 4 2/3 innings while walking four and allowing two runs on six hits in a loss at the Braves.

"He didn't command as well as he wanted to," manager Matt Williams said Sunday.

Pirates: Alvarez back at third in Mercer's absence
For the first time in the past 50 games on Friday night against the Nationals, Jody Mercer did not start at shortstop for the Pirates because of right forearm tightness that forced him to leave Thursday's game at the Tigers.

The injury mandated a number of changes to the Pittsburgh infield. Pedro Alvarez returned to third base -- the position where he's committed 24 errors this season, 22 of them on throws. Meanwhile, Ike Davis went back to first and Josh Harrison took over at shortstop.

"With Mercer down -- he played a role in the offense as well -- I wanted to recalibrate with Ike and Pete," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We're trying to find the same combination that gives us a chance to win."

Mercer pinch-hit in the Pirates' 5-4 series-opening loss and grounded out to first.

Nationals: Werth could return to lineup Saturday
Jayson Werth was out of the Nationals' starting lineup for the fourth straight game Friday because of an AC joint sprain in his left shoulder, but manager Matt Williams said the right fielder would return at some point this weekend against the Pirates.

Werth ran, participated in outfield drills and threw lightly on Thursday. He stepped up his rehab on Friday when he took swings off the tee.

Williams said Werth will "certainly" be available off the bench on Saturday and didn't rule out that game as a possible return date. However, the first-year skipper said he would like to see how Werth responds to a full day of baseball activity before slotting him back in the starting lineup for the first time since Aug. 10.

"If you're looking at all of that, it probably points to Sunday," Williams said. "But it could be tomorrow, too, depending on how he feels. So we'll see."

Worth Noting
• Nationals outfielder Steven Souza Jr., who is on the 15-day disabled list because of an AC joint sprain in his left shoulder, resumed baseball activities on Friday when he threw lightly. The prospect said he feels good and hopes to take swings on Saturday, barring any setbacks.

• Nationals outfielder Nate McLouth will get a second opinion on his ailing right shoulder. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Aug. 4.

• The Pirates placed reliever Stolmy Pimentel on the 15-day disabled list Friday. The right-hander sustained a minor sprain of his right ankle during his last outing on Wednesday at the Tigers.

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