PITTSBURGH -- After 500 consecutive defensive starts as a catcher (to exclude a handful of DH assignments), Russell Martin appeared at a new position in the Pirates' lineup Saturday night.
More correctly, he reappeared at an old position: third base, his original and, apparently, still favorite spot.
"I'm definitely excited but, for me, it's just another ball game," Martin said before taking the field against the Braves. "Fielding ground balls and making throws across the diamond is what I've done my whole life."
Drafted as an infielder in 2002 by the Dodgers, Martin stopped doing it for pay in his second Minor League season. Impressed with his hands, the Dodgers converted him to catching, selling it to him as a faster route to the Majors.
About a week and a half ago, manager Clint Hurdle encouraged Martin to take grounders at third base during pregame drills because "you don't know what's going to happen."
It happened Saturday night, with lefty Paul Maholm starting for Atlanta. Gaby Sanchez started at first, giving hot-hitting Garrett Jones a rest, and Martin did the same for Pedro Alvarez at third.
"It's kind of like riding the bike," Martin said. "Once you've done it and had the feel of catching ground balls -- it's there. I've been prepared my whole life to play third base. For me, it's just a natural position."
Martin's 2013 prelim at the hot corner consisted of switching there for the final four innings of Monday night's game against the Cardinals. He had only one chance in that game, spearing a line drive off Carlos Beltran's bat.
Locke takes note of Wandy's efficient approach
PITTSBURGH -- Before Wandy Rodriguez took the mound Friday night, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was asked if, given that the lefty was coming off a strained left hamstring injury, he'll be keeping a close eye on him.
"I'll be watching him just like you'll be watching him," Hurdle responded.
Turned out, nobody watched as closely as Jeff Locke, the young left-hander who was treated to a clinic. Rodriguez threw first-pitch strikes to 15 of the 21 Braves he faced in the 6-0 victory, an advantage that enabled him to work seven one-hit innings on a total of only 82 pitches (12 per inning).
The night before, against the same Atlanta team, Locke had needed 95 pitches in 4 2/3 innings.
The two southpaws have comparable statures and repertoires, so Hurdle considered Rodriguez's performance possibly "an instructional video" for Locke.
"Hopefully he picked up something," the manager said Saturday afternoon. "There's a great similarity between them, and we saw Wandy just knock a hole in the strike zone, especially glove-side down-and-in to right-handed hitters."
"Absolutely," Locke concurred, "he's been phenomenal to watch, with that fantastic fastball-curveball combination. There's little things you can pick up: Wandy's fantastic pace, he just gets back on the rubber and attacks, and just getting ahead of guys.
"I feel like we do have a lot of similarities, but some differences, too. He's got a slower, looping curve that he can throw for a strike any time. Me, I've gotta be ahead to use it, as a put-away pitch."
Locke's first opportunity to put into practice any tips he may have picked up is scheduled to come Tuesday, against the Phillies in the second-game of a four-game series in Philadelphia.
First number, last word
5: Total hits allowed by Wandy Rodriguez this season in three starts, covering 16 innings.
"It helps you get a breather, a break from all the preparation that goes into catching. It takes away from the grind. It feels like a day off for me, mentally." -- Russell Martin, the Pirates' regular catcher, on getting a start at third base.
• The Pirates joined the "Sweet Caroline" chorus after the first inning of Saturday night's game, playing the Fenway Park anthem in tribute to Boston as the PNC Park crowd energetically accompanied Neil Diamond.
Additionally, the Pirates Charities portion of the daily 50/50 Raffle was donated to OneFundBoston.org, which is raising funds to assist families affected by Monday's tragic events.
• According to MLB.com researcher Roger Schlueter, the Pirates are the third team in the live-ball era (post-1916) to post three shutouts of two or fewer hits within a season's first 16 games.
Rodriguez and A.J. Burnett started one-hitters this week on Wednesday and Friday, respectively, and Rodriguez also started a two-hit blanking of the Cubs on April 3. The trio match the feats of the 1968 Indians and 1970 Reds.
• All of Andrew McCutchen's 2012 awards were on display Saturday night: In pregame ceremonies, he received his Players Choice Award from the MLB Players Association; and fans received bobbleheads depicting McCutchen posing with the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.