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Pregame: McCutchen and Marte out, Mercer returns to lineup

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Marte and McCutchen out; Mercer in

Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte are not in the starting lineup. McCutchen is getting a scheduled day off and Marte is out after he was hit in the right hand during last night's game.

Clint Hurdle did not have a completed lineup when he met with the press this afternoon. He said that he was waiting to hear if Starling Marte was ready to go. Obviously, Marte's absence from the lineup suggests the left-fielder wasn't ready to play. There will be an update following the game.

Jordy Mercer is back in the lineup and batting sixth.

Road trip looming

The Pirates leave Pittsburgh after this afternoon's game for an intriguing early season road trip. They start in Arizona, where the Diamondbacks may feel there is some business left over from last season. The Bucs then travel to Chicago and St. Louis to face two teams that figure to be in the middle of the N.L. Central race all season.

"We have to go," Hurdle said. "Last year the trip proved to be beneficial for us. It was at a point in time when we weren't playing well and we were able to go there and regain our game."

Conventional wisdom says that sometimes it is good for players who are slumping to experience the change of scenery that a road trip provides. Hurdle isn't so sure.

"I think it gets overplayed [by people on the outside]," Hurdle said. "They've been doing this a long time where they play at home and go on the road. You could have individuals that are looking forward to going on the road based on family and individual factors."

Locke and glove-side strikes

A key to Jeff Locke's game is getting glove-side fastballs called as strikes. When umpires give him that pitch, it allows him to more effectively mix his pitches because he is working from ahead more often.

"When he can get that glove-side strike right-off the bat the games seem to go much better for him," Hurdle said.

In his last start, Locke wasn't getting the corner called early, but he remained "stubborn" and got calls as the game went along, Hurdle added.

Liz's adjustments

This is the last installment of a six-part series of notes from my wide-ranging discussion with Radhames Liz.

While Liz's long arms and lanky frame generate tremendous torque, they also contribute to the control issues that have plagued him over his career. The long unraveling of his body during his delivery can cause his arm slot to fluctuate and become too horizontal. When this happens his ball sprays, going too far up-and-in vs. right-handers.

In order to generate a more consistent arm slot, Searage is working on quieting the movement of Liz's head as his arm fires forward.

"He is helping me make sure that my head doesn't go to far to my left-side," Liz said.

"When you keep your head still that means your line of direction [is correct]," Searage said. "When you pull-off, then your release point and your arm moves away from your head and you kind of scatter or spray stuff. So, if he can put his head right in the catcher's lap, then he's going to be able to locate and execute pitches a lot better."

The challenge for Liz to repeat his new delivery

"He's working to get more consistent," Hurdle said. "We're trying to get in a position where he'll get repeatability in that deliverly and let that fastball eat. We've seen it at times and we haven't see it at times, whether it is confidence or the weather, I don't know."

The club looks at Liz as an important part of this year's bullpen.

"Ray feels good about his adjustment with the head and repeating the delivery so he can get the ball out of his hand on time, which allows the fastball to play bigger and the slider plays bigger," Hurdle said. "We need him."