Pirates set to play Double-A affiliate in Altoona

Pirates set to play Double-A affiliate in Altoona
TAMPA, Fla. -- The Pirates' Grapefruit League schedule is over, and they've headed north for the summer. They have one last game to play before they start counting toward the final standings and statistics, but it's more than just a tuneup to them.

The Pirates will host a game against their Double-A affiliate in Altoona, Pa., on Saturday. Right-hander James McDonald will get the start for Pittsburgh, and right-hander Mark Melancon is also scheduled to pitch.

In an attempt to get their pitchers more work before the regular season, Pittsburgh will also supply the Altoona Curve's pitching staff. Left-hander Tony Watson, right-hander Jared Hughes and lefty Justin Wilson are scheduled to pitch, and closer Jason Grilli will start.

"Back in the day, he said he can start, so we'll throw him one more bone," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, smiling. "One more thing off his bucket list."

Hurdle said the Pirates will "throw a starting lineup out there that's going to be one of our best" while playing everyone on the roster. That's the other important part of this exhibition, to Hurdle: putting on a big league show for the loyal fans in the Minor League city.

"They're amped up in Altoona. This is one of the things that doesn't get done a lot anymore, where the Major League team plays an affiliate," Hurdle said. "There can be some challenges with it. I've done it in Colorado. We did it in Texas the year I was there. I just see a lot of value in it, because they came to me and asked, and I just said, 'Let's do it whenever it makes sense.' You can't do two of them in the spring, but you can take a shot. Maybe it's an opportunity for somebody else next year.

"It's great for the fans. It is great for that affiliate. It's sold out. It'll be pretty much packed for BP. ... I'm all for stuff like that."

Hurdle laughed that the sold-out stadium will be a "madhouse" for the Pirates considering the fact that everyone in attendance will be there just to see them, get their autographs and take a rare in-person look at the big league club before the season begins.

Hurdle also praised the Double-A club's work as part of the Pirates' player development system, saying, "There's nothing they won't do for these players."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.