CHICAGO -- Clint Hurdle did not want to put too much emphasis on one start, one small step on a long road. However, the Bucs' manager couldn't ignore the fact that Edinson Volquez's first step retraced some pretty great footprints.
You probably know where this is going: The Pirates have earned a reputation for rehabilitating pitchers with Drs. Ray Searage and Jim Benedict; Volquez's maiden start added to the track record established by A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano.
Let's go to the record book for these Pittsburgh debuts:
• Burnett: April 21, 2012 against St. Louis; seven shutout innings, three hits.
• Liriano: May 11, 2013 at New York Mets; 5 1/3 innings, one run, six hits.
• Volquez: Sunday against St. Louis; 5 2/3 innings, one run, four hits.
Burnett and Liriano used their eye-opening debuts as catapults to strong seasons. Volquez gets his first opportunity to build on his bow in Saturday's middle game of the series in Milwaukee.
"He had an outstanding start," Hurdle said, enthusiastically. "Will he have that start every time? Probably not. But just to get to that point, where he knows he can do it again … just more positive reinforcement on what he has already bought into."
Even within the Pirates' well-known M.O. -- as a team with a limited budget, they have to be riverboat gamblers who occasionally hit on long odds, which for them means low-risk, high-reward projects -- Volquez is a fascinating subject. Unlike Burnett and Liriano, who had more recent success when they hit town, Volquez has been reeling for years.
"His agent sought out a place where he could be comfortable, and I give him a lot of credit for that," Hurdle said. "We'll see how it plays out, but I'm definitely optimistic about the path he is on."
First number, last word
18-13: The Pirates' record in 2013 in games against left-handed starters; the Bucs faced their first southpaw of 2014 on Thursday afternoon, Chicago's Travis Wood.
"That's 20 percent of your rotation in place, and it's the No. 1 pole. That's the spot everybody's looking to fill. Down the road, we feel we're gonna have that spot filled." - Hurdle, looking forward to building his rotation around Gerrit Cole for years to come.
• Right-hander Vin Mazzaro has accepted outright assignment by the Pirates. Mazzaro, who passed through waivers earlier this week, was assigned to Jamestown for the time being, but is expected to join Triple-A Indianapolis soon.
• Jameson Taillon underwent his Tommy John surgery on Wednesday, performed by Dr. David Altchek in New York City. The Bucs' No. 2 rated prospect faces a year of rehab, but could get to the point of having a normal Spring Training in 2015.
• As for the Pirates' top prospect, outfielder Gregory Polanco is off to a captivating start in Triple-A, going 10-for-27 (.370) in Indianapolis' first seven games, through Wednesday.
• Russell Martin rested Thursday with a four-game RBI streak, matching his best with the Pirates (June 15-19 last season). Martin had a longer such streak only once, during his rookie season in 2006 with the Dodgers, when he drove in a run in six straight games, June 6-13.
• Pedro Alvarez and Martin became the first pair of Pirates to homer twice in the same game on Wednesday since May 20, 2004, when Daryle Ward and Jason Bay did so in a win over San Diego. However, it had not happened in a loss since June 26, 1984. Same place: Jason Thompson and Doug Frobel did it in a 9-8 Wrigley Field loss to the Cubs.
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.