PITTSBURGH -- Whenever the Pirates raise the Jolly Roger for the rest of the season, they will be doing so by the light of the Gulf Tower.

To officially celebrate the start of the September stretch drive to a National League Central title -- launching with the three-game division showdown this weekend with the Cardinals --- key moments in Buccos games will be reflected by lights sequences in the top six floors of the 44-story tower.

Clearly rising beyond PNC Park's left-center stands, the Clemente Bridge and the Allegheny River, the Gulf Tower will display different light shows for Pirates home runs and Pirates runs.

Each light sequence will feature a black and gold pattern that lasts for 60 seconds.

Following Buccos victories for the rest of the season -- home as well as on the road -- the tower will display a separate light sequence that will run the remainder of the evening.

How will this be carried out?

Through arrangements by Larry Walsh of Rugby Realty, owners of the Gulf Tower, the Pirates scoreboard staff will have control of the lights during game days (home and away).

Grilli to make pair of Double-A rehab starts

PIT@CIN: Grilli earns 30th save as Bucs edge Reds

PITTSBURGH -- While taking care of business on the field, the Bucs are also keeping a light on for a pair of veteran pitchers who at least could be on the horizon for possible postseason participation.

Reliever Jason Grilli and left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez are both hitting the accelerator in their recoveries from forearm injuries. Grilli has been making steady progress, so his rehab appearance for Double-A Altoona on Saturday won't be surprising. However, the news that Rodriguez could also be on a rehab mound by the end of next week is a stunner -- considering he paid a visit Tuesday to Dr. James Andrews, the orthopedic surgeon with a volume business in Tommy John surgeries.

The pitchers' agendas, in detail:

• Grilli will start for the Curve on Saturday, pitch an inning at a maximum of 20 pitches, and repeat that drill Monday. If he keeps bouncing back well, he would pitch one inning out of Triple-A Indianapolis' bullpen in Wednesday's International League playoff game at Durham.

"Grilli has always wanted to start," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, with a grin, of his closer, "Well, we're going to give him that opportunity."

• Rodriguez is to throw 15-20 pitches -- all fastballs -- off the slope of the mound Sunday, then a bona fide bullpen session Tuesday in Milwaukee.

"Depending on how he feels," Hurdle said, "we may be able to send him out on rehab."

Rodriguez's rehab time would be quite limited, with the Minor League playoff clocks ticking down by the time he'd be able to go.

"He's looking at 50-65 pitches, maximum. It'd be hard to stretch him out to any more," Hurdle said.

Cutch's vision of contending Bucs has come to fruition

MIL@PIT: McCutchen puts Bucs up early with RBI single

PITTSBURGH -- This is what Andrew McCutchen had signed up for -- quite literally. The calendar flipping from August to September, electricity crackling through PNC Park, pennant fever breaking out in the city.

When McCutchen agreed to a six-year contract with the Pirates early March of last year, this is what he had in mind, this is what he wanted. A short wait on a long-term deal.

"This is why I signed to be here," McCutchen said Friday afternoon, shortly before joining the other Pirates on the field for the opener of an important three-game series against the Cardinals, who held a one-game lead over the second-place Bucs in the National League Central. "I saw something in our team. I knew we were improving -- and would continue to improve. And I didn't think it would take all six years [of the contract]. We improved every single year [I've been here] and I didn't see us going down, going in the opposite direction.

"Something I envisioned is now starting to happen, and I wanted to be a part of that, be on that team that changed the culture. I believe we've exceeded the expectations of a lot of people. We believe in what we can do, and will continue to do it."

First number, last word

0: Home runs allowed this season by Francisco Liriano in eight starts at PNC Park, where he made start No. 9 against the Cardinals on Friday night.

"Our pitching has ratcheted down a notch. We went from being as good as you can be, to now just really good." -- Hurdle, on a Pirates pitching staff that began the season historically tough and continues to carry a heavy load

Worth noting

• Entering Friday night's series opener, Pirates pitching had not given up a home run in the last nine games in PNC Park against the Cardinals -- while Pirates hitters had taken St. Louis deep seven times.

• The Bucs still have not let on who will be their starting pitcher Sunday, when Jeff Locke's spot in the rotation comes up.

However. it's pretty obvious southpaw Kris Johnson will get his first big league start that day (he will be added to the expanded roster, the reason the Pirates cannot yet make the assignment official). The Cards took a 15-20 record against lefty starters into Friday night's meeting with Francisco Liriano.

In his only Major League appearance, Johnson blanked Arizona for five innings Aug. 18 before giving up a pair of runs in the 16th inning for a 4-2 loss.