S-Rod arrives in Pittsburgh to happy reunion

Pirates send Max Moroff to Triple-A to make room for Rodriguez

S-Rod arrives in Pittsburgh to happy reunion

PITTSBURGH -- About an hour before first pitch Sunday afternoon, Sean Rodriguez took a seat in the Pirates' dugout and looked out at PNC Park. Inside the clubhouse, his familiar No. 3 jersey was waiting at his locker.

"I feel like a Pirate again," Rodriguez said.

The Bucs activated Rodriguez, who became a popular figure in the clubhouse and among fans during his 2015-16 stint with the Pirates, after acquiring him from the Braves on Saturday. He didn't wait long to make a second first impression, blasting a walk-off home run to left field in the 12th inning and sending the Pirates to a 5-4 win over the Padres.

Rodriguez's walk-off homer

"I was a little shocked at first, but there was an immediate sigh of joy," Rodriguez said before the game. "If you're going to go anywhere, come back to somewhere you're not only familiar but you view as family and you loved while you were there. I sure did. I'm super pumped to come back."

To make room for Rodriguez, the Pirates optioned utility infielder Max Moroff to Triple-A Indianapolis. Moroff's big Triple-A numbers didn't translate to the Majors, as he hit .145 with a .449 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 71 plate appearances. Moroff was slashing .269/.385/.569 with 13 homers for Indianapolis before his promotion.

Rodriguez signed a two-year, $11.5 million deal with Atlanta last winter in part because the Braves offered more playing time than the Pirates could promise. After an offseason car accident led to February surgery to repair a torn left rotator cuff, Rodriguez was barely back for two weeks before general manager John Coppolella told him he'd been traded.

When Rodriguez heard the Pirates had reacquired him, he had to hide his excitement in front of Coppolella.

"I didn't want him to feel like I wasn't excited about being a Brave. It really was my childhood team growing up," Rodriguez said. "I felt like I was with my family while I was here. To be back, it definitely feels like a reunion."

After arriving from the airport Sunday morning, Rodriguez made the rounds inside the clubhouse. He received a big hug from Andrew McCutchen, attended the team's chapel then reacquainted himself with his teammates. The 10-year veteran came into his own in Pittsburgh, taking on a leadership role and enjoying a career year at the plate last season.

"I was just pumped that he was coming back. He was a really good teammate, a really good friend," McCutchen said. "He made a lot of great relationships with a lot of guys on the team. He was good to have in the dugout, and he was great off the bench."

Rodriguez struggled in his first few games off the disabled list following an expedited rehabilitation. Some expected Rodriguez would miss the entire season, but those who know him well knew otherwise.

"I'm not surprised at all. This guy was out of surgery trying to lift his arm up," McCutchen said, smiling. "I knew he would be back in a matter of time. He was telling Dr. [James] Andrews -- and this is Dr. Andrews -- that he was going to be back before the timetable that Dr. Andrews gave him. That just goes to show you the guy's mentality is toughness, and shows you what he brings to the team. He's great to have back."

Rodriguez immediately proved his value, playing first and second base and smashing his third career walk-off homer.

"I definitely want to win," Rodriguez said. "If I can contribute, that's definitely one way."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.