Bixler busy in Bucs’ victory


KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Shortstop Brian Bixler had his hands full today in the Pirates’ 6-5 victory against the Astros. Bixler had five assists in six innings, and had a hand in six of the first nine putouts of the game.

“That’s what you get with sinkerballers,” lefty pitcher Paul Maholm said. “Just ask Jack (Wilson). He gets tired of us. But I always tell Jack that he gets on SportsCenter because of us.”

There was a downside: for the second straight game, Bixler made a costly error. Thursday, he booted a grounder and it led to two runs. Today, he threw a ball into center field, allowing Hunter Pence to reach first base and Kazuo Matsui to go to third. Matsui scored on Lance Berkman’s sacrifice fly.

• Sometimes, speed trumps a good pitching plan. In Andrew McCutchen’s first at-bat, Brian Moehler worked down and away, down and away, down and away. On an 0-2 count, McCutchen reached out and tapped a slow roller up the middle.

Shortstop Miguel Tejada got to the ball in time, but his hurried throw short-hopped away from Berkman. McCutchen was safe on the error.

With two outs, McCutchen swiped second. But Adam LaRoche struck out, ending the inning.

• You want speed at the top of the order? You’ve got it. Nyjer Morgan hit leadoff and played center field. McCutchen started in left field and batted second. The speed will go deeper on days when Nate McLouth is in the lineup. (McLouth did not make the two-hour bus trip to Kissimmee.)

• During batting practice, Brandon Moss cracked up his teammates by jitterbugging and juking to the music on the public address system. Moss’ high energy didn’t stop once the game began. He swatted a one-strike pitch from Moehler over the right field wall to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead.

• Bombs away! Moss’ blast was the first of four Pirates homers. Craig Monroe hit a deep blast to center and Robinzon Diaz also had a solo shot. Jeff Salazar hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning.

• Salazar made the day’s best catch. He tracked down Jason Michaels’ deep fly ball, then spun off the wall in left field.

• In his second plate appearance, McCutchen drew an unusual walk. With a 3-0 count, pitcher Felipe Paulino touched his mouth with his fingers while on the mound. By rule, that’s a ball, which sent McCutchen to first base.

• Jimmy Barthmaier will start today against the Detroit Tigers. Chris Bootcheck, Sean Burnett and Tyler Yates also are slated to pitch.

• Yeah, it’s early, but … Pirates starters are yet to allow an earned run.

“Don’t jinx us,” Maholm said, grinning.

Will the first starter to allow a run have to buy a round of golf for the other guys?

“No, there’s no penalty,” Maholm said. “It’ll happen.”

• Two former Pirates bench players — Michaels and Matt Kata — are in camp with the Astros. Kata hit an RBI triple off Jesse Chavez.

• Just as at Minute Maid Park, “Deep in the Heart of Texas” is played during the seventh-inning stretch at Osceola County Stadium. It’s weird, clapping along to that song and seeing palm trees sway beyond the right field wall.

• Is the economy so bad folks can’t afford cheapie spring training tickets? Today’s crowd was 2,717. The two games at McKechnie Field drew 3,391 and 2,994.

The only full house the Pirates have seen so far was at the Red Sox facility in Fort Myers, which had a standing-room crowd of 7,286.