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Opening-day starter named, sorta

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SARASOTA, Fla. — There doesn’t seem to be much news that comes out of spring training games, but manager John Russell offered some notable insight today.

After the game, he practically named Paul Maholm the opening-day starter.

“I think everybody knows it’s Paul,” Russell said. “We haven’t officially told anybody. Obviously, we’re probably leaning toward Paul.”

It comes as no surprise that Maholm would be the guy considering he’s been the Pirates’ strongest and most consistent pitcher all spring.

His line reads like this through 19 2/3 innings: 1 run, 10 hits, one walk, 11 strikeouts.

“He’s right on track,” Russell said. “He’s being very effective using all his pitches. Obviously he’s very confident in what he’s doing. It shows.”

Against the Reds today, he pitched six innings — his longest outing of the spring — and gave up just three hits and struck out four. He hasn’t allowed a run in his past 15 2/3 innings of work.

Reporters who talked to Maholm today before speaking with Russell asked him if he’d been informed about who would get the nod on opening day.

He didn’t seem to be thinking too far ahead.

“Until they come up to me, I pitch when they tell me to,” Maholm said. “It would be an honor (to start on opening day), but they make the decisions.”

• The Pirates came away with a 6-5 win today. It was the second time in three games, the game came down to the final inning.

This time, it wasn’t as exciting for the Pirates like when Anderson Machado knocked in the winning run in the bottom of the 10th Wednesday.

Instead, the Pirates watched a 6-0 advantage turn into 6-5. They came close to losing the lead when Pirates pitcher Craig Hansen loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth. He managed to escape the jam when Joey Votto struck out.

• Maholm was the lone bright spot of the Pirates’ pitching. Matt Capps gave up a two-run homer to Jay Bruce in the seventh inning. Jesse Chavez allowed three runs — two of them earned — in the eighth as the Reds came within a run.

• Centerfielder Nate McLouth hit a two-run homer to put the Pirates ahead, 2-0, in the fourth inning and third baseman Ramon Vazquez hit a two-run homer in the sixth to give the Pirates a 6-0 advantage. Catcher Ryan Doumit contributed to the offense going 3-for-3 with a double and a run scored.

• Rightfielder Brandon Moss wasn’t in the lineup as expected. Moss, though, didn’t experience a setback after being Pirates’ designated hitter Friday. He played the outfield in a minor league game at Pirate City today and Russell said he expects him to play right field for the Pirates tomorrow.

• Ian Snell will get the start tomorrow. It’ll be just his second start of the spring with the Pirates since he spent most of came with Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

• Russell said utility player Andy Phillips — who hasn’t played since March 7 — is working his way back but he’s not sure when he’ll be ready to play.

“His back still bothering him a little bit,” Russell said. “He has a couple bulging disks — which aren’t abnormal — so he’s gonna try to quiet those down before he gets back.”

— Tricia Lafferty

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