Pirates return from a day off


FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Pirates are back at it after having the day off Thursday. It was just their second off-day of the spring and they’ll get one more on March 26.

The Pirates are at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers ready to take on the Boston Red Sox at 1:05 p.m.

Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens will get his first start of the spring. Tom Gorzelanny was scheduled to start today, but those plans changed when he was unexpectedly sent to the minors Wednesday.

Now the staff can take a better look at Karstens.

He’ll face tougher hitters than in previous outings when he was pitching the middle innings. Now he’ll face the opponent’s starting players.

Karstens and Virgil Vasquez are competing for the fifth rotation spot although the Pirates continue to explore other options — possibly a trade or picking up a free agent.

• The Pirates starting lineup for today:

1. Nyjer Morgan cf, 2. Brian Bixler 2b, 3. Eric Hinske rf, 4. Craig Monroe lf, 5. Brandon Moss, dh, 6. Andy Laroche 3b, 7. Garrett Jones 1b, 8. Robinson Diaz c, 9. Luis Cruz ss.

• Moss returns to the Pirates lineup for the first time since bruising his thumb on March 7. He played in a minor league game Thursday and went 4-for-5 with a double and a walk.

• Vince Lascheid — the longtime organist for the Pirates and Penguins — died overnight. He was 85. Lascheid was known for playing different songs as Pirates and opposing players made their way to the batter’s box.


Good game, busy clubhouse


BRADENTON, Fla. — Today’s game between the Pirates and the Minnesota Twins actually came down to the ninth inning. That’s a rarity for a spring training game.

Pirates second baseman Anderson Machado knocked in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning when he ripped a single to right field. Jeff Salazar scored and that was the game. Pirates win, 4-3.

The Pirates recorded six hits and centerfielder Andrew McCutchen had two of them. He also had an RBI.

Truth is, there was more action in the clubhouse than on the field yesterday. The Pirates made five cuts just two days they cut eight players. The Pirates now have 40 players in camp.

• The most notable news of the day was starting pitcher Tom Gorzelanny being sent to Triple-A Indianapolis. He was competing for a starting job but the coaching staff has other things in mind for Gorzelanny. Apparently his delivery, fastball, breaking ball and changeup need help.

• If Gorzelanny gets all of that under control, he could work his way into the lineup later in the season. General Manager Neal Huntington said he plans to use “six, seven or eight” pitchers in the starting rotation.

• It looks like Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, Zach Duke and Ross Ohlendorf have are the frontrunners for the first four starting spots. Jeff Karstens and Virgil Vasquez will compete for the final spot.

• Pittsburgh native Neil Walker and pitcher Dave Davidson were optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. Pitcher Brian Slocum was reassigned to minor league camp.

• Outfielder Jose Tabata — who played left and right — was optioned to Double-A Altoona, where he’s expected to play centerfield. Tabata, though, might not be in the minors for long.

“Like Pedro (Alvarez), like Andrew McCutchen — if he doesn’t make our club – they’re definitely some bright guys coming through our system and the reason we feel good about where we’re headed,” Huntington said.

• Snell is back from the World Baseball Classic and he should be back in the lineup either Sunday or Monday, manager John Russell said.

• Rightfielder Eric Hinske played today for the first time since bruising his ribs three weeks ago. He said he felt great and is glad to be back.

He also talked about assuming a leadership role with the Pirates, but expects it to happen naturally. Besides, the Pirates already have their share of leaders.

“Maholm seems to have control of the starters and (Matt) Capps has control of the bullpen so there’s leaders all around here,” Hinske said. “I’m just gonna come in and be myself and help.”

— Tricia Lafferty


The pitching competition goes on … without Gorzo


BRADENTON, Fla. — Pirates starting pitcher Tom Gorzelanny was in the mix for the final two spots of the starting pitching rotation.

Or so he thought.

Gorzelanny’s tryout is over — for now anyway — as he was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis Wednesday morning.

In four starts and nine innings this spring, Gorzelanny had a 7.0 ERA after allowing eight hits and walking five batters. Gorzelanny last pitched this past Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays when he gave up five hits and two runs in three innings — his longest outing of the spring.

Eliminating Gorzelanny from the competition leaves righthanders Ross Ohlendorf, Virgil Vasquez and Jeff Karstens competing for the final two slots. Lefties Paul Maholm and Zach Duke and righthander Ian Snell are the frontrunners for the first three spots.

Gorzelanny was scheduled to start Friday against the Boston Red Sox. Perhaps Karstens will get the nod instead of piggybacking on another starter’s outing. Then he’d get a chance to face the opponent’s best hitters as opposed to working the middle innings.

The Pirates made one other move this morning. Outfielder Jose Tabata — who was acquired from the New York Yankees this past July in the Xavier Nady trade — was optioned to Double-A Altoona.

It certainly won’t be the last of Tabata, a young, promising prospect. The 20-year old had an impressive spring offensively and defensively. He hit .407 with five RBI in 11 games.

• Here’s the Pirates’ lineup for today’s game at McKechnie Field:

Pirates 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Eric Hinske rf, 4. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Adam LaRoche 1b, 6. Andy Laroche dh, 7. Neil Walker 3b, 8. Brian Bixler ss, 9. Jeff Salizar lf.

• Take note that Hinske — who signed as a free agent with the Pirates in January — is in the lineup for the first time since bruising his ribs during the Pirates’ second spring training game on Feb. 26.

— By Tricia Lafferty


Pirates fall to Yankees, get Hinske back Wednesday


TAMPA, Fla. — The Yankees used a six-run third inning and a dominant performance by starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia to hand the Pirates a 9-2 loss Tuesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Sabathia pitched four innings allowing one run, one hit and striking out seven batters. Yankees designated hitter Hideki Matsui provided the offensive highlights as he went 2-for-2 with a home run and four RBI.

• Eric Hinske is expected to start in right field Wednesday when the Pirates host the Minnesota Twins at McKechnie Field. Pirates manager John Russell said Monday night that he planned to use Hinske — who hasn’t played since Feb. 26 because of bruised ribs — as the designated hitter, but Hinske feels good enough to play the field.

• Outfielder Brandon Moss could play with the Pirates as soon as Friday. Until then, he’ll continue to workout at Pirate City while recovering from a bruised thumb. He’s been out since March 7.

• Starting pitcher Virgil Vasquez had a rough night in his third appearance this spring, but Vasquez didn’t seem too down on his performance. Either did Russell.

“There were a lot of positives,” Russell said. “There were a lot of first-pitch strikes. He used his fastball.

“I thought the command and the way he attacked the zone (was good). I thought he could have utilized his off-speed (pitches) a little more to keep them off balance. Obviously it’s a pretty good hitting club.”

Vasquez opened the game by issuing a walk to Jorge Posada and then giving up a double to Johnny Damon. Matsui later knocked both of them in with a double.

Pirates pitcher Evan Meek replaced Vasquez in the third but had a hard time getting out of the inning. In .2 innings, he gave up two hits and two runs and walked three batters.

Tyler Yates was a bright spot among the Pirates’ pitching staff going two innings and allowing just one run.

“We were very happy with him last year,” Russell said. “He was very consistent for us. He’s able to keep us in a game or keep us with the lead. He’s able to pitch more than one inning so he’s very valuable.”


Nady, Pirates Meet Tonight


TAMPA, Fla. — This is Tricia Lafferty here. As Rob mentioned last night, I will be filling in at Pirates’ spring training for the next week.

Tonight, we’re at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa for a 7:15 game against the Yankees.

The Pirates will face former teammate Xavier Nady — who will play right field and bat fifth for the Yankees. Nady was traded to the Yankees this past July.

Nady said he feels at home with his new team, but still seems surprised with the way the whole thing went down. It wasn’t the fact that he was traded, but when he was traded.

Nady was called out of the on-deck circle in the first inning of a Pirates game to find out he was headed to the Yankees.

“I kind of figured it was gonna happen just with all the hearsay,” Nady said. “You talk to your agent on a regular basis. It just kind of seems like it’s inevitable. I didn’t particularly think it was going to happen during the game.”

• The Pirates’ lineup for tonight’s game: 1. Nyjer Morgan LF, 2. Jack Wilson SS, 3. Nate McLouth CF, 4. Garrett Jones 1B, 5. Jose Tabata RF, 6. Steve Pearce DH, 7. Neil Walker 3B, 8. Jason Jaramillo C, 9. Luis Cruz 2B.

• RHP Virgil Vasquez will be the starting pitcher. Chris Bootcheck, Tyler Yates, Evan Meek, Sean Burnett and Donnie Veal are also scheduled to pitch for the Pirates.

• The Yankees’ lineup for tonight’s game: 1. Jorge Pasada C, 2. Johnny Damon LF, 3. Mark Teixeira 1B, 4. Hideki Matsui DH, 5. Xavier Nady RF, 6. Melky Carbera CF, 7. Cody Ransom 3B, 8. Ramiro Pena 2B, 9. Eduardo Nunez SS.

• CC Sabathia will get the start on the mound for the Yankees. Sabathia — who signed a seven-year deal with the Yankees in December after spending last season with the Cleveland Indians and Milwaukee Brewers — is 0-1 this spring with an ERA of 12.27.


Hinske due back Wednesday


BRADENTON, Fla. — Eric Hinske (ribcage bruise) played in a minor league game today and will do so again Tuesday. Hinske is penciled in as the designated hitter Wednesday for the Pirates’ game against the Twins.

• This could be a good omen for Andy LaRoche: he’s gotten a hit in all 12 games in which he’s played this spring. LaRoche has two homers and leads all major leaguers with a .538 batting average (14 for 26).

• Jose Tabata tonight smacked his fourth double, tops on the team. He’s hitting .409 in 10 games.

• Among those who will not make the trip tomorrow to Tampa for the Yankees game: Ryan Doumit, Adam and Andy LaRoche, Freddy Sanchez, Craig Monroe, Brandon Moss, Hinske and Andy Phillips.

• Phillips (stiff back) has not played since March 7

• Reliever Jesse Chavez has allowed at least one earned run in four of his seven outings. His ERA swelled to 12.71 tonight after he served up a mammoth, two-run homer tonight to Jon Weber.


Moss swings, will try BP Tuesday


BRADENTON, Fla. — Brandon Moss wore a wide smile tonight as he reported on the progress of his injury rehab.

“Thumbs up!” Moss said.

Moss took some hacks in the batting cage today for the first time since spraining and bruising his right thumb. He is slated to take live batting practice Tuesday.

If all goes well, Moss will take another round of batting practice Wednesday, then play in a minor-league game Thursday.

How quickly Moss is able to return will affect how long Jose Tabata stays in big-league camp.

• Several players have dollar bills taped to their lockers at McKechnie Field. When I asked Adam LaRoche what they signified, he explained they’re rewards from hitting coach Don Long.

During batting practice, Long mixes baseballs marked with a small “X” in with the other balls. If a batter correctly spots one of the marked balls, which are used only for certain types of pitches, he wins a dollar from Long. It’s an excellent tool to hone pitch-development skills.

Among the biggest money-winners are Pedro Alvarez, Jeff Salazar and Andy LaRoche.

• Virgil Vasquez will start tomorrow against the Yankees. Tyler Yates and Evan Meek also are slated to pitch. CC Sabathia will start for the Yanks.

• Tonight’s game was my last for about a week. I’m flying back to Pittsburgh tomorrow morning, then will return for the final 11 days of spring camp. Tricia Lafferty, whom some of you may recognize from the Trib’s coverage of the Penguins, will hold down the fort — both in print and online — while I’m away.


Alvarez among 8 players sent to minors


BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates this afternoon made eight cuts, including third baseman Pedro Alvarez.

Alvarez and pitcher Ron Uviedo were optioned to Class A Lynchburg. Right-hander Jimmy Barthmaier was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. Pitcher Jeff Sues and catcher Steve Lerud were optioned to Double-A Altoona.

Juan Mateo, Shelby Ford and Daniel McCutchen were reassigned to minor league camp.

Alvarez, the Pirates’ first-round draft pick last year, was not surprised when he was called into manager John Russell’s office around 1 p.m. and was told he was being sent out.

“It was a lot of fun,” Alvarez said. “I didn’t really know what to expect. I took it all in, and it was great. It was a great thrill and I learned a lot.”

Prospect Jose Tabata was not be included in this round of cuts. He’s in the lineup for tonight’s game against Tampa Bay. Tabata will be sent to the minors once Eric Hinske and Brandon Moss have recovered from injuries.

• The Pirates’ lineup for tonight’s game:

Pirates — 1. Nyjer Morgan lf, 2. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Nate McLouth cf, 4. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Adam LaRoche 1b, 6. Jose Tabata rf, 7. Craig Monroe dh, 8. Andy LaRoche 3b, 9. Jack Wilson ss.

• The Pirates will honor Steve Blass before the April 13 home opener against the Houston Astros. This year marks Blass’ 50th year in the Pirates organization.


Alvarez sent to the minors


BRADENTON, Fla. — Pedro Alvarez was the first casualty this afternoon when the Pirates began a big round of roster cuts.

Alvarez, the Pirates’ first-round draft pick last year, was called into manager John Russell’s office around 1 p.m. and was told he’s being reassigned to minor league camp.

“It was a lot of fun,” Alvarez said. “I didn’t really know what to expect. I took it all in, and it was great. It was a great thrill and I learned a lot.”

The Pirates today will reassign eight or nine players. Reliever Jeff Sues, catcher Steve Lerud and pitcher Jimmy Barthmaier also were sent out.

Prospect Jose Tabata will not be included in this round of cuts. He’s in the lineup for tonight’s game against Tampa Bay. Tabata will be sent to the minors once Eric Hinske and Brandon Moss have recovered from injuries.


Alvarez goes way, way deep


PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Pedro Alvarez did his first home-run trot in a Pirates uniform this afternoon.

Alvarez launched a three-run shot off the Rays’ Joe Nelson. The ball smacked off the batter’s eye screen behind center field.

I wonder how far would the ball have gone if the screen wasn’t in the way? Dead center is 414 feet from home plate at Charlotte Sports Park. So Alvarez’s blast might have flown … 430 feet? 450? Even longer?

“I didn’t major in physics, so I don’t know,” Alvarez said, grinning.

Garrett Jones followed with an even more monstrous blast — a two-out, solo homer that landed atop a building beyond the right field wall.

“Two pretty good home runs,” manager John Russell said.

The four-run, ninth-inning rally tied the game, 7-7.

• Tom Gorzelanny looked sharp in the first two of his three innings. He began the game by getting five easy outs, including striking out Pat Burrell.

The Rays scored two runs in the third, although two of their four hits in the inning were softies.

“You can’t really do much about some of those hits,” he said. “I was able to limit the damage and move on from there.”

It was Gorzelanny’s longest outing this spring, but comes at a point when most starters are going four or even five innings. He hopes to go at least four in his next start.

“As long as I keep the pitches down, that’s next,” he said. “I would have liked to have gone there today but that third inning kind of added up a little bit. That’s something to be worked on, but we had a plan to get at least three.”

• For the fourth time this spring, Karstens was piggybacked, which means he worked the middle innings after the starter left the game.

A pitcher who is on the back end of a piggyback usually doesn’t face as many starters, as the other team begins to make its substitutions. That means Karstens has faced more second-tier players. His stats this spring: 9 2/3 innings, 12 hits, one walk, three strikeouts, 4.66 ERA.

Once the Pirates make some roster cuts — GM Neal Huntington said “a pretty big chunk” is coming soon — there will be more chances for Karstens to start. Huntington indicated Paul Maholm and/or Zach Duke might pitch in minor league camp to free up innings for other pitchers.

• Maholm will start Tuesday night against the Rays. Donnie Veal, Jesse Chavez, Evan Meek, Dave Davidson, Chris Bootcheck and Denny Bautista also might pitch. Andy Sonnanstine will start for the Rays.