BRADENTON, Fla. Craig Monroe did not call it revenge. He didn’t call it anything, in fact.
When asked if it felt a little extra good today to hit three homers against the Twins the team which unceremoniously dumped him midway through last season Monroe just smiled.
“I don’t want to go there,” he said.
At 32 and as a non-roster invitee, Monroe is battling for a bench job. He knows the Pirates crave right-handed power.
“We helped Craig Monroe make the (Pirates) team,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He looks like he really worked hard this winter, and he killed us today.”
The Twins cut Monroe last August after he hit .202 with eight homers in 58 games.
Today, he went deep twice against Minnesota right-hander Scott Baker. Monroe jumped on a fastball in the second inning, then assaulted a curveball in the third.
“They weren’t great pitches, and he did what he should do with them,” Baker said. “That guy … he’s always been a Twins killer. I don’t know why that should change.”
Monroe had a bit of sympathy for his former teammate.
“Bake’s a good friend,” Monroe said. “You always feel bad when it’s your buddy. At the same time, I’m pushing and working hard, trying to make this team. I’m trying to open up some eyes.”
Think there are any eyes still closed?
“It’s early in spring,” Monroe said. “I’m not going to get ahead of myself. I’m going to keep working with (hitting coach) Donny Long in the cage.
“Who knows, guys? It’s so early right now. It’s one of those things … the process, the plan, believing in myself, trying to get back to what I know I’m capable of doing.”
• The Pirates have played 14 of their 35 Grapefruit League games. Monroe already has six homers, matching Brad “Big Country” Eldred’s output in the spring of 2007.
“It’s nice to see, but don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” manager John Russell said.
Russell has a point.
Since 1986, the Pirates’ high for spring training homers is eight, set by Craig Wilson in 2005. Wilson went on to hit five homers during the ’05 regular season.
• Monroe said he once hit three homers in a game almost a decade ago with the Double-A Tulsa Drillers. “I think I had nine RBI that day,” Monroe said, smiling at the memory. “Pretty awesome day.”
• Injury updates, good news and bad:
… Eric Hinske hit 60 balls off a tee and threw long toss. He’s making good progress and should be back within the next few days. Verdict: Good news. See ya soon, slugger.
… Andy Phillips has not played since Saturday. when his back tightened up on the ride back from a game in Fort Myers. He’s day to day. Verdict: Bad news. Can’t make the club in the tub.
… Phil Dumatrait had another setback his third, for those of you keeping score at home with his shoulder. He was shut down and won’t pitch off the mound again for a week to 10 days. “It’s not that big of a setback,” manager John Russell said. “It’s not like he’s starting at ground zero.” Verdict: Bad news. The lefty’s chances of pitching in the majors continue to dwindle.
… Shelby Ford sustained a bruised right wrist Wednesday while diving for a ball. “He’ll be down a few days,” Russell said. Verdict: Bad news. Be sure to take care of that wrist back in minor league camp.
• Zach Duke will start Friday against Philadelphia. Daniel McCutchen, Matt Capps, Brian Slocum and Dave Davidson (who is back from the World Baseball Classic) also are slated to pitch. Joe Blanton will start for the Phillies.
• Looking ahead, the Pirates will see youngsters Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy on Saturday when the hated Yankees visit McKechnie Field. Kennedy’s name was mentioned during the early round of trade talks which eventually led to Xavier Nady pulling on pinstripes.
• Ex-Pirate Kip Wells signed a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals. And you thought the Pirates were desperate for pitching help.