This week’s pitching assignments


BRADENTON, Fla. — As inglorious moments in spring training history go, they don’t get much lower than the Pirates’ 6-4 loss last year against Manatee County Community College.

It was the Pirates’ first loss in 11 games against the Bradenton-based junior college. Keep in mind, though, it was a split-squad game — the Pirates fielded a squad of minor leaguers, many of them second-tier guys.

Neil Walker and Jose Tabata each had a hit. Steve Pearce homered. It was not a shining moment for Andrew McCutchen, who went 0 for 2 and grounded into a double play. Brian Bixler (remember him?) also drew an 0-fer.

Virgil Vasquez started and gave up three runs. Dave Davidson, who has since departed the organization, gave up the two game-winning runs in the sixth inning.

“I don’t remember anything about that game,” Vasquez said. “It was a year ago. But I can tell you we didn’t take them lightly. You can’t go into a game thinking it’s going to be easy. If you do, you’re going to be caught off guard. The jersey on someone’s back doesn’t matter.”

I bring up these painful memories only because the “rivalry” is renewed Tuesday, when the Pirates play the newly renamed State College of Florida (nee MCCC) at 12:05 p.m. at McKechnie Field.

The pitching assignments for the coming week are shaping up like this …

Tuesday vs. SCF: Bryan Morris, Donnie Veal, Ron Uviedo, Justin Thomas, Ramon Aguero, Jeff Sues and Anthony Claggett each will pitch one inning for the Pirates. Does anyone care who’s pitching for the college lads? Didn’t think so. There’s a very good chance this game will be rained out.

Wednesday at the Yanks: Paul Maholm will get the nod on opening day of the Grapefruit League and will toss one inning. Ross Ohlendorf also is slated to throw one inning. Vasquez, D.J. Carrasco, Chris Jakubauskas and Brian Bass also are scheduled. Chad Gaudin, Sergio Mitre and Alfredo Aceves will pitch for NY. The game will be broadcast by MLB Network.

Thursday at the Braves: Charlie Morton (two innings/45 pitches max), Brian Burress (2/45) and Brad Lincoln (one inning). It’s interesting that Burress is getting a starter’s-type workload in this first game.

Friday at the O’s: Zach Duke (2/45), Daniel McCutchen (2/45) and Vasquez (one inning) will pitch for the Pirates.

Saturday vs. the Phils: Kevin Hart (2/45) and D.J. Carrasco (2/40) for the Pirates. Joe Blanton will start for Philly.


Pitching in the rain


BRADENTON, Fla. — Wet, wet, wet. Cold, cold, cold. Blech, blech, blech.

The Pirates had to move today’s workouts under cover, due to a steady, driving rain and temps in the 40s. Pitchers threw live batting practice in the batting cages. However, the pitchers “warmed up” outside in the rain, where every breath came out in a visible puff.

“Miserable,” Brad Lincoln said. “But you’ve got to get your work in.”

Someone (OK, it was me) suggested it was a good way to prepare for Opening Day in cloudy ol’ Pittsburgh

“Yeah, but instead of rain, it’ll probably be snow,” Lincoln said.

— Tuesday’s benefit game against the State College of Florida (formerly Manatee County Community College) is slated for seven innings. There’s an 80 percent chance of rain, though, so it might be washed out.

— Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf both are expected to pitch Wednesday in the Grapefruit League opener against the New York Yankees in Tampa.


Kent Tekulve vs. Johnny Bench


BRADENTON, Fla. — One of the lasting images of the Pirates’ magical 1979 season is Kent Tekulve sidearming a pitch to Baltimore’s Pat Kelly, whose fly ball to center was the final out of Game 7.

Teke’s unusual delivery — the ball coming from down under, amid a tangle of lanky arms and legs — befuddled batters. But it wasn’t a simple matter of throwing from an odd angle and hoping hitters would flop. Tekulve waged a 15-year war of moves and counter-moves against opponents. He details that process tomorrow in the debut of the Trib’s Sunday baseball page.

Here are two yarns from Teke that didn’t fit in the print edition:

Batters changed their approaches against Teke. Well, almost all of them did …

“The one guy who was the exception was (Johnny) Bench. For the 12 or 13 years we played against each other, Johnny Bench had the same approach every time he went to the plate against me, and most of the time it failed. We were somewhere after I retired and I asked him, ‘Why didn’t you every change?’ His philosophy was really pretty sound. He said, ‘I was not going to let one at-bat against you and make changes screw up what I was doing against everybody else.’ He was willing to sacrifice that at-bat, even if the game was on the line, to be productive against everybody else. The program that he was running was doing real well against everybody else. I just happened to be that one guy he couldn’t get. He wasn’t going to put himself in a bad position against everybody else because he had tried to make an adjustment against me. You’ve got to be pretty confident in what you’re doing to be able to do that.”

(Note: In 34 career plate appearances against Tekulve, Bench went 11 for 33 — the only extra-base hits were three doubles — with five strikeouts and two RBI.)

Teke’s delivery was a challenge for pitching coaches …

“Because the style was different, I pretty much ran my own program. That particularly was the case when I got traded to Philadelphia. Claude Osteen was the pitching coach there. When I got traded there in April ’85, it was, ‘Hi, how ya doing? I don’t understand a bit of what you do. I’m not going to try to sit here and tell you this or that just because I’m the pitching coach and I need to tell you something. As we go through this first year, you tell me what you’re doing.’ So if I was all of a sudden leaving the sinker away from left-handers, then make an adjustment to get it back, I’d sit down (in the dugout) and tell Claude, ‘I wasn’t getting the ball enough away. I wasn’t getting my shoulders closed quite enough. Once I got them closed, I was able to get my arm back and …’ I was able to give him a litany of my adjustments, so he knew what to look for. By the time we got to year two, we had been through stuff that he could come to me and say, ‘You’re not getting your shoulder turned.’ But at the beginning, he didn’t have the slightest idea what I was doing. As he put it, ‘The first year, you’ll teach me what you do. The second year, I’ll help you with what you do.’ That takes a lot, for a guy who’s getting paid to be the major league pitching coach, to say, ‘I can’t help you. You need to teach me before I can help you.’ I was very, very impressed when I heard that come out of his mouth the first time because I was not used to hearing pitching coaches say, ‘You’re different. I don’t know what to do with you.’ “


Hanrahan, Dotel to throw next week


BRADENTON, Fla. — It was a good day for the Pirates’ bullpen, even though nobody picked up a ball.

Workouts at Pirate City were cut short so players could make it to the annual charity golf tournament. Pitchers did not throw.

Two key relievers, closer Octavio Dotel and right-hander Joel Hanrahan, bounced around in good moods after getting positive reports from doctors.

Dotel, who has been shut down the past week, smiled and gave a thumbs-up when asked if his strained left oblique is feeling better. “I’m going to start throwing next week, I hope,” Dotel said.

Hanrahan will begin a throwing program Wednesday and hopes to take the mound for the first time 10 days later. His sore elbow came up clean when examined by Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla.

“I’m just happy to get clearance to start doing things with my arm,” Hanrahan said. “I feel like a real person again.”

The Pirates need Dotel and Hanrahan to be ready from the giddy-up this season. Dotel is 36 and has not worked as a full-time closer in two years. Hanrahan is an important bridge from the middle innings to setup man Brendan Donnelly and Dotel.


Great news for Hanrahan


BRADENTON, Fla. — Joel Hanrahan, who’s been sidelined this week by a sore elbow, got the best possible news today from orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, who cleared the right-hander to resume a normal throwing program. Hanrahan could be ready to go for Opening Day.

Hanrahan was examined by Andrews in Pensacola, Fla. Andrews found no structural problems with Hanrahan’s elbow and agreed with the diagnosis of Dr. Patrick DeMeo.

Once the inflammation has fully subsided, Hanrahan will resume playing catch next week. After that, he’ll progress to throwing long toss, bullpen sessions and batting practice.

Righty Jose Ascanio (shoulder) also was examined today by Andrews, who found no new problems. Ascanio is on track to be back in action by late June.


Groundhog Day


BRADENTON, Fla. — “It’s Groundhog Day,” Donnie Veal said this morning, kibitzing at his locker with fellow pitcher Chris Jakubauskas. “It’s still only 8:30? I checked the clock an hour ago and it was 8:30.”

It did not take long for the mundane nature of spring training’s routine to sink in among the clubhouse denizens. Every day brings rounds of early-morning work in the batting cages and bullpens, stretching and running … followed by throwing, hitting, fielding, and more stretching and running. To the players, coaches, staff and reporters, every day feels like Tuesday.

Things will perk up a bit next week, when major league camp relocates to McKechnie Field and the Grapefruit League games begin. But even then, things will settle back into a bland routine after a few days.

— Brendan Donnelly will not throw batting practice Thursday, as originally scheduled, and will instead work in the bullpen. Donnelly made a few max-effort pitches Tuesday and his velocity seemed good, but his control was lacking.

— Joel Hanrahan got good news from his MRI exam, which showed the inflammation in his right elbow is subsiding. Hanrahan will be examined Thursday by Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla. If he gets a clean bill of health, Hanrahan hopes to begin throwing within two weeks.

— Chuck Tanner and Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski were at the first full-squad workout Tuesday, their first appearances of the spring at Pirate City. Tanner, who watched the drills from a motorized cart, is undergoing a minor medical procedure today and will miss the next couple of days. Mazeroski is out on the fields, hitting grounders and providing hands-on instruction.

— Yesterday, about 15 members of the Japanese media were on hand to film, interview and otherwise scrutinize second baseman Akinori Iwamura. The crowd was about half as large as the group which followed Masumi Kuwata here in 2007.

Iwamura was asked if he sees any similarities between the Pirates and the Tampa Bay Rays, who two years ago were in the World Series. “There’s a big possibility for this (Pirates) team to win a World Series,” Iwamura said through an interpreter. “Just like Tampa Bay, we have good coaches and good, young players.”

Iwamura’s translator, Toshi Nagahara, also serves as the assistant athletic trainer. Iwamura speaks some English, but is accompanied most places by Nagahara. When infield coach Carlos Garcia gathered the players on the field for a brief, pre-workout talk, Nagahara was beside Iwamura.

— Tyler Yates, on the mend from reconstructive elbow surgery, continues to do long toss. He expects to throw off a mound in four weeks. Yates, who lives in the offseason in Hawaii, had one major complaint about his post-surgery rehab: “It cost me a month of surfing time!”


Addition and subtraction


BRADENTON, Fla. — It was a refreshing change today to hear ownership talk about the Pirates adding players in mid-season instead of trading guys away.

During a 50-minute team meeting this morning, principal owner Bob Nutting and president Frank Coonelly addressed the players. Their message was that the roster revolution is over and if — if, if, if — the Pirates are competitive, the trading deadline could mark the arrival of a player who could help a playoff push.

“We’re through the times when we’re going into the season thinking, Are we going to keep the team together or not?” manager John Russell said. “This is the group we want to move forward with.”

Last season, the endless cycle of jettisoning veterans finally brought team morale to rock bottom. After Freddy Sanchez and Jack Wilson were dealt, the Pirates went 19-41 to close out their 17th straight losing season. “If the record of the team had been different last year, some of the moves and changes would have been different,” Nutting said.

Really? When Nate McLouth was traded June 3, the Pirates were 25-28 and just 5 1/2 games out of first place in the NL Central. When Sanchez and Wilson were dealt July 29, the Pirates were in a hole — 43-58 and 11 games out of first place — but still could see some daylight.

If nothing else, management’s message today gave the survivors of 2009 some hope for 2010.

“It makes you want to put in the extra effort, knowing that if it’s close your work hasn’t gone in vain,” pitcher Zach Duke said. “Last year, we took the opposite approach. The moves started happening when we were four games out. Instead of adding, we felt we still needed to rebuild. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen again. Hopefully, if we’re in that position again, we’ll get a piece or two that will put us over the hump.”

More on this, as well as Octavio Dotel’s minor injury just four days into camp, in tomorrow’s Trib.


Slow out of the gate


BRADENTON, Fla. — Neither Brendan Donnelly nor Octavio Dotel will spend a lot of time on the mound for the first couple weeks of spring training.

The pitchers’ schedules for the first two days of batting practice were posted today outside the Pirates’ clubhouse. Dotel is not listed and Donnelly’s outing will be about 10 pitches shorter than everyone else’s.

“Don’t look for me to throw 100 pitches,” Donnelly told me, grinning. “If you do see it, call 911.”

Dotel is 36 and has thrown 160 innings over the past three seasons. Donnelly is 38 and had Tommy John surgery in 2007.

“We’re going to go slow with (Donnelly and Dotel),” pitching coach Joe Kerrigan said. “They know they have to get their arm conditioned first, and with an older guy it usually takes until the last couple of weeks of spring training.”

– As I type this, owner Bob Nutting, team prez Frank Coonelly and JR are speaking to the team. More on that later …

– Today is the first full-squad workout. Infield assignments today include Garrett Jones at first base, Ramon Vazquez (testing his sore knee) and Argenis Diaz (normally a shortstop) at second, Andy LaRoche and Neil Walker at third.


It’s a full house at Pirate City


BRADENTON, Fla. — All 66 players invited to big league camp are present and accounted for. The final cluster of position players checked in to Pirates City about a half-hour ago, and it looks as if everyone will participate in today’s workout.

Andrew McCutchen and Lastings Milledge arrived together, and the mood in the clubhouse immediately turned from sleepy to bubbly. The M&M Guys have a way of doing that. Amazing — McCutchen has only 123 days of big league experience, but it’s clear this is fast becoming his team.

Ryan Doumit and Brendan Donnelly are, to use Doumit’s term, the “crusty old veterans” in the clubhouse, and will be fountains of information and stability for the younger fellas. But the M&M Guys, along with Octavio Dotel, will be the team’s throbbing pulse. Should be a good mix.

– Ramon Vazquez came off the field after an early workout and said his surgically repaired right knee is feeling great. Vazquez is taking grounders hit straight at him and ran 80 percent-speed sprints on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Tuesday, he’ll try hitting live batting practice for the first time this spring.

– I’ve been asked if manager John Russell’s proclamation yesterday that he isn’t ready to name an Opening Day starter is a vote of no-confidence for Paul Maholm. I do not believe that to be the case. Russell thinks naming a starter now would be just another distraction.

Despite JR’s claims to the contrary, I’d gotta think he and Joe Kerrigan have a plan laid out for who pitches when this spring, and that obviously will impact who starts against the Dodgers on April 5 in Pittsburgh. If I had to lay a dollar on it today, I’d say either Maholm or Zach Duke, who’s coming off an All-Star season, will be on the mound.


Dotel is quiet … for now


BRADENTON, Fla. — I noticed something odd this morning as I wandered through the Pirates’ clubhouse. It was awfully quiet over by Octavio Dotel’s locker.

Dotel sat there, tugging on his warmup shirt and checking his gear. There was still more than a half hour before the daily pitchers’ meeting/video review began at 9:15 a.m. Usually, Dotel’s bouncy personality is the joie de vivre of any room he occupies. So, what gives?

“Oh, I’m going to be the loudest man on the team,” Dotel assured me. “But I’m waiting for when we get down to 25 (players).”

Even as coaches are checking out Dotel, to see what kind of pitcher he is, he is checking out the Pirates as well. He’ll get to know his teammates a bit before unleashing his charisma.

“That will happen as we get close to the season,” Dotel said, smiling.

“He’s one of those guys who can keep it loose,” manager John Russell said. “He’s fun to be around.”

Playing the past two seasons for the Chicago White Sox, Dotel got used to skipper Ozzie Guillen’s excitable style and animated conversations. It took just one team meeting for Dotel to realize Russell is much more, ahem, low-key.

“I’m not going to lie to you — I miss Ozzie’s meetings because he’s really, really, really, really funny,” Dotel said. “He’d say what he had to say, but by the end everybody would be laughing like crazy. My manager here is a little bit different. He’s really, really quiet. But the main thing is, he gets the information to the guys and tells them what is the plan.”

For more about Dotel — his dangling tongue and his dancing fastball — check out Sunday’s Trib.

— Tony Sanchez, last year’s first-round draft pick, is fitting in well in his first spring training. There are three other non-roster catchers in camp, but of that group Sanchez is the closest to the majors. “He’s really learning,” Russell said. “I think he’ll take a lot from this.”

Russell cautioned against assuming Jason Jaramillo will gain the backup catcher job by default. “It’s competition,” Russell said. “JJ did a nice job last year and that puts him in a good position. But he understands that we just can’t give it to him.”

Russell said Jaramillo still must improve his game-calling, throwing and consistency at the plate.

— Some of the loudest pops in catcher’s mitts during the morning bullpen session came on fastballs from Virgil Vasquez and Steven Jackson. Ross Ohlendorf, Paul Maholm and Kevin Hart also were among the 14 pitchers who threw 40-45 pitch sessions.

— Aki Iwamura, Delwyn Young and Ryan Church participated in their first workouts today. Sixty of the 66 invited players are in camp, three days before the first official full-squad workout. “We had 12 or 15 (position players) here the first day, and that’s kind of unheard of,” Russell said. “They’re anxious to get started.”

— I know y’nz back in snow-covered Pittsburgh don’t feel sorry for me, but a few raindrops fell during the final half hour of today’s workouts. Rain is in the forecast for the next two days, and may affect the practice schedule.