BRADENTON, Fla. — After he made his career debut in right field this afternoon, I jokingly asked Neil Walker if he’s thought about asking for Roberto Clemente’s retired uniform No. 21.
“No, no,” Walker said, laughing. “That’s not possible.”
Then again, Walker already is wearing No. 18, which formerly belonged to outfield whiz kids Andy Van Slyke, Bill Virdon and Omar Moreno.
He’s been working in the outfield all spring, taking lessons from coach Gary Varsho. Walker played the final four innings of today’s 9-7 victory against the Red Sox in right field. No catchable fly balls were hit his way, though he did have to relay a single back to the infield.
“I felt weird, not really being part of the action,” said Walker, who was drafted in 2004 as a catcher and in 2007 was switched to third base. “But I felt comfortable. It was neat, something different. It’s something to build on. A good confidence-builder.”
Walker also has been working at second base, but is not yet game-ready at that position. Manager John Russell said Walker’s first game in right field went about as well as could’ve been expected.
“He’s got some work to do,” Russell said. “But he’s working hard.”
– For a few moments this afternoon, Andy LaRoche thought he had mashed a monster home run.
In the second inning, LaRoche launched a fastball from Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett over the left field fence at McKechnie Field. The ball was slicing as it neared the foul pole but, after a moment’s hesitation, home plate umpire Justin Vogel signaled a three-run homer.
“It was fair … until the wind took it,” LaRoche said, grinning.
Beckett demurred and the umps huddled to agree it was a long, loud foul ball. LaRoche, who by this time was rounding third, was told to pick up his bat and go back to the plate.
LaRoche slapped the next pitch into left field for an RBI single. Nice, but not as productive. Instead of owning a one-run lead, the Pirates trailed 2-1.
“I’d rather make a hard out in spring training than get a soft single,” LaRoche said. “I’ll save those soft hits for the regular season.”
– Brandon Moss snapped an 0-for-22 slump with a sharp single to right in the eighth inning off Jorge Sosa.
– The Pirates made a nice relay to save a run in the third inning. Mike Cameron singled with one out. Dustin Pedroia followed with a line-drive double into the left field corner. Lastings Milledge threw to shortstop Ronny Cedeno, who made a perfect throw to catcher Ryan Doumit to nail Cameron by two steps.
– It was a nice touch by the Pirates to bring up minor leaguer Jeremy Farrell as an extra infielder for the game. The move was a nod to Farrell’s father, Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell.
– Becoming a better hitter against southpaws is Pedro Alvarez’s biggest challenge this year at Triple-A Indy. Last season, Alvarez, a lefty batter, hit .350 against right-handed pitchers and .143 against lefties. “He’s going to get everybody’s left-handed situational guy, so the left-on-left approach is going to be really important for his big-picture future success,” GM Neal Huntington said.
– Charlie Morton is slated to pitch five innings/75 pitches Saturday against the Orioles. D.J. Carrasco, Javier Lopez, Jean Machi, Jack Taschner and Chris Jackubauskas also are in line to pitch.
– Position players who will not make the trip tomorrow to Sarasota: Jason Jaramillo, Ronny Cedeno, Jeff Clement, Aki Iwamura, Andy LaRoche and Lastings Milledge.