Dotel says he’ll be ready for opener

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Although closer Octavio Dotel is yet to face a major league batter this spring, he expects to be ready to pitch on Opening Day.

This afternoon, Dotel retired all four batters he faced (three strikeouts, one fly ball) in a minor league game at Pirate City. If he can pitch in another six or seven innings over the next two weeks, he believes he will be ready to go.

“I’m surprised with myself right now, because Joe (Kerrigan, pitching coach) told me I threw a couple fastballs at 91-92 mph,” Dotel said. “I’m surprised that I’m throwing that hard at this point. It makes me feel good because I’m not that far from where I want to be.”

Dotel will make his Grapefruit League debut Wednesday against the Red Sox at McKechnie Field.

Kevin Hart, meanwhile, faced 18 batters in 3 1/3 innings in another minor league game. He yielded three runs on four hits — all singles, three of them infield hits — and four walks. He struck out three and had one wild pitch.

“I definitely think I found some rhythm out there,” Hart said. “At times, I was throwing the ball downhill and throwing well. I threw a bunch of pitches and got to work through some things.”

Control issues this spring are threatening to push Hart out of the race for the No. 5 starter’s job. He’s being challenged by rookie Daniel McCutchen.

Today in Clearwater, Fla., McCutchen tossed four scoreless innings against the Phillies’ Triple-A team. The righty allowed three hits, walked one and struck out two.

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Vazquez back in action

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SARASOTA — Ramon Vazquez took a round of batting practice in the cages about a half-hour ago and said he’s fit enough to play.

Vazquez was bopped on the shoulder two days ago by a bad-hop bouncer and has a bruise near his collarbone. When he got to the clubhouse yesterday, Vazquez wasn’t able to swing the bat without severe shoulder pain, so he was scratched from the lineup.

“Fielding was no problem, but I couldn’t hit,” he said.

Vazquez is not in the lineup today against the Rays, but he hopes to get into the game as a defensive replacement and test his shoulder. Vazquez is battling for a bench spot and, as things stand today, is not likely to make the team.

– It’s going to rain off and all for most of today, but the Pirates and Rays are expected to get in at least a few innings. Due to the weather, Zach Duke’s outing in a minor-league intrasquad game at Pirate City was moved up three hours to 10 a.m. Brendan Donnelly also will pitch in that game.

– Octavio Dotel is still scheduled to make his debut today against the Rays. Dotel also is slated to pitch an inning Tuesday.

– Monday is an off day for the Pirates, but not for Kevin Hart, Evan Meek, Charlie Morton and Chris Jakubauskas. Morton will toss a bullpen session and Hart and Jako will pitch in a minor league game.

– Ross Ohlendorf (5-6 innings/80 pitches) will start Tuesday against the Astros. D.J. Carrasco, Dotel, Brian Bass, Javier Lopez (If he’s returns from his “paternity leave”) and Jack Taschner also are in line to pitch. RHP Felipe Paulino will start for Houston.

Lineups for today’s game:

Rays – 1. Jason Bartlett ss, 2. Gabe Kapler rf, 3. Evan Longoria 3b, 4. Carlos Pena 1b, 5. Pat Burrell lf, 6. Sean Rodriguez 2b, 7. Kelly Shoppach c, 8. Justin Ruggiano cf, 9. Ryan Shealy dh. Andy Sonnanstine rhp

Pirates – 1. Aki Iwamura 2b, 2. Ronny Cedeno ss, 3. Jeff Clement 1b, 4. Garrett Jones rf, 5. Ryan Doumit c, 6. Lastings Milledge lf, 7. Bobby Crosby dh, 8. Andy LaRoche 3b, John Raynor cf. Daniel McCutchen.

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Marte enjoys taste of big leagues

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SARASOTA — Prospect Starling Marte is still a ways from the major leagues. but he got a taste of it this afternoon.

In the Pirates’ 5-2 loss against the Orioles, Marte played three innings in right field and made two putouts. At the plate, he went 1 for 2.

“Looked like he was having fun,” manager John Russell said. “You can see he’s got some tools.”

Marte, 21, was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007. Last season, he got on everyone’s radar by hitting .312 at Class A West Virginia. He ranked fifth among Pirates minor leaguers with 24 stolen bases.

“He got the opportunity, performed and now everybody’s raving about him,” farm director Kyle Stark said.

“I think I have a good future,” Marte said. “I hope I can be around for a long time. It was very exciting to be here today. I’ll take any chance I can to be here.”

Baseball America ranked Marte the Pirates’ sixth-best prospect.

— The reason Ramon Vazquez was a late scratch from the lineup, the Pirates say, was a sore shoulder/collarbone. Vazquez was nicked by a bad hop during Friday’s game. His status is day to day.

— The public address system at ratty, old Ed Smith blared “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” after the top of the seventh inning. The John Denver song has been a tradition in Baltimore since 1975. But about half of the crowd — remember, Sarasota was the Cincy Reds’ training site until this year — rebelled and tried to drown out the banjo twang by singing its own version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

— Daniel McCutchen will start and pitch four innings/65 pitches tomorrow against the Rays. He’ll be followed by Vinnie Chulk, Octavio Dotel, Chris Jakubauskas, Brian Bass and Brian Burres. The Rays will bring a split squad to Bradenton.

— Monday is the Pirates’ second and final off day of spring training. After that, four of their next five games will be played at McKechnie Field.

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Daniel McCutchen to get start Sunday

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SARASOTA — Daniel McCutchen will make his first start this spring Sunday against the Rays. That means Zach Duke (along with Brendan Donnelly and Jean Machi) will pitch in a Triple-A game at Pirate City.

McCutchen is pushing Kevin Hart for the No. 5 job in the starting rotation. McCutchen is slated to throw four innings/65 pitches.

Hart’s next outing will come Monday — in a Triple-A game. Hart, who has battled control problems all spring, is listed for 60 to 65 pitches. Jack Taschner and Evan Meek also will pitch in that game at Pirate City,

— Reliever Javier Lopez was granted permission to fly home to Golden, Colo., to be with his pregnant wife.

— Among the extra players the Pirates brought along today are infielder Shelby Ford and outfielder Starling Marte. Ford was tabbed as a possible second baseman of the future a year ago, but he faded badly last season and ended up down at Double-A. Marte, on the other hand, made a huge impact last year — hitting .312 with 24 stolen bases in 54 games for Class A West Virginia — and his prospects are on the rise.

— Ramon Vazquez was a late scratch from the Pirates’ lineup today. I saw Ramon at McKechnie Field early this morning and he seemed fine. The Pirates have been fielding trade feelers about him; perhaps something is about to happen. Stay tuned.

Lineups for today’s game:

Pirates — 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Delwyn Young 2b, 3. Ryan Church rf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Ryan Doumit dh, 6. Bobby Crosby ss, 7. Brandon Moss lf, 8. Neil Walker 3b, 9. Luke Carlin c. Charlie Morton rhp

Orioles — 1, Felix Pie lf, 2. Adam Jones cf, 3. Nick Markakis rf, 4. Miguel Tejada 3b, 5. Luke Scott 1b, 6. Matt Weiters c, 7. Nolan Reimold dh, 8. Ty Wigginton 2b, 9. Cesar Izturis ss. Brad Bergesen rh

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Now playing right field … Neil Walker?

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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.

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Alvarez, Tabata inching closer

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BRADENTON, Fla. — GM Neal Huntington didn’t offer a specific timetable for when Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata should make the final step up to Pittsburgh, but indicated neither player is very far away.

“Both showed some things to really be excited about this spring,” Huntington said this morning, after Alvarez and Tabata were optioned to Triple-A Indy. “But both also showed there’s some development left. In Pedro’s case, he’s going to get everybody’s left-handed situational guy, so the left-on-left approach (at the plate) is going to be really important for his big-picture future success. In Jose’s case, just continued maturation and development, the focus from pitch to pitch, which is a challenge at times for any 21-year-old.”

– Six non-roster players — infiedler Doug Bernier, outfielder Jonathan Van Every and rehabbing pitchers Tyler Yates, Neat Cotts, Craig Hansen and Jimmy Barthmaier — were reassigned to minor league camp.

Lineups for today’s game:

Red Sox – 1. Mike Cameron cf, 2. Dustin Pedroia 2b, 3. Victor Martinez 1b, 4. David Ortiz dh, 5. Jason Varitek c, 6. Jeremy Hermida lf, 7. Bill Hall ss, 8. Tug Hulett 3b, 9. Josh Reddicl rf. Josh Beckett rhp

Pirates – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Ronny Cedeno ss, 3. Aki Iwamura 2b, 4. Garrett Jones dh, 5. Ryan Doumit c, 6. Lastings Milledge lf, 7. Jeff Clement 1b, 8. Andy LaRoche 3b, 9. Delwyn Young rf. Paul Maholm lhp

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Dotel to debut Sunday

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Coser Octavio Dotel (strained oblique) reported no problems today after throwing 24 pitches in a minor league game. It was the first game action this spring for Dotel, who was injured Feb. 21 during a bullpen session. The right-hander is scheduled to pitch Sunday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

• Manager John Russell has not yet named his Opening Day starter, though it remains likely that honor will go to Paul Maholm. Russell wants to split up his two left-handers, so Ohlendorf figures to be the No. 2, followed by Zach Duke and Charlie Morton.

• Jeff Clement mashed his first homer, a solo shot to right-center field in the sixth inning of today’s 5-4 loss against the Twins. Clement is batting .154 (4 for 26). “He’s been having pretty good at-bats, he just doesn’t have a lot of hits to show for it,” Russell said. “He’s staying on the ball and hitting it the other way. It looks like he’s not overswinging or chasing a lot. That was big for him today, so hopefully he can relax a little bit.”

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Time to step it up

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — There are two weeks left in the Florida portion of spring training. This is when starting pitchers begin to ramp it up to regular-season mode, when middle relievers get extra edgy about locking up bullpen jobs and when hitters should start to hit a stride.

That means it’s go time for guys like Jeff Clement, who goes into today’s game hitting .130 and hasn’t flashed much of that lefty power we heard about. Who else should step it up? Kevin Hart. Chris Jakubauskas (13.50 ERA). Garrett Jones. Brandon Moss (who is 0 for the spring with three walks and eight Ks). Steve Pearce.

Who’s hot? Pedro Alvarez and Rule 5 pick John Raynor have hit safely in six of their past seven games. Vinnie Chulk has 11 Ks in seven innings of relief. Jack Taschner, who’s slated to pitch today against the Twins, has 10 Ks in six innings. Delwyn Young is riding a four-game hitting streak and has homered in three of his past four games.

Lineups for today’s game:

Pirates – 1. Ronny Cedeno ss, 2. Delwyn Young 2b, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 4. Jeff Clement 1b, 5. Lastings Milledge lf, 6. Brandon Moss dh, 7. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 8. John Raynor cf, 9. Jason Jaramillo c. Ross Ohlendorf, rhp

Twins – 1. Ben Revere cf, 2. Orlando Hudson 2b, 3. Joe Mauer c, 4. Justin Morneau 1b, 5. Jim Thome dh, 6. Michael Cuddyer rf, 7. Jacque Jones lf, 8. Brendan Haris 3b, 9. Matt Tolbert ss. Carl Pavano rhp.

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Hart continues to struggle, adapt

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Practically every day last winter, Kevin Hart stood in front of a full-length mirror in his home and went through his pitching motion. He was simultaneously looking for flaws and trying to get comfortable with his new overhead mechanics.

Through four spring training outings, it’s clear Hart still has plenty of work to do. Wednesday, he endured another nightmare outing — walking six and plunking one of the 12 batters he faced. The right-hander was slated to work three innings; he lasted less than two.

“Basically, my plan today was just to get ahead of hitters and put them away,” Hart said. “Didn’t do that. It’s frustrating. But at the same time, the stuff is good. I’ve just got to put it together. I know eventually all this work I’m doing is going to carry over to the games. I can’t wait for it to happen.”

Hart’s challenge is repeating his delivery on every pitch. When it works, the ball dances and he gets results like the dandy pitch that got Brandon Inge for a checked-swing strikeout. When it doesn’t …

“I was missing in, then trying to make an adjustment, then over-adjusting,” Hart confessed. “Maybe I was thinking too much instead of just keeping it simple.”

It’s not like Hart’s being squeezed or just missing the zone. Hart thew 34 balls today, and most of them were nowhere near the plate.

“He’s working on it,” manager John Russell said. “He’s made a lot of progress. He just hasn’t been able to take it out to the game yet. You see signs of it, then he reverts. He realizes the position he’s in, and at some point he’s got to equate it to a game.”

For now, the Pirates appear willing to be extra patient with Hart. He remains atop the very short list of candidates for the No. 5 job in the rotation.

It’s likely Hart has earned some patience by showing a good attitude. He did not fight it last year when pitching coach Joe Kerrigan suggested Hart change his mechanics and also start throwing a two-seam fastball.

“I think that was the best thing for me,” Hart said. “Me and Joe agreed on this a long time ago. I see that my stuff is better. The fastball is down and has better life. The problem is, in the bullpen, when I’m smooth and getting behind the ball like we’re working on, it’s fine. Then I get out there in a game and it gets speeded up and I don’t make the adjustment to slow down.”

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Cedeno passes first test

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Ronny Cedeno (hand laceration) took batting practice in the cages this morning and reported no problems. “It feels much better,” Cedeno said. Cedeno was injured Sunday and did not work out Monday. Tuesday was an off day for the team.

— Closer Octavio Dotel (strained oblique) will pitch one inning Thursday in a minor league game at Pirate City. It will be his first outing this spring.

— Ross Ohlendorf will start tomorrow against Minnesota. The right-hander is slated to throw four innings/60 pitches. Brian Bass, Chris Jakubauskas, Javier Lopez, Jean Machi and Jack Taschner also are scheduled to pitch.

— Ryan Doumit, Bobby Crosby, Aki Iwamura, Andy LaRoche, Ryan Church and Andrew McCutchen will not make the trip to Fort Myers, Fla., to play the Twins.

Lineups for today’s game:

Tigers — 1. Clete Thomas cf, 2. Don Kelly 3b, 3. Carlos Guillen lf, 4. Miguel Cabrera 1b, 5. Ryan Raburn rf, 6. Brandon Inge dh, 7. Alex Avila c, 8. Scott Sizemore 2b, 9. Ramon Santiago ss. Nate Robertson lhp

Pirates — 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Aki Iwamura 2b, 3. Garrett Jones dh, 4. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Bobby Crosby 1b, 6. Ryan Church rf, 7. Andy LaRoche 3b, 8. Brandon Moss lf, 9. Ramon Vazquez ss. Kevin Hart rhp

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