Play ball!

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Field2

BRADENTON, Fla. — Play ball! As I type this, it’s less than three hours before the first pitch will be thrown in the annual charity game against State College of Florida. The weather is darn near perfect, as it’s been throughout camp so far.

Freshman left-hander Josh Clemen, a Bradenton native, will start for the Manatees. The Bucs will start lefty Aaron Thompson and also use a half-dozen other pitchers.

There are a number of interesting subplots today. I’m eager to get a look at Chase d’Arnaud in game action. It could be fun watching Corey Wimberly turn it loose on the bases. John Bowker, who’s in a tough spot roster-wise after the addition of Matt Diaz, is playing. Andrew Lambo, who’s one of the prospects I want to keep a very close eye on this year at Triple-A, is starting in right.

»»» The flags at McKechnie Field are flying at half-staff in honor of Chuck Tanner, who died a couple of weeks ago. There also will be a moment of silence during the games today and Sunday against the Rays.

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Field2BRADENTON, Fla. — Play ball! As I type this, it’s less than three hours before the first pitch will be thrown in the annual charity game against State College of Florida. The weather is darn near perfect, as it’s been throughout camp so far.

Freshman left-hander Josh Clemen, a Bradenton native, will start for the Manatees. The Bucs will start lefty Aaron Thompson and also use a half-dozen other pitchers.

There are a number of interesting subplots today. I’m eager to get a look at Chase d’Arnaud in game action. It could be fun watching Corey Wimberly turn it loose on the bases. John Bowker, who’s in a tough spot roster-wise after the addition of Matt Diaz, is playing. Andrew Lambo, who’s one of the prospects I want to keep a very close eye on this year at Triple-A, is starting in right.

»»» The flags at McKechnie Field are flying at half-staff in honor of Chuck Tanner, who died a couple of weeks ago. There also will be a moment of silence during the games today and Sunday against the Rays.

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Olsen throws bullpen session

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BRADENTON, Fla. — This morning, left-hander Scott Olsen threw a bullpen session of 25 fastballs and moved around later without visible discomfort. Olsen has missed the past week due to a strained left hamstring.

Manager Clint Hurdle has not yet indicated when Olsen will resume a full throwing program. Charlie Morton, who will pitch the first two innings Saturday against the Rays, and Olsen are vying for the No. 5 spot in the rotation.

»»» Friday’s game against State College of Florida will begin at 12:05 p.m. at McKechnie Field It will be webcast via the college’s Internet site (www.scf.edu).

Sean Gallagher gets set during this afternoon's final round of the pitchers' bunting tournament. Joe Beimel beat Kevin Correia for the crown.
Sean Gallagher gets set during this afternoon's final round of the pitchers' bunting tournament. Joe Beimel beat Kevin Correia for the crown.
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Pearce gains in battle for spot

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BRADENTON, Fla. — By adding third base to his list of positions, Steve Pearce greatly enhances his chances of breaking camp with the team as a utility player. It puts him on better footing in the battle against Garrett Atkins, Josh Fields and Corey Wimberly.

It should be an interesting competition. Pearce is solid defensively and can be a legit power threat. Atkins has experience and was a fine run-producer in 2006-07. Fields is a natural third baseman and also can help at second. Wimberly has speed and has hit for a high average in the minors.

Manager Clint Hurdle hasn’t seen Pearce play very much. But Hurdle already knows what Pearce can do at the plate.

“He caught a lot of people off guard when he showed up in (2007),” Hurdle said. “We were like, who is this guy? I remember my pitching coach (in Colorado) saying, ‘I don’t know who he is, but the ball’s coming off his barrel a lot.’ His presence was felt early.

“There’s been some delay, with injuries and some things, going along. He’s definitely got a skill set. He’s played a lot in the minor leagues. Up here, the volume of reps (has been less). To be able to play on a corner, to go to the outfield, to be a bat off the bench … you’ve got to like his makeup. He’s coming here to prove something. He expects more out of himself. His health is going to be critical, and he’s feeling really good right now. I feel really good about what can come to the club.”

»»» Kevin Correia and Ross Ohlendorf will piggyback in Sunday’s game against the Rays. Correia gets the first two innings. They’ll be followed by Joel Hanrahan, Joe Beimel and Jose Veras.

»»» Baseball America released its list of top 100 prospects. Jameson Taillon is ranked No. 11. BA graded him at 70 (top-ranked Bryce Harper is graded 80) and predicted Taillon will reach the majors in 2013.

Tony Sanchez (70 grade, 2012 ETA) is ranked No. 46. Stetson Allie (70 grade, 2013 ETA) is ranked No. 79.

»»» Lastings Milledge is in camp with the White Sox, fighting for a bench job. He’s still a bit sore about being non-tendered by the Pirates, but said he is looking forward to playing for a playoff contender.

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Sliding drills

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BRADENTON, Fla. — One of the most fun drills to watch is the sliding drills, which were held this afternoon on Field 4.

The players (the speedy ones, at least) enjoy it because they can flash their speed and ham it up a bit. Photographers like it because it makes for a great picture. The fans like it, too, as evidenced by the cluster of diehards who tried to sneek a peek from behind a screen on the outfield fence.

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One day left at Pirate City

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Right-hander Charlie Morton will pitch the first two innings of the Grapefruit League opener Saturday against the Rays.

Brad Lincoln will toss the third and fourth innings. Up next will be Chris Resop, Dan Moskos and Daniel McCutchen. “Then we might get flexible with either (Justin) Thomas or (Cesar) Valdez at the end,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

Andrew McCutchen is swamped by autograph seekers after a workout on Field 1.
Andrew McCutchen is swamped by autograph seekers after a workout on Field 1.

»»» Thursday will be the team’s final day at Pirate City, after which camp will be relocated to McKechnie Field. Tomorrow’s workout will be short, and the players have a golf outing in the afternoon.

“We still have much work to do,” Hurdle said. “But at this point, we’ve covered what we wanted to cover.” Hurdle said more team fundamentals and specialty defenses will be added to the mix in the next few days. We’ll be ready to roll on Saturday.”

»»» Pitchers threw another round of live batting practice today. Among those on the hill were Jeff Karstens, Morton, Moskos, Sean Gallagher, Lincoln and Brian Burres. … Kevin Hart (shoulder) threw long toss.

»»» There was a close call behind home plate at Field 1 early in practice. During a popup drill, the ball drifted out of play and landed among the spectators. No one was hurt.

During the drill, the infield consisted of Josh Fields at third, Chase d’Arnaud at short, Josh Rodriguez at second and Andy Marte at first. The starting infielders, plus shortstop Pedro Ciriaco and first baseman Garrett Atkins, did the same drill on Field 2.

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Lineup for SCF game

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BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates’ lineup for Friday’s game against State College of Florida was just posted in the clubhouse:

1. Corey Wimberly 2b, 2. Chase d’Arnaud ss, 3. Steve Pearce 1b, 4. John Bowker lf, 5. Josh Fields dh, 6. Andy Marte 3b, 7. Andrew Lambo rf, 8. Gorkys Hernandez cf, 9. Wyatt Toregas c. LHP Aaron Thompson will pitch the first inning.

As you might expect, there are a lot of prospects and guys fighting for bench jobs in that lineup.

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Morton will start Saturday

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Right-hander Charlie Morton will start the Grapefuit League opener Saturday against the Rays in Port Charlotte. He”ll likely pitch only an inning or two.

The Pirates play three straight games against the Rays. Sunday, Kevin Correia will start at McKechnie Field. James Shields will start for Tampa Bay and ex-Pirates Jonah Bayliss and Chris Bootcheck also are scheduled to pitch.

Monday, Bryan Morris will start against the Rays in a split-squad game in Port Charlotte. The Pirates also play at home Monday against the Orioles; the starters for that game are not yet available.

It’s too early to read into how the spring training rotation will affect the order of the regular-season rotation. But management clearly wants to get as many looks as it can at Morton, who endured what he called “a nightmare” in 2010, before deciding who’ll get the No. 5 starter’s job.

»»» Reliever Jose Ascanio’s elbow tightened after he threw his first bullpen and has been shut down. He’s day to day. “It’s minor,” Ascanio told me this morning.

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Pitchers set for SCF game

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This afternoon, pitcher Jameson Taillon looked over gloves on a vendor's table outside the clubhouse.
This afternoon, pitcher Jameson Taillon looked over gloves on a vendor's table outside the clubhouse.

BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates will use seven pitchers in Friday’s charity game against State College of Florida. Each pitcher will work one inning.

Lefty Aaron Thompson will “start,” followed by Tyler Yates, Jeff Locke, Mike Crotta, Justin Wilson, Kyle McPherson and Rudy Owens.

Tomorrow, manager Clint Hurdle is expected to announce the pitchers for Saturday’s Grapefruit League opener against Tampa.

»»» Today’s workout went about 15 minutes longer than usual. The day started overcast and foggy, but the sun was blazing for the final hour or so of practice.

“The only way to increase stamina is to work when you’re a little bit fatigued,” Hurdle said. “That’s how marathon runners work. You’ve got to run to a distance you haven’t run before. One of the separators at the major league level during a game is finding a way to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s something you spend a lot of time with in a game. How many times in a game do you go to the plate where you’re locked in, the ball’s big and your swing’s right? We need to push them. Where we want to go is going to take work. It’s not going to take putting a couple hours in and going through a traditional routine.”

»»» Catcher Tony Sanchez looks sharp already this spring. He’s pegged as a potential fast-riser, so it’s no accident he’s been assigned to work out closely with veterans Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit.

“That was the idea going in,” Hurdle said. “We want to give him the opportunity to be around two guys who have more experience. Hopefully, Tony will draw on some of that experience — whether it be drills, team fundamentals, all of that. It’s a chance for him to really elevate and get ready for this season.”

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Alvarez back at work

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Steve Blass arrived today and took a few minutes to catch up with good friend Manny Sanguillen.
Steve Blass arrived today and took a few minutes to catch up with good friend Manny Sanguillen.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Pedro Alvarez is back at workouts today — he hit in the cage early this morning, then did baserunning and fielding drills on Field 2. He missed all of practice yesterday due to neck spasms.

Nick Leyva runs the baserunning drill this morning.
Nick Leyva runs the baserunning drill this morning.

»»» When manager Clint Hurdle says he wants speed to play a bigger role in the Pirates’ offense this season, he’s not talking just about stolen bases.

The first workout on Field 2 today was a round of baserunning drills, with an emphasis on runners going from first base to third on singles. “Our goal is to be the best in the National League at this,” coach Nick Leyva said.

I’ll write more about this later this week. In the meantime, those of you who are on Facebook can check out a couple of videos from the morning workouts on my page.

»»» Hurdle has been tight-lipped about the starting pitcher rotation for the Grapefruit League games, as well as who will start the regular-season opener against the Cubs.

Other teams are not as hush-hush. The Orioles will start right-hander Brad Bergesen in their spring opener Saturday against the Pirates at McKechnie Field. As for the regular season, righty Ryan Dempster will start for the Cubbies. Carlos Zambrano (who’d started the past six openers for Chicago) and Matt Garza will pitch the next two games of the series at Wrigley Field.

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