International incident

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BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates will play the Netherlands at 1 p.m. Monday in St. Petersburg’s venerable old Al Lang Field. The game is part of an international tournament and does not count in the Grapefruit League standings. The tourney includes six major league clubs, along with teams from Canada and St. Petersburg College. Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Rudy Ownes and Jeff Locke.

»»» Danny Knobler reports some teams are moving up game times for their final regular-season games due to the expanded playoffs. The Pirates’ regular-season finale Oct. 3 against the Braves at PNC Park was originally set for 12:35 p.m., so no switch is necessary.

Spring game No. 8: Twins v. Pirates, 1:05 p.m., Bradenton, Fla.

Twins (3-5): 1. Dneard Span cf, 2. Jamey Carroll ss, 3. Josh Willingham rf, 4. Justin Morneau dh, 5. Danny Valencia, 6. Treovor Plouffe lf, 7. Steve Pearce 1b, 8. Rene Rivera c, 9. Alexi Casilla 2b. Terry Doyle rhp.

Pirates (3-4): 1. Alex Presley lf, 2. Nate McLouth rf, 3. Yamiaco Navarro ss, 4. Rod Barajas c, 5. Casey McGehee 3b, 6. Jake Fox 1b, 7. Gorkys Hernandez cf, 8. Chase d’Arnaud 2b, 9. Erik Bedard lhp.

Also scheduled to pitch for the Pirates: Jo-Jo Reyes, Joel Hanrahan, Jason Grilli and Juan Cruz.

“B” game v. Twins, 10 a.m., Bradenton, Fla.

Pirates: 1. Starling Marte cf, 2. Josh Harrison ss, 3. Nick Evans rf, 4. Matt Hague 3b, 5. Garrett Jones dh, 6. Jeff Clement 1b, 7. Robbie Grossman lf, 8. Michael McKenry c, 9. Jordy Mercer 2b.

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McCutchen battles the Monster

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — In Friday’s 7-4 triumph against the Red Sox, Andrew McCutchen hit two of the most majestic doubles you’ll ever see. In any other park, they would’ve been homers. In the third inning, McCutchen’s blast caromed about 3 feet from the top of the Green Monster in left field — which, at 43 feet high, is 6 feet taller than its namesake at Fenway Park. As Jordy Mercer scored from second base, McCutchen trudged to second base, perhaps in disbelief that the ball still was in play. “I’ve got to hit it a little harder next time,” McCutchen said. “But I’ll take a double.”

In the fifth, McCutchen hit a liner that smacked off the Monster’s screen for another RBI double. That wrapped up a 3-for-3 night for McCutchen, who’s batting .455 in four spring games. “He’s hit me his whole career, minor leagues and (spring training),” said Red Sox righty Clay Buckholz, who served up McCutchen’s first two hits tonight. “He’s just a good, quality player. That’s why they signed him to the contract he just signed.”

»»» Prior to McCutchen’s blast, Mercer was nicked on the back of his right hand, just above the wrist, by a pitch. At first, it didn’t look good — Mercer took a step toward first base, then stopped and waited for the trainer to check him out. However, Mercer remained in the game and went back to second base in the bottom of the inning.

»»» Right-hander Shairon Martis had a solid night’s work: two innings, two hits, one strikeout and one hit batter. “Pretty good outing,” Martis said. “I’m very happy with it. It was a good lineup. They’re all good hitters, so I challenged them.” Martis could make the Pirates’ bullpen, but will be in the starting rotation if he ends up at either Triple-A Indianapolis or Double-A Altoona.

“He’s in the mix (for bullpen),” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We wanted to stretch him out more, but that landscape changed when we acquired Burnett. We’re keeping him involved. We like the arm. Our scouts have been on him for a while. He kept the ball down, his pace was quick. He did paint himself into some corners with three-ball counts, but in all three he was able to come back and get the hitter.”

He signed as a minor league free agent in November. “I changed my mechanics last year and I’m still working on it,” Martis said. “When I work from the stretch, I’m trying to take a little bit of a shorter step. Quicker to the plate. My arm slot is still the same. It will help me hold runners better and make me quicker to home plate.”

Martis is a native of Curacao, and played there this offseason for the Dutch national team. He also played winter ball in Venezuela. “That’s a lot of pitching,” Martis said with a laugh. “I still feel strong. I had, like, a month off. I kept working out in Curacao. So it wasn’t like I was totally at rest.”

»»» Jose Tabata went 2 for 4, both RBI doubles. Clint Barmes was 2 for 4 and is batting .500 through four games. Garrett Jones had an RBI single. Eric Fryer ignited the three-run fifth inning with a leadoff bunt single. The Pirates got 10 hits — they have amassed at least 10 hits in each of their past five Grapefruit League games. “We had a number of guys barrel up some balls tonight,” Hurdle said. “It’s a good sign. We were challenged last year offensively. Guys are very much aware of the need to connect the dots from the bottom to the top of the lineup, to take better ownership of their at-bats. So far, we’re doing that.”

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Injury updates: Burnett, Walker

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JetBlue Park, a.k.a. Fenway South, has a Green Monster in left field.
JetBlue Park, a.k.a. Fenway South, has a Green Monster in left field.

FORT MYERS, Fla. — A.J. Burnett (fracutred orbital) was examined this morning by Dr. Randall Beatty, who cleared the pitcher to return to spring training camp. Burnett will be checked out Saturday morning in Bradenton so the next steps in his rehab can be plotted. Burnett is scheduled to meet with reporters after his exams, probably in the afternoon.

»»» Neil Walker (tight lower back) will try to go through a full slate of baseball activities tomorrow, after which he might be cleared for game action.

»»» Daniel Cabrera (forearm tightness) threw live batting practice Thursday without problem. He’s scheduled to pitch in a “B” game Saturday against the Twins.

»»» The uniform Danny Murtaugh was wearing during Game 7 of the 1960 World Series is on its way to Cooperstown.

Spring game No. 7: Pirates v. Red Sox, 7:05 p.m., Fort Myers, Fla.

Pirates (2-4): 1. Jose Tabata rf, 2. Clint Barmes ss, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Nick Evans dh, 6. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 7. Brandon Boggs lf, 8. Eric Fryer c, 9. Jordy Mercer 2b. 9. Shairon Martis rhp

Also scheduled to pitch for the Pirates: Tony Watston, Daniel McCutchen, Chris Resop, Doug Slaten, Ryota Igarashi and Tim Wood.

Red Sox (3-1-1): 1. Alfredo Aviles ss, 2. Kevin Youkillis 3b, 3. Dustin Pedroia 2b, 4. David Ortiz dh, 5. Ryan Sweeney rf, 6. Cody Ross cf, 7. Kelly Shoppach c, 8. Lars Anderson 1b, 9. Josh Kroeger lf. Clay Buckholz rhp

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McDonald looking for a change

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James McDonald is working this spring to rediscover his changeup. (Reuters photo)
James McDonald is working this spring to rediscover his changeup. (Reuters photo)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — James McDonald is dedicated this spring to rediscovering his changeup. The pitch was one of McDonald’s best weapons in the minors because it pairs so well with his nasty fastball. “If you throw a changeup off a good, live fastball, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a strike,” McDonald said. “If it starts out in the vicinity of looking like a strike, you’re going to get swings and rollovers. It’s a pitch that can get you out of a lot of jams.”

McDonald throws his change with a four-seam grip, so it looks like a regular fastball coming out of his hand. the pitch has morphed over the years as he’s gotten more arm strength. It used to have mostly up-and-down movement, but now has a bit of fade acton.

However, McDonald never quite got the feel for his changeup last season. He hesitated to use it in tough situations, becoming more predictable and more hittable. “So I told myself I really wanted to work on that this spring, to be able to throw it whenever and against whoever I want,” McDonald said. “It’s a pitch you have to feel. If you haven’t thrown it for a long time and you start throwing it again, it’s not sharp right away. You’ve got to throw it and throw it. One day, there it is. You just find it. Once you feel it, you’ll know.”

»»» Starling Marte extended his hit streak to eight with a solo homer in the eighth inning. But his run ended in the 10th, when he flew out to right field. Marte is batting .692 with two homers and threee RBI. “Spring training evaluations are bad evaluations, more often than not, but it’s been fun to watch him hit,” GM Neal Huntington said. “He’s hit some breaking balls. He’s destroyed some fastballs. He has unbelievable speed.” Will Marte be with the club on Opening Day? For Huntington’s answer to that question, you’ll have to read tomorrow’s Trib.

»»» Lefty Justin Wilson was super-effective in his spring debut against the Orioles, tossing two scoreless innings with a walk and three strikeouts. He struggled today against the Phillies, allowing a run on one hit in two-thirds of an inning. After Jim Thome singled to center, Wilson issued two-out walks to Ty Wigginton, John Mayberry and Laynce Nix to force in a run. “I got out of my rhythm,” Wilson said. “The game sped up on me a little bit. I should’ve taken a step back and slowed down.”

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Cole sent to minors camp

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I've seen lots of Pirates and Phillies this morning, but no whales yet at Bright House Field.
I've seen lots of Pirates and Phillies this morning, but no whales yet at Bright House Field.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Right-hander Gerrit Cole this morning was reassigned to minor league camp. “It’s just about innings,” GM Neal Huntington said. “We’re just out of innings for him, as we’ve got other guys who are in legitimate competition to make the club. We want to make sure we keep Gerrit stretched out, keep him on track and get him with his pitching coach so he’s in position to have a great season.” Cole, the top overall pick in the draft last year, likely will begin the season at High-A Bradenton.

»»» Daniel Cabrera (forearm tightness) threw a 15-pitch batting practice session today without problem. The righty is slated to pitch one inning Saturday morning in the “B” game against the Twins at Pirate City.

»»» Tomorrow’s game against the Red Sox will start at 7:05 p.m. The game will be televised by MLB Network. Shairon Martis will start for the Pirates. Tony Watston, Daniel McCutchen, Chris Resop, Doug Slaten, Ryota Igarashi and Tim Wood also are scheduled to pitch.

»»» MLB Network will show eight other Pirates games, but only one will be a live telecast: Sunday vs. Twins, 9 a.m.; March 20 vs. Yankees, noon; March 22 vs. Red Sox, 9 a.m.; March 24 vs. Astros, 8 p.m.; March 26 vs. Orioles, 5 a.m.; March 27 vs. Phillies (live), 1 p.m.; April 2 vs. Blue Jays, 6 a.m.; April 3 vs. Phillies, 6 a.m.

Spring game No. 6: Pirates v. Phillies, 1:05 p.m., Clearwater, Fla.

Pirates (2-3): 1. Alex Presley lf, 2. Josh Harrison ss, 3. Casey McGehee 3b, 4. Rod Barajas c, 5. Matt Hague 1b, 6. Nate McLouth cf, 7. Gorkys Hernandez rf, 8. Chase d’Arnaud 2b, 9. James McDonald rhp

Also scheduled to pitch for the Pirates are Justin Wilson, Daniel Moskos, Jared Hughes, Bryan Morris and Mike Crotta.

Phillies (2-3): 1. Jimmy Rollins ss, 2. Placido Polanco 3b, 3. Shane Victorino cf, 4. Jim Thome dh, 5. Hunter Pence rf, 6. Ty Wigginton 2b, 7. John Mayberry Jr. 1b, 8. Laynce Nix lf, 9. Brian Schneider c. Cole Hamels lhp

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Confidence is best tonic

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Pedro Alvarez today picked up his first hit of spring training, an opposite-field, solo home run in the Pirates’ 8-6 loss against the Blue Jays. Alvarez drove an outside fastball from right-hander Kyle Drabek over the left field wall. In the sixth, Alvarez lined a single to right field. “Whenever you can square up a couple balls in the game, it’s a good thing,” Alvarez said. “I’ve just got to keep it going, keep the consistency and the good at-bats. The results will take care of themselves. It feels really good to have a good day. That’s what we’re working for.”

Manager Clint Hurdle said too much was made about Alvrez’s 0-for-5 start, which included three strikeouts. “We weren’t making a lot out of it,” Hurdle said. “Nobody’s bothered me on the street about it. Out on Anna Maria Island, they don’t even know about it. We need to give guys some time. He kept working … and some progress was made today. A little confidence is the best elixer for anybody. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. He’s just got to trust all the work he’s put in.”

»»» Starling Marte hit a two-run homer — his seventh consecutive hit. Marte is 8 for 11 overall this spring. “Seven straight hits is a lot,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He looks very, very confident at the plate. He’s put the ball on the ground with a bunt, he’s swung the bat and drove the ball.”

»»» Hurdle praised Jeff Karstens’ performance (three scoreless innings, two hits, one strikeout): “Thirty-five pitches in three innings. Threw all his pitches. Used his fastball to both sides of the plate. Spun the ball extremely well. Good changeups, good cutter. Very, very good command.”

»»» Josh Harrison filled in for Neil Walker (tight lower back) and doubled in both of his at-bats. Harrison, who missed one game after being hit on the elbow by a pitch, has reached base safely in six of his first seven plate appearances.

»»» Here’s a nice little item from the NY Times about reliever Ryota Igarashi, who doesn’t seem to mind too much that the clubhouse folks can’t spell his first name.

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Morton throws, Walker sits

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Charlie Morton faced seven batters this morning in an intrasquad game at Pirate City. The righty was shut down after tossing 29 pitches (17 strikes). He gave up a run on three hits, walked one and struck out one. ” It was OK,” Morton said. “I got a little out of sync. I think I was trying to do a little too much when I walked (Andrew) Lambo, as opposed to just staying aggressive in the zone. I felt good in the first inning. I was locating my sinker and my cutter.” Morton said he’ll throw a bullpen session Friday and expects to be on a normal five-day routine and pitch in a game next week.

»»» Second baseman Neil Walker was scratched from the lineup today due to a sore lower back. A team spokesman said Walker is day by day and likely will miss two or three games.

Grapefruit League game No. 5: Toronto v. Pittsburgh, 1:05 p.m., Bradenton, Fla.

Blue Jays: 1. Yunel Escobar ss, 2. Travis Snider lf, 3. Travis d’Arnaud c, 4. Adam Lind dh, 5. David Cooper 1b, 6. Rajai Davis cf, 7. Moises Sierra rf, 8. Mike McCoy 2b, 9. Brian Bocock 3b. Kyle Drabek rhp

Pirates: 1. Alex Presley lf, 2. Jose Tabata rf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Garrett Jones 1b, 5. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 6. Clint Barmes ss, 7. Josh Harrison 2b, 8. Michael McKenry c, 9. Jeff Karstens rhp

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Hurdle lays down the law

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Owner Bob Nutting talks with Andrew McCutchen before today's game.
Owner Bob Nutting talks with Andrew McCutchen before today's game.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Yesterday afternoon, manager Clint Hurdle held a closed-door meeting in the clubhouse before the team departed for the game against the Orioles in Sarasota. “We had a little conversation,” Hurdle explained today with a gleam in his eye.

In the first two games of the spring, both losses, the Pirates had a total of 12 hits and six runs. They made baserunning blunders and fielding errors. That had to change, and Hurdle made it clear during the meeting. “We’re at McKechnie (Field) now,” Hurdle said. “This is the second stage of spring training. Games are on. Competition. Play. Represent. All those things we’ve talked about. I think they hit the reset button. They’re playing cleaner baseball and doing better things.”

Message received. In winning the past two games, the Pirates have collected 34 hits and scored 17 runs. Over the past 21 innings, the pitchers have allowed only two earned runs.

»»» Yamaico Navarro, who’s trying to make the team as a backup infielder, hit a two-run double in the eighth in today’s 7-4 win against the Yankees. Navarro has five hits in his past six at-bats. Starling Marte went 2 for 2 and has gotten hits in his last five at-bats.

»»» After he signed a long-term contract extension this morning, Andrew McCutchen was congratulated by Yankees infielders Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter. “It was all around the bases,” McCutchen said. “They all said congrats. Even the umpires said congrats.” McCutchen paused and laughed. “But I didn’t get to A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez). I wasn’t on third today.” McCutchen singled, doubled and drove in two runs.

Tomorrow’s lineup v. Toronto

Pirates (2-2): 1. Jose Tabata rf, 2. Clint Barmes ss, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Casey McGehee 1b, 5. Neil Walker 2b, 6. Rod Barajas c, 7. Yamaico Navarro dh, 8. Nick Evans 3b, 9. Brandon Boggs lf. Jeff Karstens rhp

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Solid debut for Wilson

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Justin Wilson had a solid spring debut last night against the Orioles — two scoreless, hitless innings with three strikeouts. The lefty walked J.J. Hardy on four pitches to open the third inning, then fanned Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds and got Matt Wieters on a fly ball to right.

“He got sharper the longer he stayed out there,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “The first batter, I’m sure he had some nerves. It was the first time this kid had gotten on the mound, and it’s a big league game to him. It was four quick balls and then, boom, he went to work. It was good to see him repeat his delivery with downward hill plane and that velocity, it’s hard to square up. The arm’s big. The consistency of the arm, the command of his pitches is something he’s got to improve. That’s a fresh arm, sitting at 95 mph (fastball) and with a lot of (other) pitches.”

A fifth-round pick in 2008, Wilson was a starter for his first two-plus seasons in the minors. His numbers have been OK — 6-8 with a 4.50 ERA at Lynchburg, 11-8 with a 3.09 ERA at Altoona, 10-8 with a 4.13 ERA at Indy. Late last season, he was switched to the bullpen. The move seemed to help him, as his velo ticked up to 95-plus mph.

»»» Charlie Morton, Rudy Owens, Kyle McPherson, Gerrit Cole and Duke Welker will pitch in a camp game at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Pirate City. It will be Morton’s first “game” situation this spring.

»»» The Pirates will announce Andrew McCutchen’s contract at 11:30 a.m today with a presser at McKechnie Field.

»»» Righty Kevin Correia is slated to work the first two innings today against the Yankees. Also scheduled to pitch are Daniel McCutchen, Doug Slaten, Chris Resop, Tony Watson, Chris Leroux, Ryota Igarashi and Juan Cruz. Pirates batters have faced a lefty starter in each of their first four games.

Lineups for today’s game:

Yankees (2-1): 1. Derek Jeter ss, 2. Robinson Cano 2b, 3. Alex Rodriguez 3b, 4. Mark Teixeira 1b, 5. Andruw Jones dh, 6. Francisco Cervelli C, 7. Chris Dickerson lf, 8. Dewayne Wise cf, 9. Justin Maxwell rf. CC Sabathia lhp

Pirates (1-2): 1. Jose Tabata rf, 2. Clint Barmes ss, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Casey McGehee 1b, 5. Neil Walker 2b, 6. Rod Barajas c, 7. Yamaico Navarro dh, 8. Nick Evans 3b, 9. Brandon Boggs lf. Kevin Correia rhp

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One deal done. What’s next?

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Last week, Andrew McCutchen signed for fans. Soon, he'll put his signature on a six-year contract.
Last week, Andrew McCutchen signed for fans. Soon, he'll put his signature on a six-year contract.

BRADENTON, Fla. — The agreement between the Pirates and Andrew McCutchen on a six-year, $51.5 million contract was more than two years in the making and is part of an effort by the club to lock up its core players to multi-year deals.

Sometime early in 2010, the Pirates began working with the agents for McCutchen and Neil Walker on long-term contracts. The talks went in fits and starts, with periods of intense negotiation followed by weeks or even months of limited contact. At the time, the Pirates figured Walker might be easier to sign. If Walker came to terms first, the team would try to use that as leverage in talks with McCutchen. It didn’t work that way, as McCutchen has accepted a six-year, $51.5-million deal. The complication with Walker is that he will gain Super Two status after this season, meaning he will gain an extra year of arbitration eligibility — a bit of leverage for the player to hike the value of a long-term contract.

Now that McCutchen’s deal is done, the Pirates will shift their focus to Walker. It probably will be pricier than they originally expected — Walker has never indicated he will give a hometown discount — but the Pirates will give Walker his big contract. It will be a win-win for both sides: Walker, like McCutchen, gets money and security. The Pirates will ink a marquee player, which will satisfy the fan base and (more importantly) catch the attention of potential free agents around the league as well as prospects in the Pirates’ system.

McCutchen is the fourth Pirates player signed beyond this season, and two others also could return on contract options. Last August, Jose Tabata got a six-year, $15-million extension. Clint Barmes is signed for $5.5 million. The Pirates will pay $8 million of the $16.5 A.J. Burnett will earn next year. The team undoubtedly will pick up its option for 2013 on Pedro Alvarez. There also is a $3.5-million club option in Rod Barajas’ contract, which is a less likely proposition.

Who else could be in line for a longer contract? The Pirates could look to the future with Alvarez, if they’re ready for another round of talks with Scott Boras. Charlie Morton, perhaps. He’ll make $2.445 million this season and has two years of arby left. James McDonald is still trying to establish himself, so he might prefer to wait and at least start the arbitration process. Casey McGehee is an intriguing possibility, but a longshot. He first must prove his performance dip last season was a fluke. Probably not Joel Hanrahan. He’s already making $4.1 million with a year of arby to go. Too pricey.

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