Fitzgerald a D’backs guy now

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httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb_P_ETLQ60

PHOENIX — Before the game tonight, Pitt/Arizona Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald worked out on the field with the D’backs. Fitzgerald will host his second annual celebrity softball game April 21 at the D’backs spring training complex in Arizona. Fitzgerald said he was a Pirates fan when he went to college, but now that he lives in Arizona, “I’m a Diamondbacks guy.”

»»» Despite their divergent records, the Pirates (3-6) and Diamondbacks (6-3) have a few similarities so far this season. Both have played plenty of closer games. For the Pirates, six of nine have been one-run games. For the D’backs, eight of nine were decided by two runs or less. Both teams are struggling to get hits with runners in scoring position, although D’backs are having better success at scoring runs (4.78 runs per game, fourth in the NL) than the Pirates (2.00 rpg, last in the NL). Both teams also have one player who is carrying much of the load offensively. For the Pirates, it’s Andrew McCutchen, who’s hitting .318 on this road trip and who has hit safely in seven of the past eight games. For Arizona. it’s Chris Young, who’s batting .364 with a .475 OBP. Young already has four homers and 11 RBI — almost as much production as the entire Pirates team (four homers, 15 RBI).

»»» This could be a busy series for Pirates catchers, as the Diamondbacks are 10 for 13 in stolen-base attempts. They swiped four in the game Sunday against Rockies rookie catcher Drew Pomeranz. “He’s a young kid and we pushed the envelope,” D’backs manager Kirk Gibson told the Arizona Republic. “I think he got a little unraveled there from time to time.”

»»» This will be just the second time LHP Joe Saunders has faced the Pirates. In 2007, he gave up four runs in six innings against Pittsburgh. In his previous start Wednesday against the Padres, Saunders worked seven scoreless innings and yielded four hits.

»»» To make room for Matt Hague at Triple-A Indy, infielder Jeremy Farrell was sent back to Double-A Altoona.

Game 10: Pirates @ Arizona, 9:40 p.m. ET

Pirates (3-6): 1. Alex Presley lf, 2. Jose Tabata rf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Casey McGehee 1b, 5. Neil Walker 2b, 6. Rod Barajas c, 7. Josh Harrison 3b, 8. Clint Barmes ss, 9. Erik Bedard lhp (0-2, 2.25)

Diamondbacks (6-3): 1. Willie Bloomquist ss, 2. Aaron Hill 2b, 3. Justin Upton rf, 4. Miguel Montero c, 5. Chris Young cf, 6. Paul Goldschmidt 1b, 7. Jason Kubel lf, 8. Ryan Roberts 3b, 9. Joe Saunders lhp (0-0, 0.00)

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Morton disappointed in first outing

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The final play of the game took up a lot of room in the game story, but here’s a little on Charlie Morton’s first start of the game. He was somewhat disappointed in how it went, mainly because of the second inning in which the Giants scored two to tie the game.
“It was just a mediocre outing,” he said. “Kind of squandered the offense that we had. We had an opportunity to win that game early so to give a lead up, it’s just not good.”
Morton saw mostly left-handed hitters, and he did say he was pleased with how he was able to adjust to them.
“I threw a lot of cutters, a lot of curveballs,” he said. “After the second inning I might have thrown one or two sinkers. I was forcing the cutter in and I think it was a good adjustment, but instead of doing that I’d like to throw my sinker in some of those counts. Maybe a front-door sinker just to keep the feel going for it.”
Morton threw 71 pitches, 50 for strikes.
= Clint Barmes was ready and waiting to talk to reporters tonight, despite ample time and opportunity to sneak off and not deal with us. That isn’t always the case with professional athletes, and we generally point out when guys who impacted the game negatively don’t stick around afterward. Credit where credit’s due.
= Also lost in the ninth-inning goings-on…Watson, Cruz and Grilli all did a solid job in relief in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings, respectively. Cruz still has an ERA of 0.00. Resop took the loss (0-1) but is also at 0.00. Watson’s at 3.38 and Grilli is at 2.25.
= Pirates were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position tonight. They were 0-for-14 before that going back to Andrew McCutchen’s hit against the Phillies on Sunday.

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Barmes hopes to build on Wednesday’s performance at the plate

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Clint Barmes hasn’t had the most auspicious of starts with the Pirates, a fact he’s aware of perhaps more than anyone.
The shortstop, signed in the offseason for two years and $10.5 million, didn’t have a hit going into Wednesday’s game against the Dodgers. He hasn’t been the only member of the team struggling at the plate by any stretch. The same condition applies to the majority of the hitters at this point.
Manager Clint Hurdle, who had Barmes back in his Colorado Rockies days, said that the shortstop hasn’t been as comfortable as he’s seen him in the past, probably because he’s been trying to show everybody he belongs.
“If your focus is on playing well you tend to play a little more rigid, little more tight, with a little more anxiety,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to capture that mentality of being just out in the backyard playing. That’s usually the biggest challenge for someone coming from one organization to the next. You want to make an impact. You want to show them right away that you’re worthy and you’re here for all the right reasons and it’s one of the traps you can set for yourself to really not play with that confidence and relaxed atmosphere because you’re trying to force things.”
Barmes admitted as much after Wednesday’s game, in which he got his first hit to snap an 0-for-12 streak. It was a home run off Chad Billingsley in the third inning, and Barmes said early hitting work with coach Gregg Ritchie helped.
“Just more about the mental side and the approach than anything, really,” he said of the adjustments he made Wednesday prior to the game. “Early on I was maybe trying to do a little too much, getting a little too big at the plate and it causes me to over-swing, try to get a little too big at times. It hasn’t been good, I haven’t had really good at-bats until I felt like today, tonight anyway. Even my second and third at-bat got out both times but just seeing the ball better, felt like I put better swings on pitches I did the previous four games.”
Hurdle also said before yesterday’s game that he hopes the nine games in a row will give the team as a whole a chance to get into a routine, build some continuity and get into a rhythm more than the one day on, one day off, two days on, one day off schedule to start the season. As he also likes to say, time will tell.

= Sorry about the lack of blogging here the past few days. There have been myriad technical issues so far this trip, which I hope are now solved. Fingers crossed.

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Meek looking for a change

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Have a happy and peaceful Easter!

The first two games have been taut, one-run affairs and the Pirates have used five of their seven relief pitchers. Evan Meek was not one of them, which perhaps is indicative of how far he still has to go before he’s fully returned to form. “Unfortunately, I’m not in the situation I’d like to be in right now, in terms of pitching later in the game,” Meek told me yesterday. “But, that’s something I can work toward. I can control being prepared to pitch. We’ll have to see where it goes. I’m realistic about my role right now, whether it be coming in to get one out or whatever (Clint Hurdle) has planned. That’s out of my control. All I can do is be effective, get outs and do what I can to help us win.”

As always, Meek will rely on his cutter and breaking ball. He also is trying to add a changeup to his mix and worked on it a bit this spring, but it’s not quite game-ready yet. “It’s good. It can be really good,” he said. “I just need to get into counts where I can throw it and not be hurt by it. Anytime you learn a new pitch, it’s not just about learning how to throw it. It’s about learning when to use it and how it will be effective. I throw it with my warmup pitches in the bullpen. Once I’m in a game, I’ll go with what I feel is best and that’s fastball and breaking ball. Over the course of the year, if I get that pitch down and I read the hitters sitting dead-red (on the fastball), maybe I’ll throw them (the changeup) early in the count.”

»»» Phillies RHP Vance Worley dominated the Pirates in a Grapefruit League game, but overall he had mixed results this spring. “I saw some tape of his next two starts and he didn’t look like the same guy,” Hurdle said this morning. “He had a very good season last year. He competes very well. He does a nice job with the running game. It’s not like you’re going to get a breath of fresh air today facing him. But after (Roy) Halladay and (Cliff) Lee, we’ll take our chances and see what we can do with this guy. He’s good. The left-handed (hitters) know Worley is going to pitch both sides of the plate with the fastball, he’s going to spin the ball and throw that changeup. We’ve got to find a way to back up that changeup and focus on the big part of the field, left-center field for the left-handers, or it could be a long day for some of them.”

»»» Uh oh. Clayton Kershaw is healthy. The Pirates will face the Dodgers’ ace lefty Tuesday in Los Angeles.

Game 3: Philadelphia @ Pirates, 1:35 p.m. ET

Phillies (1-1) – 1. Juan Pierre lf, 2. Shane Victorino cf, 3. Jimmy Rollins ss, 4. Hunter Pence rf, 5. Jim Thome 1b, 6. Ty Wigginton 3b, 7. Freddy Galvis 2b, 8. Brian Schneider c, 9. Vance Worley rhp (season debut)

Pirates (1-1) – 1. Alex Presley lf, 2. Jose Tabata rf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Garrett Jones 1b, 6. Clint Barmes ss, 7. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 8. Michael McKenry c, 9. James McDonald rhp (season debut)

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Game 2: Lineup shuffle

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philsMatt Hague tonight will make his major league debut. He’s starting at first base and batting fifth. There are a few other surprises in the lineup. Jose Tabata and Alex Presley traded lineup spots, with Tabata batting leadoff. Casey McGehee replaces Pedro Alvarez at third base (which isn’t really a surprise, considering the Phils are starting a lefty). Neil Walker has dropped to sixth in the order — he hit there in just two games last season. Rod Barajas is catching; not a total stunner, given yesterday was an off day, but Jeff Karstens and Michael McKenry have formed a pretty good duo in the past. More info on these moves after Clint Hurdle’s pregame chat.

»»» I had lunch over at South Side Works today and saw a TON of Philly fans, many of them clad in black-and-orange Flyers jerseys. Good news is, I saw much, much more in the way of Penguins gear on the streets.

»»» At Triple-A Indy, Jake Fox is on the DL with a strained oblique.

Game 2: Philadelphia @ Pirates, 7:05 p.m. ET

Phillies (1-0) – 1. Shane Victorino cf, 2. Placido Polanco 3b, 3. Jimmy Rollins ss, 4. Hunter Pence rf, 5. Laynce Nix 1b, 6. John Mayberry lf, 7. Carlos Ruiz c, 8. Freddy Galvis 2b. Cliff Lee lhp (season debut)

Pirates (0-1) – 1. Jose Tabata rf, 2. Alex Presley lf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Casey McGehee 3b, 5. Matt Hague 1b, 6. Neil Walker 2b, 7. Rod Barajas c, 8. Clint Barmes ss, 9. Jeff Karstens rhp (season debut)

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Let’s get it started

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PNC Park is quiet and empty at the moment, but it won't be for long.
PNC Park is quiet and empty at the moment, but it won't be for long.

Happy Opening Day, everyone.

With a half-dozen unpacked suitcases strew around his desk, manager Clint Hurdle yesterday talked to reporters who crammed into his office. “We’re extremely excited to be back,” Hurdle said. “Ten weeks down in Florida, the team put its time in. It’s time to play ball. We’re very optimistic. We’re improved across the board. We’ve got more depth in our starting pitching. We’ve got a bullpen that’s going to be very efficient — it will be even more efficient, depending upon the innings the starters give us. Our position player pool is definitely stronger, more versatile, more athletic. We’re just a better club. We’ve got to go prove it on the field now.”

»»» It’s magnetic schedule day. Sister Mary Bride Diamond, a member of Pittsburgh’s Sisters of Charity for 59 years, will be honored as the “fan of the game.” One of her “bucket list” items was to be surrounded by the Pirates on the field at PNC Park. Army Ranger Jeremy Feldbusch, who was injured during a tour of duty in Iraq, will throw the ceremonial first pitch. Feldbusch will represent the Wounded Warriors Project.

Game 1: Philadelphia @ Pirates, 1:35 p.m. ET

Phillies (0-0) – 1. Shane Victorino cf, 2. Placido Polanco 3b, 3. Jimmy Rollins ss, 4. Hunter Pence rf, 5. Ty Wigginton 1b, 6. John Mayberry lf, 7. Carlos Ruiz c, 8. Freddy Galvis 2b, 9. Roy Halladay rhp (season debut)

Pirates (0-0) – 1. Alex Presley lf, 2. Jose Tabata rf, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Garrett Jones 1b, 6. Rod Barajas c, 7. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 8. Clint Barmes ss, 9. Erik Bedard lhp (season debut)

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Matt Hague, freed

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httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_4_I22MYeM

A little video from today’s workout at PNC Park.

»»» Free Matt Hague? Done. After mauling opposing pitchers throughout spring training, Hague earned a spot on the Opening Day roster. “Right now, it hasn’t really hit me yet,” Hague said this afternoon before the workout at PNC Park. “I’m excited, I’m happy. It feels great.”

The biggest adjustment for Hague will be finding ways to stay sharp when he’s not an everyday player. “I have to get my work in,” he said. “Whenever the time comes that they need me, I’ve got to do what I’m working for and have good at-bats.”

Hague’s monster spring — he batted .400 and led the team with seven homers — earned him some good-natured ribbing from his teammates. Hague was crowned “spring training MVP” and rewarded with a special, cushy, leather chair at his locker. He also was forced to sit in the center of the circle during a pre-workout team meeting.

»»» The Pirates kept six bench players, as Josh Harrison and Yamaico Navarro also made the team. It’s a seven-man bullpen, as Jared Hughes and Juan Cruz made the cut.

»»» Chris Leroux is out of minor league options, so the Pirates risked losing him through waivers if he did not make the Opening Day roster. After a string of awful outings in spring training, it seemed Leroux could be on his way out, but … instead, he got hurt. Leroux was placed on the 60-day DL due to what the team said is a strained right pectoral muscle. According to a team spokesman, Leroux was injured while pitching Tuesday against the Phillies. By putting Leroux on the 60-day DL, the team cleared a spot on the 40-man roster for Cruz and, conveniently, can put off making a decision about him without putting him on waivers.

»»» Charlie Morton and Kevin Correia squared off against each other today during a minor league game in Bradenton, Fla. Morton — who’s on the 15-day DL, retroactive to March 29 — threw 94 pitches in six innings. Correia — who will start Monday in LA against the Dodgers — threw 51 pitches in three innings. Morton remains on track to start April 14 in San Francisco against the Giants.

»»» A.J. Burnett is in Pittsburgh today, but tomorrow will fly back to Florida. He’ll start Friday for High-A Bradenton. “We’re just trying to hold the reins on him,” manager Clint Hurdle said, grinning. As well as Burnett’s rehab is going, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the righty in the Pirates’ rotation in time for the next homestand (April 20-25). He was placed on the 15-day DL, retroactive to March 26.

»»» The results from our last Trib fan poll, which asked who should bat cleanup for the Pirates: Neil Walker, 270 votes (36 percent); Garrett Jones, 266 votes (36 percent); Pedro Alvarez, 106 votes (14 percent); Andrew McCutchen, 70 votes (9 percent); Rod Barajas, 33 votes (4 percent). Thanks to all who voted.  This week’s question asks whether you think the Pirates will finish above .500 this season.

»»» Neither the Pirates nor the Phillies released their Opening Day lineups today.

Game 1: Philadelphia @ Pirates, 1:35 p.m. ET

Phillies (0-0) — 1. 9. Roy Halladay rhp (season debut)

Pirates (0-0) — 1. 9. Erik Bedard lhp (season debut)

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McDonald pleased with development of slider

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James McDonald said one of the things he worked on this spring that he feels comfortable with going into the regular season is the development of his slider to be able to get guys out with it when he needs to.
“There was one game I was throwing it and (catcher Rod) Barajas gave me a tip,” he said. “I feel like since then my slider’s been a little better. As long as I come out with something to make myself better I feel like I’ve accomplished something.”
The tip Barajas gave him?
“He just gave me a different thought process of throwing it,” McDonald said. “I’m a breaking ball guy and that’s a feel pitch, but he told me with the slider don’t feel for nothing. Just throw it like you throw a 4-seamer, right down the middle. I started doing that and started getting more swings, more roll-overs.”
Manager Clint Hurdle said they watched all spring as McDonald developed that pitch as well as his changeup.
“He started having success with (the slider) about three starts ago, especially the one start where he extended through seven innings,” Hurdle said. “It came into play again tonight in the last two innings out there so it’s definitely added to his pitches. It’s definitely going to give him another weapon.”
= Hurdle also talked post-game about Barajas and why they felt he’d be a good addition to the team: “The experience factor was big, but we didn’t go out and get any of these guys just because of what they’d bring to the clubhouse. It was all that they could still play, could contribute on the field, and not just fill a spot but perform in a spot that we needed to bolster. His experience in the league, things he’s seen, the number of pitchers he’s worked with, it’s almost like he’s always worked with somebody similar to the guy he’s working with that we’ve got and could maybe help them out along the way. He’s been great with his tutorials this spring.”
= McDonald said he was happy with the way he bounced back from his last outing, a loss to the Twins on March 29 in which he allowed 10 runs on seven hits and walked seven in 3 2/3 innings. In prior years he might have let a bad outing carry over to the next game, and said he takes the fact that he didn’t as a sign of greater maturity.
= Just a thought, but Saturday should be an interesting day in Pittsburgh. The Flyers are in town to face the Penguins in a 4 p.m. game, the last of the regular season, and the Phillies are in town beginning Thursday. Saturday’s game is a 7:05 p.m. start. I wonder how many fans have tickets to both.

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A final post before I go

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Florida Auto Exchange Stadium is empty, which means it's time to go.
Florida Auto Exchange Stadium is empty, which means it's time to go.

DUNEDIN, Fla. — Right-hander Jeff Karstens looked good today in his final spring training outing. Karstens worked four innings and gave up a run on four hits, walked one and struck out one.

“I’m in a really good place on the mound right now,” Karstens said. “In the middle of spring training, I was walking some guys, coming out of my delivery. I was worrying about things I shouldn’t worry about — not so much results and things like that, but pitching (mechanics). After today, I’m happy with where I am, heading into the season. I’m excited to see what it brings. It’s the first year I really trained (in the offseason) to be a starter. It’s different now, knowing the expectations after what I did last year. I want more of that and I want guys to see more of that.”

Does Karstens have more of a sense of comfort, knowing from the giddy-up that he’s in the rotation and not the bullpen? “I wouldn’t say comfort,” he said. “I don’t want to get to where I feel a sense of entitlement. I would say I felt more at ease. I know I can start, I can relieve, I’m in a good place with this team and I’ve done some good things. But never at any time did I feel a sense of entitlement because at any time something can happen and it ends like that.”

Serving only food from the Great White North?
Serving only food from the Great White North?

»»» You can’t tell yet by looking at him, but Karstens has decided to give up his usual buzz-cut look. “I’m letting my hair grow until it’s absolutely disgusting,” Karstens said, “or until Clint (Hurdle) tells me to cut it.”

»»» Catcher Michael McKenry was struck near his inner thigh by a foul tip and needed a couple of minutes to walk it off. When McKenry walked stiffly to the mound, Karstens decided to lighten the mood by asking, “Michael, are you and your wife planning to have kids anytime soon?”

»»» Surprise! Matt Hague went deep again, crushing the first pitch he saw from Jim Hoey. (For the record, I called it, too.) That gave The Hit Collector a team-high seven homers in 52 spring at-bats. He hit 12 home runs in 534 at-bats at Triple-A Indy last year, which caused some folks to wonder if he had enough power to be a corner infielder in the majors.

“He’s not trying to hit long balls,” Hurdle said. “But I do think he’s gotten to a point in his maturation process that when balls are elevated, he’s finishing the swing much better. There’s times with young hitters when it’s all about contact, all about getting hits. It’s something he worked on in winter ball. He’s putting good swings on balls that are elevated. His swing’s in a real nice place. I always look back at some players who hit 20, 25, 30 home runs in the majors … none of them hit home runs in the minor leagues. They mature, they get a little stronger. Not only has he hit homers, he’s given us good at-bats, some lengthy at-bats and balls he’s hit the other way. He’s in a very good place, he’s confident and he’s having fun with it.”

»»» Not sure if I mentioned this earlier, but reliever Juan Cruz said he’s fine after taking a liner off his right arm during yesterday’s game against the Twins. There’s a big, red welt on Cruz’s arm but he was not wearing any sore of brace or wrap. And while we’re exploring the Planet of the Aches, McKenry told me after the game that he’s no worse for wear after absorbing that foul tip.

»»» I’m passing the baton to Karen Price, who will pick up the club the next two days in the City of Brotherly Shove. Hopefully, none of the venom from today’s Flyers-Penguins game carries over with the fans for the baseball scrimmages at Citizens Bank Park.

Check back here Wednesday (I’ll post any news out of the workout at PNC Park) and Thursday for Opening Day coverage.

Game 1: Philadelphia @ Pirates, 1:35 p.m. ET

Phillies (0-0) — Roy Halladay rhp (season debut)

Pirates (0-0) — Erik Bedard lhp (season debut)

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Burnett solid in camp game

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DUNEDIN, Fla. — A.J. Burnett reported no problems after throwing 54 pitches this morning in a minor league intrasquad game — his first game action since having surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone. Because it was a camp game (in which rules are easily bent), Burnett recorded 12 outs in his three “innings” of work. According to Tim Williams of PiratesProspects.com, Burnett allowed one hit (to Starling Marte) and struck out three.

Burnett will start April 6 for High-A Bradenton against Jupiter (Cardinals) in a Florida State League game. Hmmm … it might not be out of the question to think Burnett will join the Pirates later this month itime for their second homestand of the season.

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