McPherson healthy, eager to compete for job


BRADENTON, Fla. — The shoulder strain that forced right-hander Kyle McPherson to bolt early from winter ball likely will not cause him to be behind that the start of spring training. “Everything’s gone well (with rehab) so far, so I’ll be ready for spring,” McPherson told me this morning at minicamp. “I’m probably just a little bit behind (other pitchers) but I’m still in a good spot. We’ve got a good bit of time left before spring training, so I’ll be ready to go. I expect to be 100 percent by Day 1 (of spring training).” Pirates pitchers and catchers report to camp on Feb. 11 and begin workouts the next day.

The shoulder injury first flared up midway through spring training in 2012 and caused McPherson to miss the start of the regular season. He’d hoped to make up for some of that lost time by pitching in the Dominican Winter League. “I got down there and wound up straining the front part of my shoulder and it developed into a little bit of tendinitis,” McPherson said. “So we took the precautionary route and shut it down. I want to be prepared for this year because it’s a big year for me.”

McPherson and lefty Jeff Locke will go into camp as the two candidates for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation. Charlie Morton (elbow surgery) is out until mid-season and GM Neal Huntington already has said top pitching prospect Gerrit Cole will open the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. “I definitely have my mind set on taking that spot, just like Locke does,” McPherson said. “It will be up to (management) to decide. Charlie will be back soon, too. But, it’s mainly us two guys, me and Locke, going into spring training. It’s a big year and both of us will be ready.”

»»» It’s no great surprise, but Jameson Taillon told me this morning he’ll begin the season at Double-A Altoona. Last year, the righty went 6-8 with a 3.82 ERA and 1.168 WHIP at High-A Bradenton and 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA and 0.706 WHIP at Altoona. “It was an interesting year,” Taillon said. “I had a real good start in Bradenton, then kind of hit a wall for a bit. I learned a lot there about myself. Eventually, I got the callup to Double-A. It was only for a month or so, but it was really big for me to see how it is. I felt like I took a big step, on and off the field, as a professional player.”

»»» Updates 10:40 a.m.: C Michael McKenry checked into minicamp this morning, sporting a black goatee. “Something different,” he said, grinning. … Matt Hague took grounders at third base for the second day in a row. Hague made 16 appearances in the field, all at first base, in the majors last season. At Triple-A Indy, he played in 41 games at first and 50 at third. … 1B Gaby Sanchez made some  nice picks during the drawn-in infield drills. Sanchez looks thinner than he was at the end of last season and appears to be in great shape.

»»» Updates 11:40 a.m.: Jerry Sands put on a little bit of a show during batting practice on Clemente Field, mashing back-to-back shots onto the roof of the batting cages beyond the tall left field fence. Sands also made some nifty scoops at first base during fielding drills. … Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata were in Sands’ hitting group, the last one of the day, and each hit some long drives. Tabata ended the session with a shot that crashed onto the batting cage roof, then tossed his bat and smiled. … McCutchen and new hitting coach Jay Bell had a long, quiet conversation on the field before batting practice began.