Pirates A.M. — Shafted by the shift

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photos by Christopher Horner

ColeCervelliBOSTON — Gerrit Cole cannot pitch and simultaneously play third base. If he could, the Red Sox’s five-run fifth inning in yesterday’s 5-3 win against the Pirates would have been at worst a more manageable one-run inning.

If you need the details of the inning, you can find them in my game story in today’s Trib. Let’s cut to the chase: the Pirates were shafted by their shifts. Against Pablo Sandoval and Sandy Leon — neither of whom has sprinter’s speed — the infield set up with SS Jordy Mercer hugging the second base bag and, when Leon was up, with 3B David Freese in shallow right field. The numbers say Sandoval and Leon (who are both switch-hitters) more often pull the ball to the right side when they bat lefty.

The ball Sandoval hit went precisely to the spot where Mercer would have been standing if he wasn’t shifted. And, of course, Leon would not have bunted to no-man’s land if Freese, the third baseman, had actually been at … um, third base.

There were two outs. Sandoval and Leon were the numbers eight and nine batters, respectively. They are slow. The Pirates already had very good odds of getting out of the inning with a 0-0 score or at worst a 1-0 deficit. Instead, they tried to jack up those odds even higher and rolled snake eyes.

There was palpable frustration in the clubhouse after the game. However, none of the players dared speak up about the shifts during interviews. It’s a tiny clubhouse, and several coaches and front office folks were within earshot — as well as the Pirates’ traveling analytics wonks, who set up their laptops on a table in the center of the room.

Cole: “I just got into a little trouble there. … They found some holes. … They just hit ‘em where we weren’t.”

Francisco Cervelli: “That’s they way baseball is now. That’s it.”

Mercer: “It sucks. That’s the bad part about the big shifts. In big situations, it doesn’t work out for us sometimes.”

CervelliDuck>>> Cervelli whacked a fly ball to the deepest part of Fenway Park, the center field notch. Jackie Bradley Jr. made a fantastic running catch to rob Cervelli of what would have been at least a double. Cervelli really tagged the ball … “But it’s Bradley,” he said. “He’s been doing those kind of plays for years now, so it doesn’t surprise me. He’s a pro. He’s one of the best.”

>>> UPDATE 1:03 P.M. – The roster for High-A Bradenton is out. It includes three first-round draft picks — Cole Tucker (2014), Ke’Bryan Hayes (2015) and Will Craig (2016) — along with pitcher Mitch Keller (second round, 2014) and outfielder Casey Hughston (third round, 2015). Baseball America ranks Keller the club’s No. 2 prospect (ahead of Tyler Glasnow). Hayes (sixth), Tucker (eighth) and Craig (ninth) also are among the top 10. You can find the complete Bradenton roster here.

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Red Sox 5, Pirates 3: The mood in the postgame clubhouse said the players believe they out-shifted and out-smarted themselves in the fifth inning.

Columnist Kevin Gorman says the Pirates expect and desperately need more out of McCutchen and Cole

Notebook: In which Frazier leads off, Cutch dodges the question and Taillon preps for his turn on the big stage.

Want some Boston perspective? It’s always a treat to read a Hall of Famer like Dan Shaughnessy. (And, yes, he does accurately rate the Pirates as “mediocre.”)

>>> Tuesday: Off

>>> Wednesday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Jameson Tailon (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Chris Sale (2017 debut).

>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 1:35 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Chad Kuhl (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (2017 debut).

>>> Friday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA RHP R.A. Dickey (2017 debut)

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Ivan Nova (2017 debut)

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Game 1: Bold predictions

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

HurdleCardsBOSTON — Happy opening day. Let’s start the season with a few bold predictions:

— Since last fall, I’ve had a hunch 2017 will be Clint Hurdle’s final season as Pirates manager. That feeling intensified when Tom Prince was named bench coach. I wasn’t surprised when chairman Bob Nutting refused to say during spring training whether Hurdle’s contract — which runs through this season with a club option for 2018 — will be extended. Over the final few days of spring training, Prince shadowed Hurdle during his postgame media scrums, taking mental notes on how Hurdle handles reporters and how we probe him for information. I think its possible that at some point this season the Pirates will announce Hurdle will retire after the season.

Andrew McCutchen will bounce back. Cutch tried to use emotion to fuel his performance last year — hoping to force management to extend his contract — and it blew up in his face. This year, I sense he has a chip on his shoulder (who wouldn’t, after the way he was treated last offseason?) but is trying hard not to be sentimental. If Cutch can be all business, his numbers will rebound.

— The thing is, better stats will make McCutchen easier to trade. He’ll be gone by Aug. 1.

Tony Watson will put up decent (but not dominant) numbers as the closer and he also will be moved at the trade deadline. Daniel Hudson will become the new closer, keeping the spot warm while Felipe Rivero is groomed to take over in 2018.

Starling Marte will try to make up for some of Jung Ho Kang’s missing power. The Pirates won’t miss the distractions Kang will bring, but they do need to replace the 20-something home runs he’d hit if he was in the lineup. Marte went deep just nine times last year, but Hurdle believes there is more juice in his bat. Look for Marte’s HR total to approach the 19 he blasted in 2015, but it’s likely his batting average will take a bit of a hit.

Gerrit Cole will notch 18 wins and be in the Cy Young conversation all season.

— I’m stealing this prediction from the Bill James Handbook: Tyler Glasnow will lead the NL in walks issued. Other than that blemish, Glasnow will turn in a decent season, a spring board for bigger things in 2018.

Drew Hutchison will make a spot start or two when an injury pops up, but he won’t stick in the big leagues and will be gone next winter.

Ivan Nova and Rivero will combine for six different hair colorings and three mohawk-style trims by the end of September.

— And finally … the Pirates will finish 84-78, third in the NL Central and watch the postseason on TV for the second year in a row.

My view from the press box at Fenway. If McCutchen has a big day in right field, I'll never see it.
My view from the press box at Fenway. If McCutchen has a big day in right field, I’ll never see it.

>>> UPDATE 9:44 A.M. –  As Stephen Nesbitt of the PG and I were walking into Fenway this morning, we ran into Alen Hanson, who was searching for the players’ entrance. Ha, rookies!

>>> UPDATE 12:17 P.M. Gregory Polanco had a heat wrap on his tender left shoulder before the game. Polanco is the DH today, will start in left field on Wednesday and will be the DH again on Thursday. Polanco is batting cleanup today, which is where Hurdle wants him to stay this season. “I believe Polanco is going to be a run-producer,” Hurdle said.

>>> Some pregame thoughts from McCutchen, including a guarded response when I asked how he feels going into what might be his final opener with the Pirates:

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

I say the most important factor for Pirates success this season is a healthy Gerrit Cole

Kevin Gorman says the most important factor is Andrew McCutchen playing like his old self instead of what he was last year.

Alen Hanson and Phil Gosselin are on the active roster, Jose Osuna is back at Indy

Here’s a spring training photo gallery from the Trib’s award-winning photographer Christopher Horner

Four things the Pirates must do to improve their chances of catching the mighty Cubs in the NL Central race

OpeningDay2017>>> Monday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 2:05 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Frazier 7, Marte 8, McCutchen 9, Polanco DH, Freese 5, Cervelli 2, Bell 3, Harrison 4, Mercer 6. RHP Gerrit Cole (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Pedroia 4, Benintendi 7, Betts 9, H. Ramirez DH, Moreland 3, Bogaerts 6, Bradley 8, Sandoval 5, Leon 2. RHP Rick Porcello (2017 debut).

Gamecast: Porcello posted a 7.07 ERA over four Grapefruit League outings. Good news for the Pirates? Not necessarily. Last year, Porcello had a 9.77 ERA in spring training and went on the win the Cy Young Award. … Red Sox OF Mookie Betts is touted as a preseason MVP candidate. A righty batter, last year he had a better slash line vs. RHP (.331/.377/.540) than LHP (.264/.302/.512).

Hurdle says Fenway Park is his favorite major league venue: “I don’t get here enough, which probably continues to make it my favorite,” Hurdle said. “I’m really happy when I’m here. You can’t come up with anything better than to open up here. They’ve got a really good club over there, a fun team, a dynamic team. There is a lot of baseball to be found here and to be experienced.”

>>> Tuesday: Off

>>> Wednesday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Jameson Tailon (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Chris Sale (2017 debut).

>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 1:35 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Chad Kuhl (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (2017 debut).

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates A.M. — Another arm departs for Indy

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By Rob Biertempfel

PENN HILLS — Voting in this Twitter poll ended at midnight. About eight hours later, it was sort of outdated, as A.J. Schugel this morning was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. The Pirates have not yet tipped their hand on who’ll fill the final starter’s spot. My educated guess: Tyler Glasnow will in the rotation and Trevor Williams will join Tyler Webb in the bullpen.

>>> As you may have noticed from the dateline on this blog, I am not in Montreal for the two exhibition games against the Blue Jays. I’m getting a last gasp of R&R at home — I’m very pumped about seeing The Pretenders tonight at whatever they’re calling the Consol these days — before beginning what promises to be a busy, eventful April of Pirates coverage. I’ll check in on Sunday from Boston … and pretty much every day after that as we journey through the 2017 season.

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Fenway Park is quirky, intimate, historic … and a nightmare for many pitchers. 

Frank Coonelly said embattled third baseman Jung Ho Kang is on double-secret probation. One more misstep and … well, something will happen. Probably.

There’s new grass, more netting and a nifty LED scoreboard on the outfield wall at PNC Park

>>> Friday’s game: Pirates vs. Blue Jays, 7:07 p.m., Olympic Stadium, Montreal. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Jameson Taillon. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA.

Blue Jays: Lineup TBA. RHP Marcus Stroman. Also pitching for Blue Jays: TBA.

>>> Saturday’s game: Pirates vs. Blue Jays, 1:07 p.m., Olympic Stadium, Montreal. TV: MLB Network. Radio: 93.7 FM Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Chad Kuhl. Also pitching for Pirates: RH Tyler Glasnow. Blue Jays: Lineup TBA. LHP Francisco Liriano. Also pitching for Blue Jays: TBA.

>>> Sunday: Off day. Pirates will work out at Fenway Park in the mid-afternoon. Also: RHP Ivan Nova will pitch in a minor league (extended spring training) game at Pirate City.

>>> Monday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 2:05 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Gerrit Cole (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. RHP Rick Porcello (2017 debut).

>>> Tuesday: Off

>>> Wednesday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Jameson Tailon (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Chris Sale (2017 debut).

>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 1:35 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Josh Kuhl (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (2017 debut).

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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#Pirates A.M. — Hurdle: “Mission accomplished”

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By Rob Biertempfel

LECOMsignBRADENTON, Fla. — After yesterday’s Grapefruit League finale agains the Phillies, manger Clint Hurdle was asked if he’s happy with the foundation that was laid during spring training. As usual, Hurdle was prepared with an answer:

“I think we identified our areas of needed improvement over the winter. We spelled it out for the team moving in and attacked (those areas). The work done was clean, efficient, aggressive. Not only are we building baseball players, we’re building strength. We built team cohesion.

“We solidified the (pitching) staff early enough in roles to build backwards in opportunities. We’ll fill the fifth spot sooner than later. The bullpen is starting to come together. Defensively, I think we took big strides forward. Offensively, some solid components are in play.

“We did the best we could with the men that we had at the time. And I believe these guys have worked very hard together. I would say mission accomplished here and let’s move on.”

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

A couple of hours after Drew Hutchison was cut, Trevor Williams made his case for the starting rotation.

Jared Hughes got a little emotional after being released

Notebook … In which Polanco has a glitch, Cole serves up some dingers and Stewie stays behind

>>> Friday’s game: Pirates vs. Blue Jays, 7:07 p.m., Olympic Stadium, Montreal. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Jameson Taillon. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA.

Blue Jays: Lineup TBA. RHP Marcus Stroman. Also pitching for Blue Jays: TBA.

>>> Saturday’s game: Pirates vs. Blue Jays, 1:07 p.m., Olympic Stadium, Montreal. TV: MLB Network. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Chad Kuhl. Also pitching for Pirates: RH Tyler Glasnow.

Blue Jays: Lineup TBA. LHP Francisco Liriano. Also pitching for Blue Jays: TBA.

>>> Sunday: Off. The Pirates will work out at 3 p.m. at Fenway Park. Also: RHP Ivan Nova will pitch in a minor league (extended spring training) game at Pirate City.

>>> Monday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 2:05 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Gerrit Cole (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. RHP Rick Porcello (2017 debut).

>>> Tuesday: Off

>>> Wednesday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Jameson Tailon (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Chris Sale (2017 debut).

>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 1:35 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Josh Kuhl (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (2017 debut).

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates A.M. — Sweet start, sour finish for Hutchison

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

Hutchison3BRADENTON, Fla. — You can look at Drew Hutchison’s linescores this spring and draw a bright, wide line of demarcation between the good and the bad. His first three outings: nine innings, six hits, two earned runs, three walks, nine strikeouts. His past three outings: 10 2/3 innings, 27 hits, 21 earned runs, six walks, nine strikeouts.

His first two outings came out of the bullpen — which is when, especially early in spring training, a pitcher faces backups and minor leaguers. Over the last two weeks of camp, starting position players tend stay in the games longer and are more in tune at the plate. “It’s (a different) level of competition,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Sometimes, strength of lineup comes into play. However, he was throwing better strikes earlier (this spring) than they have been lately.”

“It’s extremely frustrating to have an opportunity and not perform to the level that you expect,” Hutchison said. “I thought I did a good job last time (against Boston) bouncing back and I did that again tonight. You don’t need to put yourself in a situation where you have to bounce back and make pitches to get out of an inning.”

UPDATE 11:44 A.M — Less than an hour ago, Hutchison was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis.  “We’ve seen some flashes of the guy we thought we were getting when we traded for him (in August), with the crispness of the fastball … the sharpness of the breaking ball and a very effective changeup,” GM Neal Huntington said. “Unfortunately, we’ve also seen too much of the fastball catching too much of the plate and pitches not being sharp.”

Glasnow is scheduled to pitch on Saturday against the Blue Jays in Montreal. Huntington said whichever pitcher is not chosen for the rotation job might open the season in the Pirates’ bullpen.

>>> Gregory Polanco, who continues to rest a sore left shoulder, has not played since Thursday, which was his only Grapefruit League appearance since returning from the WBC. The Pirates, as usual, have not said specifically what’s wrong with Polanco other than he is battling “discomfort” in his shoulder. Huntington cautioned that “injured” might be too strong a word to describe Polanco’s status: “He’s feeling better. We’ve still got some time there and we remain optimistic that things will come together. We’re just trying to be cautious and want to get guys out of the gate as healthy as possible. It’s been a long spring, there’s no question, but we’re still optimistic that he’ll be a go (for opening day).”

UPDATE 11:45 a.m. -- Polanco will NOT go with the team to Montreal due to what Huntington says is “a technical glitch” with his passport. For most of the players, applying for visas to enter Canada was a routine process. However, those who played in the World Baseball Classic are hampered by a compressed timeframe to finish the process. “It’s more challenging because of timing, because of paperwork and because of all of their passports being with them,” Huntington. “Gregory’s visa is fine — this is not a Jung Ho Kang situation — but there has been a technical glitch.” Huntington said the situation should be cleared up soon and will not affect Polanco’s ability to play in the three-game, regular-season series against the Blue Jays in August. Even before the passport problem, the Pirates were planning for Polanco to remain in extended spring training to test his shoulder. “We feel we’re better off controlling his environment,” Huntington said.

>>> UPDATE 11:46 a.m. – Chris Stewart (groin) will stay in extended spring to play in a couple of minor league games. He is expected to join the Pirates on Sunday in Boston.

>>> UPDATED 2:02 P.M. –  Farewell, Jared Hughes. No more sprints in from the bullpen, no more Instagram photos from ballparks across this great land of ours.

HughesAfter he cleared outright waivers, the Pirates put Hughes on unconditional release waivers, ending his six-year career with the team. “This is a super-sad day for me and my family,” Hughes said. “I love Pittsburgh, I love my teammates and the fans. It will always be family to me here.”

Hughes appeared in 11 Grapefruit League games (9 1/3 innings) and put up an 11.57 ERA and a 2.14 WHIP. Last season, Hughes pitched in 67 games and had a 3.03 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP. He missed the first month of the season recovering from an strained lat. “They told me they’re going in a different direction with the bullpen this year,” Hughe said.

Hughes was set to make $2.825 million this year and has one year of arbitration eligibility left. He also has one minor league option remaining. “I was overcome with emotion when they told me,” Hughes said. “It’s tough. But I’ve got to channel my emotions and use that as motivation.”

>>> Today is the final game in Florida. The equipment truck will roll north to Pittsburgh tonight, while the players and coaches catch a chartered jet to Montreal for two scrimmages against the Blue Jays. The pitching matchups are pretty sweet — Jameson Taillon v. Marcus Stroman, Chad Kuhl v. old friend Francisco Liriano (who’s had a really good spring up in Dunedin) — and crowds of 45,000 per game are expected.

>>> The Pirates will work out at 3 p.m. Sunday at Fenway Park.

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Notebook … In which Steven Brault was sent to Indy, which left three men standing for final rotation spot.

Rule 5 pickup Tyler Webb is on the bubble for a spot on the opening day roster.

Red Sox 9, Pirates 2. Another brutal outing by Hutchison

>>> Wednesday’s game: Phillies (split squad) at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root.

Phillies: Andrew Pullin DH, Andres Blanco 4, Howie Kendrick 7, Maikel Franco 5, Tommy Joseph 3, Aaron Altherr 8, Cameron Rupp 2, Pedro Florimon 6, Cameron Perkins 9. RHP Luis Garcia. Also pitching for Phillies: TBA.

Pirates: Alen Hanson 7, Phil Gosselin 4, Josh Bell 3, David Freese 5, Jordy Mercer 6, Danny Ortiz 8, Jacob Stallings 2, Casey Hughston 9, RHP Gerrit Cole 1. Also pitching for Pirates: RH Trevor Williams, RH A.J. Schugel. RH Jared Hughes.

>>> Thursday: Off day

>>> Friday’s game: Pirates vs. Blue Jays, 7:07 p.m., Olympic Stadium, Montreal. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Jameson Taillon. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA. Blue Jays: Lineup TBA. RHP Marcus Stroman. Also pitching for Blue Jays: TBA.

>>> Saturday’s game: Pirates vs. Blue Jays, 1:07 p.m., Olympic Stadium, Montreal. TV: MLB Network. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Chad Kuhl. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA. Blue Jays: Lineup TBA. LHP Francisco Liriano. Also pitching for Blue Jays: TBA.

>>> Sunday: Off day. Also: RHP Ivan Nova will pitch in a minor league (extended spring training) game at Pirate City.

OpeningDay2017

>>> Monday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 2:05 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Gerrit Cole (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. RHP Rick Porcello (2017 debut).

>>> Tuesday: Off

>>> Wednesday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Jameson Tailon (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Chris Sale (2017 debut).

>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 1:35 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Josh Kuhl (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (2017 debut).

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates A.M. (in the P.M.) — Whither Webb?

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photos by Christopher Horner

TylerWebbBRADENTON, Fla. — Tyler Webb was plucked off the New York Yankees’ Tripe-A roster in the Rule 5 draft on the last day of the winter meetings. If the Pirates want to keep the left-hander, he must spend the entire season on their active roster.

On Monday, Webb tossed three innings against the Minnesota Twins. He gave up one hit and struck out four, including an impressive whiff of slugger Miguel Sano. “Our guys who do our analytic work liked him (before the Rule 5 draft),” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Tonight, he got the attention of some people who maybe thought he was just here on a whim. He did some pitching tonight.” Webb has made seven outings (12 innings) this spring and has put up a 3.00 ERA with 11 strikeouts and one walk.

Rule 5 pickups often are buried deep in bullpens, used for mopup duty or against light-hitting lineups. What will be Hurdle’s level of trust during the season, if the Pirates opt to keep Webb?

“We’ll wait and see,” Hurdle said. “I love the way he’s shown up and competed for a guy who has no major league experience. (Monday) was the best stuff we’ve seen from him all spring and the longest look we’ve had of him, as well. Good downhill angle to the fastball, and it had finish and location. He spiked a few breaking balls early, but he also threw it (well). He’s been fun to watch grow and develop. Sometimes, just (having) a new chalkboard to write on can help you with some things.”

Watson>>> Speaking of the bullpen, here’s a trivia question: Six of the seven members of last year’s opening day rotation are no longer with the Pirates. Who are they?

Answer: Kyle Lobstein, Ryan Vogelsong, Corey Luebke, Neftali Feliz, Arquimedes Caminero and Mark Melancon.

Jared Hughes began the season on the DL. Juan Nicasio was in the rotation. The only holdover this year? Tony Watson.

>>> Adam Frazier is in the lineup again tonight v. the Red Sox. He’s at a different position (he’ll start tonight in left field after playing second base last night) but he’s still batting leadoffs. You can expect to see a lot more of that during the regular season. “I think we’ll definitely have him up top when we have him in the lineup,” Hurdle said. “He’s done pretty well with it.”

>>> UPDATE 1:03 p.m. – RHP Josh Lindblom has been reassigned to minor league camp. He’ll open the season with Triple-A Indianapolis, where he’ll most likely be stretched out as a starter (depending upon what happens at the big league level).

>>> UPDATE 4:25 p.m. – LHP Steven Brault was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis, which sets up the Pirates to have a starting rotation consisting of five right-handed pitchers.

INF Gift Ngoepe also was sent to Indy.  Lindblom and INF Jason Rogers were reassigned to minor league camp. There are 33 players left in big league camp.

With Brault out of the picture, righties Tyler Glasnow, Drew Hutchison and Trevor Williams remain in the hunt for the rotation job. Going into tonight’s game against the Red Sox, I thought Hutchison was the likely frontrunner. After he gave up six runs in the first inning, I’m not so sure anymore.

Brault made six Grapefruit League outings (two starts) and put up a 3.45 ERA. He was scored upon in each of his past two appearances, allowing four runs in 2 2/3 innings against the Philadelphia Phillies on March 18 and one run on four hits in four innings on Saturday against the Detroit Tigers. “We’ve got some ideas of where we’re going, but Steven was not one of those guys,” GM Neal Huntington said. “I also would not read into this that he’s fourth of four. We wanted to get him stretched out (at Indy).”

Ngoepe hit .429  with five RBI in 21 games. He’s considered the best defensive infielder in the system, but needs time to polish his offense after batting .217 last year at Indy. Rogers missed two weeks due to an ankle injury. He hit .389 in 11 games. Lindblom pitched in six games (three starts) and posted a 4.22 ERA.

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Austin Meadows, who yesterday was sent to the minors, is learning to pick himself up during hard times.

Notebook … in which Harrison goes to third, Stewie goes to work and Kuhl goes to Pirate City. (Don’t fret. It was only for one day.)

Pirates 4, Twins 1. Nova goes four, and he says that’s enough.

>>> Tuesday’s game: Red Sox at Pirates, 6:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Red Sox: Brock Holt 5, Andrew Benintendi 7, Mookie Betts 9, Chris Young DH, Jackie Bradley Jr. 8, Josh Rutledge 3, Marco Hernandez 6, Christian Vazquez 2, Heiker Meseses 4. RHP Stephen Wright. Also pitching for Red Sox: LH Robbie Ross, RH Matt Barnes, RH Joe Kelly, HR Austin Maddox, RH Chandler Shepherd, RH Ben Taylor, LH Edgar Olmos.

Pirates: Adam Frazier 7, Josh Harrison 5, Andrew McCutchen 8, Starling Marte 8, John Jaso 3, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Bell DH, Phil Gosselin 6, Alen Hanson 4. Drew Hutchison RHP. Also pitching for Pirates: LH Tony Watson, RH Daniel Hudson, LH Antonio Bastardo.

>>> Wednesday’s game: Phillies (split squad) at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root. Phillies: Lineup TBA. RHP Luis Garcia. Also pitching for Phillies: TBA. Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Gerrit Cole. Also pitching for Pirates: RH Trevor Williams, RH A.J. Schugel. RH Jared Hughes.

>>> Thursday: Off day

>>> Friday’s game: Pirates vs. Blue Jays, 7:07 p.m., Olympic Stadium, Montreal. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA. Blue Jays: Lineup TBA. RHP Marcus Stroman. Also pitching for Blue Jays: TBA.

>>> Saturday’s game: Pirates vs. Blue Jays, 1:07 p.m., Olympic Stadium, Montreal. TV: MLB Network. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Chad Kuhl. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA. Blue Jays: Lineup TBA. LHP Francisco Liriano. Also pitching for Blue Jays: TBA.

>>> Sunday: Off day. Also: RHP Ivan Nova will pitch in a minor league (extended spring training) game at Pirate City.

OpeningDay2017>>> Monday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 2:05 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Gerrit Cole (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. RHP Rick Porcello (2017 debut).

>>> Tuesday: Off

>>> Wednesday’s game: Pirates at Red Sox, 7:10 p.m., Fenway Park, Boston. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Jameson Tailon (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Chris Sale (2017 debut).

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates P.M. — And the fifth starter is …

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

BRADENTON, Fla. — Pirates A.M. is on a two-day hiatus because the club plays at 6:05 p.m. today and Tuesday. Here’s what I gleaned from looking  at the lineup card, scanning  the clubhouse and mulling GM Neal Huntington‘s recent presser … 

HuntingtonST2017>>> Yesterday, Huntington said management has “a pretty good feel for where we’d like to go” with the final open starter’s job. He did not divulge any details, but it’s worth nothing that Ivan Nova (who technically is in the No. 4 spot) will pitch today and Drew Hutchison is scheduled to pitch tomorrow. Does that mean Hutchison has gotten the gig? Not necessarily, but … well, it kind of looks that way, huh?

>>> Austin Meadows, whose locker is empty, was the only player who was cut from big league camp today.

>>> Manager Clint Hurdle indicated earlier in camp that Josh Harrison could reprise his super-utility role this year. That explains today’s lineup v the Twins, in which Adam Frazier is playing second base and batting leadoff, Harrison is at third and David Freese is at first base.

>>> Gregory Polanco (sore shoulder) remains out of action.

>>> Quickie Twitter poll results:

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Older, wiser Taillon ready to take next step.

Columnist Kevin Gorman believes the Pirates ought to part ways now with embattled 3B Jung Ho Kang

Notebook … in which the GM discusses the rotation, the roster and the Rule 5 guy.

>>> Monday’s game: Twins at Pirates, 6:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Twins: J.B. Shuck 8, Danny Santana 9, Ben Paulsen 7, Miguel Sano DH, Jason Castro 2, Byung Ho Park 3, Eduardo Escobar 6, Tommy Field 5, Bengie Gonzalez 4. RHP Phil Hughes. Also pitching for Twins: LH Buddy Boshers, RH Michael Tonkin, RH J.T. Chargois.

Pirates: Adam Frazier 4, Josh Harrison 5, Andrew McCutchen 9, Starling Marte 8, David Freese 3, Jordy Mercer 6, Alen Hanson 7, Jacob Stallings 2, RHP Ivan Nova 1. Also pitching for Pirates: LH Felipe Rivero, LH Tyler Webb. Also: RHP Chad Kuhl (100 pitches) and LHP Antonio Bastardo (one inning/15 pitches) will pitch in a minor league game a 1 p.m. at Pirate City.

>>> Tuesday’s game: Red Sox at Pirates, 6:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Red Sox: Lineup TBA. RHP Stephen Wright. Also pitching for Red Sox: TBA. Pirates: Lineup TBA. Drew Hutchison RHP. Also pitching for Pirates: LH Tony Watson, RH Daniel Hudson, LH Antonio Bastardo.

>>> Wednesday’s game: Phillies (split squad) at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root. Phillies: Lineup TBA. RHP Luis Garcia. Also pitching for Phillies: TBA.: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA.

>>> Thursday: Off.

>>> Friday’s game: Pirates vs. Blue Jays, 7:07 p.m., Olympic Stadium, Montreal. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA. Blue Jays: Lineup TBA. RHP Marcus Stroman. Also pitching for Blue Jays: TBA.

>>> Saturday’s game: Pirates vs. Blue Jays, 1:07 p.m., Olympic Stadium, Montreal. TV: MLB Network. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Chad Kuhl. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA. Blue Jays: Lineup TBA. LHP Francisco Liriano. Also pitching for Blue Jays: TBA.

>>> Sunday: Off day. Also: RHP Ivan Nova will pitch in a minor league (extended spring training) game at Pirate City.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates A.M. — Righty works to stay Kuhl under fire

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By Rob Biertempfel

KuhlTagCLEARWATER, Fla. — A year ago, Chad Kuhl was one of the new guys in the clubhouse, a rookie trying to fit in. “This spring has been a ton different, just from knowing everybody and knowing my place in the locker room and the expectations,” Kuhl said. “I’m definitely a lot more comfortable, just going about my day and doing the things I need to accomplish.”

The Pirates have not yet officially said Kuhl is in the rotation, but GM Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle have referred to four specific guys — Trevor Williams, Tyler Glasnow, Drew Hutchison and Steven Brault — competing for the final starter’s job. So, essentially, Kuhl is in.

After a solid rookie season, what does Kuhl have planned for an encore in 2017? “Go out and do the same things I’ve been doing,” he said. “I think I’ve progressed, even from last year into this year. The encore is to go a full season, a full, strong, healthy season.”

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Kuhl says, “I think people have kind of figured out that I’m a little fiery when I pitch.”

Notebook … in which Glasnow learns, Polanco sits and Stewie hopes

Pirates 5, Tigers 4: Late home runs power comeback win.

>>> Sunday’s game: Pirates at Phillies, 1:05 p.m., Spectrum Field, Clearwater. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Pirates: Jordy Mercer 6, Josh Bell 3, David Freese 5, John Jaso 9, Jose Osuna 7, Austin Meadows 8, Gift Ngoepe 4, Jackson Williams 2, RHP Josh Lindblom 1. Also pitching for Pirates: LH Wade LeBlanc, RH A.J, Schugel, RH Jared Hughes. Also: RHP Jameson Taillon will throw 100 pitches in a minor league game at 1 p..m. at Pirate City.

UPDATE 8:01 a.m. — Francisco Cervelli was a healthy scratch from the lineup this morning.

Phillies. Jesmuel Valentin 4, Howie Kendrick 7, Odubel Herrera 8, Maikel Franco 5, Michael Saunders 9, Daniel Nava 3, Andrew Knapp 2, Freddy Galvis 6, RHP Clay Buchholz. Also pitching for Phillies: RH Hector Neris, RH Luis Garcia, RH Joaquin Benoit

>>> Monday’s game: Twins at Pirates, 6:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Twins: Lineup TBA. RHP Phil Hughes. Also pitching for Twins: LH Buddy Boshers, RH Michael Tonkin, RH J.T. Chargois. Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Ivan Nova. Also pitching for Pirates: LH Felipe Rivero, LH Tyler Webb Also: RHP Chad Kuhl (100 pitches) and  LHP Antonio Bastardo (one inning/15 pitches) will pitch in a minor league game at 1 p.m. at Pirate City.

>>> Tuesday’s game: Red Sox at Pirates, 6:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Red Sox: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Red Sox: TBA. Pirates: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA.

>>> Wednesday’s game: Phillies (split squad) at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root. Phillies: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Phillies: TBA. Pirates: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA.

>>> Thursday: Off day

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates A.M. — They’re (not quite) baaaack!

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

DreamOutfieldUPDATED 10:53 a.m. – BRADENTON, Fla. —  For just the third time this spring, the entire Dream Outfield — Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco — will be in the lineup on Saturday.  ….  Most of the Dream Outfield will be in the lineup today. LF Gregory Polanco was scratched a few minutes ago to do what what club is calling left shoulder discomfort.

UPDATE 12:12 p.m. – Reporters were waiting for Polanco to exit an outfielders meeting, but he cut down a hallway without speaking. No further word on when/how he was injured. I did not see him on the field at the end of batting practice.  I was not out there for the start of BP, so I can’t say for sure he was on the field then.

RF Andrew McCuchen and CF Starling Marte will start against the Tigers. The World Baseball Classic split up the trio and kept them out of Pirates camp for a couple of weeks.

“I was excited … just to say, man, we got our whole starting outfield starting in the WBC,” McCutchen said. “I think that was pretty cool. I don’t think there was any (other MLB team) where you have three (starters) in the outfield in the WBC. That was really cool. You get a sense of pride to see us out there performing and doing well.


McCutchen and Harrison appreciated the chance to play for manager Jim Leyland on Team USA.

McCutchen said he joined Team USA already aware of Leyland’s success in the majors, including his time as the Pirates’ manager. “It was awesome to be managed by him. He let me go out there and do my thing. All he wanted from us was just wanting to win the game. Whatever it takes, whatever we’ve got to do to prepare, whatever we’ve got to do to get ready, you go and get ready and go out there and play hard. It was huge to hear the things that he had to say to us. Some stuff stuck. It was cool for him to manage us.”

Harrison was struck by Leyland’s pregame demeanor. “I like Jim a lot. Old-school guy. He’s not a guy who gave a rah-rah speech; it was just, ‘Hey, go play. If I need to motivate you, you’re in the wrong place or doing the wrong thing.’ That was something I like to hear. We don’t need any extra motivation. We play this game because we love it.”

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle doesn’t expect the time missed in camp will affect his three outfielders, who have switched spots this year. “I don’t have any concerns about that,” Hurdle said. “There are some nuances they’ll be able to work on. It’s out of hands. There was nothing we could do about (the WBC), so there was no reason to stress about it. Now, we’ve got them back. We’ll get them plugged in together as often as we can and go from there.”

>>> UPDATE 11:39 a.m. – Chris Stewart had an MRI last night after tweaking his left groin while running to first base in the seventh inning. Doctors have advised treatment and his status is day to day.  “It’s been than expected,” Stewart said. “I didn’t feel too bad yesterday. I definitely felt a grab as I was running to first base and must have shut it down early enough to not do any more damage.”  It’s uncertain if Stewart will be ready for opening day.

SunriseWawa2017

>>> Here’s a shot of a pretty sunrise over WaWa this morning to look at as you ponder my  links:

Jung Ho Kang remains in work visa limbo, creating at least the possibility he will not play for the Pirates this season

Notebook … in which Cutch and J-Hay return, Trevor Williams looks sharp and Stewie feels some discomfort.

Pirates 4, Rays 0: A demo of really poor defense by the Rays.

>>> Saturday’s game: Tigers at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root

Tigers: Andrew Romine 8, Tyler Collins 9, Mikie Mahtook 7, Alex Avila 3, James McCann 2, Dominic Ficociello 5, JaCoby Jones DH, Dixon Machado 6, Brendan Ryan 4. RHP Anibal Sanchez. Also pitching for Tigers: LH Daniel Stumpf, RH Mark Lowe, LH Kyle Ryan.

Pirates (updated roster): Adam Frazier 6, Josh Harrison 4, Andrew McCutchen 9, Gregory Polanco Jose Osuna 7, Starling Marte 8, Francisco Cervelli 2, John Jaso 3, Phil Gosselin 5, RHP Tyler Glasnow 1. Also pitching for Pirates: LH Steven Brault, RH Jared Hughes.

>>> RHP Juan Nicasio, LHP Tony Watson and RHP Daniel Hudson each are scheduled to work one inning (15 pitches) today in a minor league game at Pirate City.

>>> Sunday’s game: Pirates at Phillies, 1:05 p.m., Spectrum Field, Clearwater. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Josh Lindblom. Also pitching for Pirates: LH Wade LeBlanc, RH A.J, Schugel, RH Jared Hughes. Phillies. Lineup TBA. RHP Clay Buchholz. Also pitching for Phillies: RH Hector Neris, RH Luis Garcia, RH Joaquin Benoit

>>> Monday’s game: Twins at Pirates, 6:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Twins: Lineup TBA. RHP Phil Hughes. Also pitching for Twins: LH Buddy Boshers, RH Michael Tonkin, RH J.T. Chargois. Pirates: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA.

>>> Tuesday’s game: Red Sox at Pirates, 6:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM. Red Sox: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Red Sox: TBA. Pirates: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA.

>>> Wednesday’s game: Phillies (split squad) at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root. Phillies: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Phillies: TBA. Pirates: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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Pirates A.M. — Cutch, J-Hay return. Kang? Well …

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By Rob Biertempfel

CutchMedalBRADENTON, Fla. — Andrew McCutchen came back from the World Baseball Classic with a gold medal … and a case of laryngitis. “I’m a little hoarse,” McCutchen said. “It was a heck of a lot of fun. So much that I lost my voice.” 

Josh Harrison also was in the clubhouse this morning. Like McCutchen, Harrison wore his gold medal from the tournament. “It was exciting. My first time in international play. Just the environment with the crowds was something. We’re used to noise, but not with a band playing the whole time. I liked it. It was an experience I won’t forget.”

Kang head shot>>> UPDATE 10:09 a.m. — According to Korean media reports, Jung Ho Kang application for a work visa was denied, which jeopardizes his chances of playing for the Pirates this season.

On March 3, Kang was convicted for driving under the influence in a Dec. 2 incident near Seoul and received a eight-month jail term. Although Kang’s prison sentence was suspended, it hampers his chances of being approved for a work visa.

Naver Sports reported on Friday morning that Kang’s visa request was not approved.

Kang has appealed his sentence in hopes of receiving a lighter penalty that could aid his chances of getting a work visa. A decision is expected within the next few weeks, according to The Korea Times.

The Pirates did not immediately respond to a request for a statement on Kang’s status. Manager Clint Hurdle was asked about Kang during an interview with MLB Network Radio. “Your information is about the same as what I’ve got,” Hurdle said. “We are staying in contact with Jung Ho and in contract with his interpreter. We’re focusing on the men we have here. That’s the best I can tell you. We’d love to have him back (but) we don’t have him back. We’re going to adapt and continue to pull … (and see) if this can come to some type of conclusion that’s profitable for both sides down the road.”

This was Kang’s third DUI conviction in South Korea. He also was under investigation by Chicago police for an alleged sexual assault incident last June.

Kang signed a four-year, $11 million contract with the Pirates in January 2015. Because he is under contract, Kang cannot play for another team in South Korea without permission from the Pirates.

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Opening day bench, backup situation at shortstop coming into focus.

Notebook … in which Marte plays through pain, Hutchison absorbs some hits, and the GM offers some thoughts.

Red Sox 10, Pirates 7 … Marte hit a slam. As for the pitching, avert your eyes. 

>>> Friday’s game: Rays at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root.

Rays: Logan Morrison 3, Daniel Robertson 6, Chris Dickerson 7, Brad Miller 4, Curt Casali 2, Mallex Smith 8, Michael McKenry DH, Shane Peterson 9, Alec Sole 5 RHP Erasmo Ramirez. Also pitching for Rays: RH Diego Moreno, RH Danny Farquhar, RH Ryan Garton, RH Neil Wagner.

Pirates: Adam Frazier 7, Jordy Mercer 6, John Jaso 9, David Freese 5, Josh Bell 3, Phil Gosselin 4, Austin Meadows 8, Chris Stewart 2, RHP Trevor Williams 1. Also pitching for Pirates: LH Tony Watson, RH Daniel Hudson, LH Felipe Rivero, RH Juan Nicaso

>>> Saturday’s game: Tigers at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root. Tigers: Lineup TBA. RHP Anibal Sanchez. Also pitching for Tigers: LH Daniel Stumpf, RH Mark Lowe, LH Kyle Ryan Pirates: TBA. RHP Tyler Glasnow. Also pitching for Pirates: LH Steven Brault, RH Jared Hughes

>>> Sunday’s game: Pirates at Phillies, 1:05 p.m., Spectrum Field, Clearwater. Radio: 93.7 FM. Pirates: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA. Phillies. Lineup TBA. RHP Clay Buchholz. Also pitching for Phillies: RH Hector Neris, RH Luis Garcia, RH Joaquin Benoit

>>> Monday’s game: Twins at Pirates, 6:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM Twins: Lineup TBA. RHP Phil Hughes. Also pitching for Twins: LH Buddy Boshers, RH Michael Tonkin, RH J.T. Chargois. Pirates: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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– Rob Biertempfel