BRADENTON, Fla. — Jameson Taillon didn’t have his best stuff Wednesday. And that he yet still put up a clean stat line is a testament both to his talent and his current confidence level.
The Pirates’ second-year No. 2 starter said as much afterwards, both lamenting some of his pitches and simultaneously and palpably (and humbly) taking great pride in the way he was able to challenge good hitters when behind in the count – and still get outs.
Taillon’s demeanor – both on the mound during games and in the clubhouse between them – belies a man who has just 18 major-league games on his résumé.
The No. 2 overall draft pick always believed he had major-league starter talent in him. But even the most confident of people can have some apprehension until when and if they actually perform at that level. Taillon’s 3.38 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 104 MLB innings last season removed any doubt.
“I think you know you can do it; you can never lose that self-confidence,” Taillon was saying last week. “It’s nice have to kind of done a little circuit up there and know how it works. But that being said I’m still preparing as if I’m not guaranteed a spot, and I think that will serve me well.”
“He’s hungry, he just wants to keep on learning and be one of the best of the best,” pitching coach Ray Searage said. “And I say all the time: his maturity is way beyond his years. He’s got a good feel for the game. Some people are born to pitch. And I think Jameson is one of those people.”
>>> You want links? I’ve got links:
“The Pirates definitely value it a little more than maybe the average team in Major League Baseball as a whole”
>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates (13-5) at Red Sox (8-10), 6:05 p.m., JetBlue Park at Fenway South, Fort Myers, Fla. Webcast: pirates.com
Pirates: Adam Frazier 6, Phil Gosselin 4, Josh Bell 3, Jose Osuna 7, Elias Diaz 2, Alen Hanson 9, Eury Perez 8, Gift Ngoepe 5. RHP Ivan Nova 1.
Also pitching for the Pirates: RH Edgar Santana, RH A.J. Schugel, LH Dan Runzler, RH Donvydas Neverauskas
Red Sox: Lineup TBA. LHP Chris Sale
Also pitching for the Red Sox: RH Craig Kimbrel, RH Heath Hembree, LH Robbie Ross Jr., RH Jamie Callahan.
>>> My spot start has ended: My 10-day stint in Bradenton is up, so as of Thursday I’m back in Pittsburgh. The incomparable Rob Biertempfel is back with the ol’ ballclub starting then. I can only hope he’s returning and doesn’t have too much of a mess to clean up (figuratively in regards to the beat, and literally at the condo at Casa de Trib). Thanks for following along.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.
BRADENTON, Fla. — There is finally an El Toro sighting for the Grapefruit League this spring.
And it’s coming at a very familiar place.
Four days after signing with the Orioles (and waiting four weeks into camp before doing so), Pedro Alvarez is in their lineup for the first time Wednesday when the O’s make the short drive up from Sarasota to face the Pirates at LECOM Park.
Alvarez, of course, spent seven springs playing here (when it was still called McKechnie Field, of course). But, as is well known to Pirates fans, he did it at third base – until his struggles there compounded to the point he spent his final season with the team at first base.
In terms of Alvarez’s free-agent market value, his fielding (led the NL in errors three consecutive seasons) and on-base numbers (.311 career OBP) are poor enough they overshadow prodigious power (led the NL in HR in ’13, hit 47 over the past two seasons in just 867 plate appearances, 14th among active players in AB per HR).
The Orioles are trying the newest experiment in regards to Alvarez’s glove: the outfield.
Manager Buck Showalter insists Alvarez can handle it. We’ll see – but we won’t see it today at LECOM.
>>>>> Tuesday was a wonderful day here. After an exact month straight of work for everyone involved, it was an off day (mostly) for the Pirates.
But in terms of prep for the season – in particular, for starting pitchers – Neal Huntington threw some proverbial cold water on it: “Off days are great thing,” the general manager said Monday, “but they’re also a day we don’t get nine innings.”
In the context of stretching out the starting pitchers (both for Pittsburgh and Triple-A Indianapolis) as well as evaluate the five pitchers purportedly in a competition for the final two rotation spots, missing out on those nine valuable innings.
Luckily, the Pirates have Ray Searage.
“Ray,” Huntington said, “is a master puzzle man in terms of putting together the innings and how we get innings.”
>>> You want links? I’ve got, well, one link (hey, cut me some slack – yesterday was the first “off day” of the spring. And I still worked):
“We don’t come from a very big town. … Successful guys, I guess, kind of stick together.”
BRADENTON, Fla. — Repeat after me: Spring training statistics don’t matter. Everyone will tell you that.
OK, now that that’s out of the way… let’s start to panic about why Tyler Glasnow’s statistics are so bad.
He’s pitched in four games (one of them does not count in his “official” stats that you will see because it was not a Grapefruit League game and was a *true* exhibition – don’t let Rob Manfred hear you calling all the other March games “exhibitions”).
His line in those four games combined: 8 2/3 innings, 15 hits, 12 runs (all earned), seven walks, nine strikeouts. That’s good for a 12.46 ERA, 2.19 WHIP, .455 opponent batting average and 1.29 K/BB ratio.
That’s not good. Even accounting for the small sample size and for the – again – fact that it is only spring training, it’s certainly alarming that a pitcher who is so highly regarded (he’d been a top-20 MLB prospect and Pirates’ top-3 prospect in both 2015 and ’16) is having so much trouble.
Couple it with the problems he had in his four major-league starts last season and it’s a bit unnerving.
Most of all, though, Glasnow’s fragile confidence is what’s most telling. He just seems, well, off. Even his I’m-thinking-about-things-too-much explanation for a balk he committed in Monday’s loss to the Braves in Orlando: “I was in the middle of the slide step, so I was already in the middle of going forward, I should have just thrown it. I was in the middle of the delivery.”
Then, here’s manager Clint Hurdle’s reaction to a question about the balk, one in which the reporter gave him every opportunity to brush it aside: “You can’t just say it didn’t happen. That’s part of his game awareness. There’s work to be done there. Because he will tell you if he has an opportunity like that again, you step off the rubber right there. You turn and you get an out. You don’t, (then) you balk, you move the guy up, you give up the run. So that’s part of his game awareness. I think he’s making strides in shortening up his delivery at times when it’s appropriate. I think he’s found a way to make his feet and hands work well as far as throwing over. So I think there’s some areas he’s developed.”
In the bigger picture, Glasnow almost exclusively and repeatedly kept coming back to Monday’s directive from pitching coach Ray Searage to only throw fastballs when behind in the count. Though I never got a chance to ask Searage what the exact rationale behind this was, it’s a logical assumption it was to help Glasnow avoid a meltdown like he had in his prior outing against the Dominicans last Wednesday when he walked four batters before retiring anybody in his third inning of work and got pulled.
Then this outing, while throwing fastballs, he at least was finding the plate (only one walk) – but it was four consecutive hits that did him in.
Either way, not being able to get any hitters out? That’s, um, a problem. It’s almost pick your poison – and Glasnow was palpably annoyed he had no recourse Monday but to throw his 94-mph fastball.
Hurdle, it could be interpreted, didn’t take too well to the assertion that Glasnow was conveying the idea that his hands were tied:
“Ray wanted him to go in there with a gameplan to follow. And the gameplan was fine for two innings – so now when the gameplan doesn’t work, where do you go with that? Do you point the finger at Ray for the gameplan or do you look at the execution of the pitches and where they ended up? I know what we’re looking at. We haven’t been result-oriented with any pitcher or any player out here at spring training. We’re looking for execution, we’re looking for pace and rhythm on the mound. We’re looking for an ability to follow that glove and dot the ball with downhill angle and throw some low strikes. So he’s got some work to do.”
Earlier in his postgame comments, Hurdle in response to question about Glasnow following orders: “Well, Ray wanted him to use his fastball as long as he was behind in the counts; once he got ahead in the counts he could go to breaking stuff. So first two innings, everything was fine. Ball got elevated in the third inning — and they didn’t miss it. I think it was five shots at getting out of the inning: a walk and four consecutive hits. So there is work still to be done. We saw some good things the first two innings and when you get better location in the third inning and we weren’t able to do that.”
And just in case you think Hurdle was just flame-throwing his young precocious righty, don’t. He came out in defense of him when some dummy asked Hurdle a question seeming to paint Glasnow in a negative light:
“I think you guys (in the media) need to also revisit what you’re writing about him and what we’re talking about. He pitched in Triple-A (last season), and nobody is getting on base; he pitches up here and people are getting on base. Guys are better hitters and there’s better lineups. So that evolution and that development and that curve is a challenge for any young pitcher. We need to continue to work with him and challenge him to continue to find ways to get out of innings with quick contact. The counts also picked up and got lengthy – he still had every opportunity to get a quick ground ball — those are things he’s still working to do. There’s better hitters up here though; the breaking ball has got to be sharp and there’s got to be more depth to it. Fastball has got to have some late life and then I saw him moving the ball around the first two innings but when the ball is elevated up here it’s hard for anyone to pitch. And I think he was set on 94 (mph) – that’s nothing that’s going to rearrange anyone’s mindset at the plate. He’s just got some work to do. We like him and like a lot of the things he does, but he’s just got some more work to do.”
Anyway… Glasnow is still very young. And very, very talented. It’s far, far, FAR from time to give up on him or even hit any panic buttons in that general vicinity. But it seems that his chances of winning a spot in the 2017 opening day rotation have evaporated. And would have thought that all last April and May when everyone was crushing the Pirates for not calling him up?
>>> “Head to the beach. Relax” – Clint Hurdle
Tuesday is the first off day for the Pirates since Grapefruit League play began Feb. 25. It’ll also be the first scheduled off day from any formal activity or mandatory appearances for the pitchers and catchers for a month straight since they reported on Valentine’s Day.
>>> You want links? I’ve got links:
“He’s making himself valuable to Clint, to be on the team and to help us win games.”
BRADENTON, Fla. — Fans can debate the on-field contributions and statistical worth of John Jaso while he’s midway through a two-year, $8 million contract. He hit .268/.353/.413 last season, primarily as a first baseman).
But when it comes to intangibles, count Clint Hurdle as a fan.
“John is as a good a teammate as I have had in a clubhouse,” the Pirates’ skipper said. “And I’ve been managing a while now.”
Hurdle has been an MLB manager for 14 seasons.
Asked a simple, almost-random postgame question about Jaso after Sunday’s game at LECOM Park, Hurdle gave an expansive, 200-word answer gushing about the dreadlocked unassuming infielder.
“He shows up every day, and he will do whatever is asked of him that day to help his team win,” Hurdle said. “He’s bought into moving around and trying new positions. This is a man who wants to play baseball; he doesn’t want to DH. And he’s just so good in so many ways in the clubhouse. He’s got no ego, he’s very smart. There’s a lot of different topics you can run up the flagpole that John can throw something in on — and with some research. He’s not just throwing out opinions without experience. I like the man.”
Almost exclusively a catcher (and part-time designated hitter) over six seasons in the American League. Jaso was signed to play first base and bat leadoff for the Pirates last season. Certainly not the profile of the traditional, stereotypical leadoff hitter, Jaso fit more of a mold in that because of his plate discipline and ability to get on base.
It was an up-and-down 2016 in that area, in particular, and at the plate in general for Jaso.
Jaso’s on-base percentage by month last season: .389, .348, .313, .262, .455, .383
His OPS by month last season: .845, .775, .609, .512, .969, .987
Through it all, Hurdle remains enamored.
“He’s, I think, the one player I’ve had who I don’t think I have ever seen him argue about a call at the plate,” Hurdle said. “It’s been one full season and now one spring now. And I can’t say that about anyone else I’ve ever had that. Whatever happens, happens – and he moves on.
“But he plays with intensity, he plays with confidence, and he wants to compete and he wants to play well. You feel that every day.”
>>> MORNING UPDATE: Pirates send out Kingham and Newman
“None of them did anything to deserve getting sent out camp; it just became a matter of innings.”
>>> You want (more) links? I’ve got (more!) links:
“It’s tough when you get the news that you’re going to be out more than a year and a half,” Sanchez said last week. “It’s a job that you love, and you don’t even know if you’re coming back well from that. It’s unfathomable the time you have to spend to get back to where you want to be”
“He’s in competition with three or four other guys,” Pirates managerClint Hurdlesaid of Hanson, who at one point was one of the organization’s top prospects but now finds himself facing an uphill climb just to make the 25-man roster as a bench piece. “And what we’re looking for is dependability out of that position.”
Because of his speed (205 steals in the minors) and versatility (2B, 3B, SS, OF), Hanson potentially could be a valuable reserve for the Pirates this season. But like Hurdle said, he’s kind of stuck in a logjam of players (Adam Frazier,Phil Gosselin,Max Moroff,Gift Ngoepe,Chris Bostickamong players on the 40-man roster alone) who play similar positions (not even counting the “starters” and –until a certain somebody arrives stateside– starter-for-now David Freese).
“We are going to keep giving him opportunities because he can do some things that you like a lot,” Hurdle said. “The versatility can play and can help out. It’s just finding that niche to be a dependable player with the glove. And he’s working hard to become that.”
BRADENTON, Fla. — Three-quarters of the Pirates’ regular lineup aren’t with the team right now. Two of their three established starting pitchers (Ivan Nova and Jameson Taillon) are throwing simulated games on their own this week.
In short, there’s even less star power right now during the Pirates’ Grapefruit League games than there even usually is for spring training.
With one notable exception: the bullpen.
Friday, Tony Watson, Juan Nicasio and Daniel Hudson pitched against the Rays at LECOM Park. Saturday, Jared Hughes and Antonio Bastardo are scheduled to throw in Sarasota against the Orioles. Add in Felipe Rivero on Thursday, and that’s not only, essentially, the entire Pirates’ bullpen (with an unnamed long man added to that mix – unless the team decides to carry eight relievers early on) – it has the look of what *potentially* could be a very strong major-league bullpen, too.
“The bullpen has been tremendous,” pitching coach Ray Searage said. “We’ve got a real good plethora of guys down there – we also have depth, too, which we never really had before. But there’s a lot of influence with Watson and Hudson with everybody else. The two anchors.”
“The bullpen runs through (Watson),” Rivero said. “He’s like the boss in this bullpen. Everything that he says, we’ve got to pay attention and always execute it, because he’s the guy in the bullpen. The closer is the owner of the bullpen for us.”
>>> Of note from today’s lineup are the players attempting to show further position flexibility (to borrow a football term from another North Shore-based leader): Gift Ngoepe is at third base (three career professional regular-season games there). Phil Gosselin is at first base (six career professional regular-season games there).
“(Bowman Field) will be in much better shape than when I was there in 1991 – Major League Baseball has guaranteed us that,” Hurdle said. “I lived about 15 miles north of town in Tommy Herr‘s hunting cabin in a little town called Trout Run. I spent a lot of time in Bowman Field. We had left Jackson (Mississippi, the Mets’ Double-A home for the previous 17 seasons), the Binghamton (N.Y.) ballpark (where the Double-A Mets still call home) wasn’t finished yet. We needed to find a free-agent site to play one season, and we found Williamsport and we played in the Eastern League. So I’m very familiar with Bowman Field.
“(The MLB Little League Classic game) will be a huge draw. Huge draw. I think it’s going to be a great night for baseball within that venue to reignite the younger kids that are playing in town. The city is electric that time of year anyway. It should be fun.”
>>> You want links? I’ve got links:
“If he’s a secret, he probably won’t be a secret for too long.”
BRADENTON, Fla. — We’re at the midpoint of spring training, so I’m taking a week’s hiatus from the sunny Gulf Coast. Whilst I’m away, follow Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) for Pirates coverage.
>>> Although Gregory Polanco was in the lineup for the Dominican Republic’s pre-WBC games against the Pirates and Orioles, he probably will get limited playing time in the tournament. When Adrian Beltre (who was not in the lineup yesterday vs. the Pirates) is the designated hitter, Nelson Cruz will start in the outfield and push Polanco onto the bench.
If the DR makes a run deep into the tourney, Polanco might go a few days in a row without getting a lot of regular game action. If the DR advances to the title game on March 22, Polanco will get just about a week in Pirates camp before the season opener April 3 vs. the Red Sox. The question is, will that be enough to get Polanco ready for the season?
>>> Pirates 3B prospect Eric Wood went 3 for 4, including two home runs, for Team Canada yesterday vs. the Yankees.
>>> Austin Meadows lugs a plastic gallon jug of water with him everywhere as he moves about the clubhouse each morning, “Just a habit,” Meadows said. “I drink about two gallons of water a day. Using (the jug) makes it easy to know how much I’ve drank.”
>>> UPDATE 11:41 a.m. — The MLB Little League Classic was finalized today when the commissioner’s office announced the Aug 20 game vs. the Cardinals will be moved from PNC Park to BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pa. The game will be televised on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball.”
If you’ve already bought tickets to the game formerly set for Pittsburgh, you cannot use them in Williamsport. You have a choice to make: request a full refund by March 31 (that’s just 22 days away, for those of you scoring at home) or trigger the “exchange option” — in essence, swap your useless tickets for tickets to any “black” or “white” level home game. With the exchange option, you also get a food/beverage credit equal to the value of your tickets.
The Pirates will remain the home team for the Little League Classic. Also, players from both teams will attend Little League World Series games that day.
By the way, game time for the Aug. 19 game against the Cardinals has been moved to 4:05 p.m. That game will be played at PNC Park.
>>> Thursday’s game: Pirates at Rays, 1:05 p.m., Charlotte Sports Park, Port Charlotte. Webcast: pirates.com
Pirates: Adam Frazier 6, Alen Hanson 5, Phil Gosselin 4, Jose Osuna 3, Elias Diaz 2, Danny Ortiz 9, Chris Bostick 8, Barrett Barnes 7, RHP Chad Kuhl 1. Also pitching for Pirates: LH Felipe Rivero, RH A.J. Schugel and LH Wade LeBlanc
Rays: Lineup TBA. LHP Blake Snell. Also pitching for Rays: RH Tommy Hunter, RH David Carpenter, RH Ryan Garton, RH Kevin Gadea, LH Justin Marks
>>> Friday’s game: Rays at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. Radio: 93.7 FM. TV: Root Rays: Lineup TBA. RHP Matt Andriese. Also pitching for Rays: TBA Pirates: Lineup TBA. RHP Drew Hutchison. Also pitching for Pirates: RH Juan Nicasio, LH Tony Watson, RH Daniel Hudson, RH Dovydas Neverauskus
>>> Saturday’s game: Pirates at Orioles, 1:05 p.m., Ed Smith Stadium, Sarasota. Radio: 93.7 FM Pirates: Lineup TBA. Also pitching for Pirates: TBA. Orioles: Lineup TBA. RHP Mike Wright. Also pitching for Orioles: TBA.
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
BRADENTON, Fla. — It’s going to be a bit unusual this afternoon seeing Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco wearing visiting uniforms at LECOM Park. The two outfielders are playing for the Dominican Republic’s World Baseball Classic team, which will play an exhibition against the Pirates. On Tuesday, the DR lost 5-4 against the Orioles.
Manager Clint Hurdle expects the DR will use its regular starters. “I’ve got to imagine they’ll throw their guys at us, because they’ve got games coming up,” Hurdle said. “It’s going to be a good test.”
It should be interesting to watch Polanco and Marte dig in against Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow. “That will be different,” Hurdle said with a smile. “We’ll see how our pitching philosophy works out against them.”
>>> DR manager Tony Pena talks about his memories of McKechnie Field and what he thinks about Polanco and Marte (please ignore the cameo appearance by Jayson Starks camera phone; it was tight quarters in the dugout):
>>> Wednesday’s game: Dominican Republic at Pirates, 1:05 p.m., LECOM Park, Bradenton. Webcast: pirates.com
Dominican Republic: Carlos Santana 3, Robinson Cano 4, Manny Machado 5, Jose Bautista 7, Nelson Cruz DH, Starling Marte 8, Jean Segura 6, Gregory Polanco 9, Wilington Castillo 2. RHP Wily Peralta
Also pitching for Dominican Republic: RH Tyler Eppler, LH Cody Dickson, LH Jared Lakind, RH Cesar Valdez
Pirates: Alen Hanson 4, Jordy Mercer 6, Josh Bell 3, David Freese 5, John Jaso 9, Eury Perez 7, Danny Ortiz 8, Jackson Williams 2, Gerrit Cole RHP.
Also pitching for Pirates: RH Tyler Glasnow, LH Dan Runzler, RH Angel Sanchez, RH Pat Light
>>> The Dominican team will wear black armbands in honor of Andy Marte and Yordano Ventura.
>>> There definitely is a heightened security presence, including bomb-sniffing doges, at LECOM Park. The DR team arrived on two buses and passed through a tented area (with a black curtain) as they entered the clubhouse.
>>> Three Pirates minor leaguers — Tyler Eppler, Cody Dickson and Jared Lakind — will work out of the DR’s bullpen today.
>>> Most of the folks who follow me on Twitter apparently don’t particularly care about the WBC:
BRADENTON, Fla. — If you were filling out the Pirates’ lineup card, where would you put Josh Bell? He mostly batted third or fourth at Triple-A Indy and Double-A Altoona, but …
“I feel like in the minor leagues, it was a little bit different,” Bell said. “You get up here and there are guys that have been doing it for years. Last year, I felt comfortable hitting second. I feel comfortable fifth or sixth. Wherever I can help the team, wherever I can learn my responsibilities in that part of the lineup. I could lead off if I had to. I’ve done that in the past. Wherever I’m slated.”
>>> The relocation of the Aug. 20 game vs. the Cardinals is not yet finalized, but should be a done deal in the next couple of days. The game will be played at BB&T Ballpark at Bowman Field, a 4,500-seat minor league stadium built in 1926.
Because the game is being played domestically, MLB did not need the permission of the Players’ Association to change the venue. That was not the case last year, when the union’s opposition shot down the proposed games in Puerto Rico between the Pirates and Marlins.
Fans who already bought tickets for the Aug. 20 game at PNC Park will be reimbursed by the Pirates. The Pirates will be reimbursed an undisclosed amount by MLB for the revenue they’ll lose by giving up the home game.
Bowman Field is where the short-season Class A Williamsport Crosscutters (a Phillies affiliate) play. Tony Watson and JaredHughes made their pro debuts there. “Who’s the super-fan there?” Watson asked. Hughes remembered: “Rhashan. He’s their director of smiles. He’ll be there, for sure.” Rhashan West-Bey is indeed a fixture at Bowman Field, as this MLB.com story from 2012 explains.