Beware of spring training stats

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LAKELAND, Fla. — Be careful when you read spring training numbers.

Some, like Zach Duke’s linescore from today’s 8-5 loss against the Tigers (3 2/3 innings, nine hits, eight runs, one walk, three strikeouts) might not have much bearing on the regular season. Once the games start to count, pitchers pitch differently. Balls aren’t carried over the fence by stiff winds off the Gulf of Mexico.

Examine Duke’s stats from his five Grapefruit League outings. The lefty went 0-2 with a 6.27 ERA. Not good. But in 18 2/3 innings, he allowed 19 hits and — especially encouraging—- he had more strikeouts (13) than walks (eight). Breathe easier, folks.

“He had a solid spring,” manager John Russell said. “He’s ready to go. I know he’s looking forward to the season. He did some really good things this spring.”

That’s true, Russell said, of the rest of the starting rotation: “You can see it their last few starts with all of them. (Ross) Ohlendorf struggled a little bit, but he’s back on track. He threw a great side (Tuesday). They’re all where they need to be.”

— Here’s a statistical trend Duke wouldn’t mind seeing in the regular season: in four at-bats this spring, he has three hits — all doubles. Today, he mashed an RBI double to center off Justin Verlander.

— More happy stats: Andrew McCutchen extended his hitting streak to seven games. He’s batting .340 (17 for 50) in 17 games. Aki Iwamura is batting .295 and has hit safely in six of his past seven games. Lastings Milledge went 2 for 4 today to bump up his average to .289 — although only two of his 13 hits have gone for extra bases. Reliever Jack Taschner has notched 14 strikeouts in 11 innings.

— Rule 5 pick John Raynor went 0 for 1, dropping his batting average to .238. He’s 0 for 16 since hitting a home run March 19 against the Red Sox. Raynor is one of three guys — joining Steve Pearce and Ramon Vazquez — fighting for one open roster spot.

“He’s still trying to keep a pretty good approach, but he’s facing some pretty good pitchers,” Russell said. “Some of them have been pretty good tough on us. He’s still fighting, still working hard. We’ll see where we go. With a spring training evaluation, you take into account who they face and how things go. We’ll continue to take a look at it.”

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Jaramillo gets roster spot

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LAKELAND, Fla. — This morning, Erik Kratz was reassigned to minor league camp, meaning Jason Jaramillo will open the season as the backup catcher. Kratz will be the everyday catcher at Triple-A Indianapolis.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Pirates — 1. Aki Iwamura 2b, 2. Andrew McCutchen cf, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 4. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Lastings Milledge lf, 6. Jeff Clement 1b, 7. Andy LaRoche 3b, 8. Zach Duke lhp, 9. Bobby Crosby ss.

Tigers — 1. Ryan Raburn cf, 2. Johnny Damon dh, 3. Magglio Ordonez rf, 4. Miguel Cabrera 1b, 5. Carlos Guillen lf, 6. Gerald Laird c, 7. Scott Sizemore 2b, 8. Ramon Santiago 3b, 9. Adam Everett ss. RHP Justin Verlander will pitch.

– The Pirates will cut two players from camp and put pitchers Hanrahan and Jose Ascanio on the disabled list before the 3 p.m. Sunday deadline. Also, they’ll have to clear spots on the 40-man roster for relievers D.J. Carrasco and Jack Taschner.

–After spring training ends, Hanrahan will pitch in minor league games at Pirates City, then might join Indy when its season begins April 8 in Columbus. “But if it’s like 30 degrees there, I’ll just stay in Florida to pitch a few more days,” Hanrahan said. The Pirates will backdate Hanrahan’s DL stint, so he’d be eligible to be activated around April 11.

– Before Monday’s home opener, Andrew McCutchen will be honored for being named the 2009 major league rookie of the year by Baseball America. Sarah Marince will perform God Bless America and 9-year-old Jackie Evancho will sing the national anthem. The ceremonial first pitch will be thrown by Jamie and Ali McMutrie, of Ben Avon, who rescued 53 orphans after the earthquake in Haiti.

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Morton shines in final start

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Charlie Morton’s final spring training start went very well, albeit in a 4-1 loss against the Twins. Morton yielded one run and five hits, walked one and struck out three. Jason Kubel’s solo homer in the fifth inning was the lone stain on Morton’s day.

“Results-wise, that was probably my most complete outing,” said Morton, who posted a 4.38 ERA in six Grapefruit League starts. “One day, I’d be really aggressive. Another day, I’d be throwing my curveball for strikes. Today, it was more a combination of everything coming together. I feel good.”

– Morton will stay behind in Florida when the Pirates break camp Thursday night. He will start (55-60 pitches) Sunday in a minor league game at Pirate City to stay on his normal routine for the regular season.

• After the game, I caught up with former Pitt infielder Jim Negrych, who played three innings for the Pirates and went 0 for 1. Last year, Negrych’s season at Double-A Altoona was cut short by an abdominal injury which required surgery. His recovery was slowed by two separate infections which caused him to drop 45 pounds. For a bit more info on Negrych’s comeback, you’ll have to plunk down 50 cents (or click on our Website to do it for free) and read the Trib.

• The Pirates’ lone run came in the ninth inning. Shelby Ford tripled and scored on Erik Kratz’s ground out.

• Hayden Penn made his Pirates debut Tuesday in a game against the Toronto Blue Jays minor leaguers. The right-hander pitched one scoreless inning and allowed one hit and struck out one. He threw 10 pitches.

• Reliever Joel Hanrahan also pitched two innings against the Blue Jays prospects. The righty gave up two hits, struck out three and threw 26 pitches.

• Ronny Cedeno (lower back stiffness) exercised and did light workouts today at Pirate City. “I should be OK (on Wednesday),” Cedeno told me. He said his back locked up Sunday morning, when he was part of the split-squad that went to Clearwater to play the Phillies. That game was rained out.

• Stephen Strasburg, the top pick in the 2009 draft, will make his minor league debut April 11 against Double-A Altoona at Blair County Ballpark. Steelers defensive end Ziggy Hood will be in the house when the Curve open their season April 8.

• Ex-Buccos update: Freddy Sanchez still has not taken swings against live pitching and will remain in San Francisco Giants training camp when the regular season begins. He had shoulder surgery in December.

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Roster cuts set up bullpen

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — A round of roster cuts this morning has firmed up the bullpen — for now, at least.

Pitchers Jeff Karstens, Steven Jackson, Anthony Claggett, Brian Bass, Vinnie Chulk and Jeremy Powell and catcher Luke Carlin were reassigned to minor league camp.

That leaves seven healthy pitchers — Octavio Dotel, Brendan Donnelly, D.J. Carrasco, Evan Meek, Jack Taschner, Javier Lopez and Hayden Penn — along with Joel Hanrahan and Jose Ascanio, who both will begin the season on the disabled list.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Pirates — 1. John Raynor cf, 2. Ramon Vazquez 3b, 3. Bobby Crosby ss, 4. Ryan Church cf, 5. Steve Pearce 1b, 6. Delwyn Young 2b, 7. Robbie Grossman lf, 8. Jason Jaramillo c, 9. Charlie Morton rhp

Twins — 1. Denard Span cf, 2. Orlando Hudson 2b, 3. Joe Mauer c, 4. Justin Morneau 1b, 5. Michael Cuddyer rf, 6. Jim Thome dh, 7. Jason Kubel lf, J.J. Hardy ss, 9. Nick Punto 3b. Francisco Liriano lhp

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Moss out of the picture

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BRADENTON, Fla. — The burden of showing the Pirates got something worthwhile from the Jason Bay trade now falls to Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris.

Chris Hansen is rehabbing from a rare nerve injury, and his future status remains in doubt. This afternoon, outfielder Brandon Moss was designated for assignment.

Management would like to have Moss back, so they could send him to Triple-A and try to get him back on track. But it is more likely another team will pluck him off the waiver wire.

“At the end of spring training, it’s a wild card,” GM Neal Huntington said. “All it takes is one team to claim him. We would love to keep him in the organization. We’ll cross our fingers and see what plays out of the next week or so.”

If he is not claimed, would Moss even want to come back to the Pirates organization? Moss slipped out of McKechnie Field and hasn’t returned phone calls to answer that question, so I posed it to Huntington.

“He just wants to be successful,” Huntington said. “Everybody wants to stay in the big leagues, but there also are times when it’s better to just go out and play. If he goes somewhere, he might be on the bench and might not get the at-bats that he needs. There’s been too many guys who’ve hung around the big leagues because they’ve had just enough ability but didn’t get the at-bats or innings that might’ve allowed them to get their careers back on track.”

Manager John Russell wishes Moss well.

“He’s had some struggles but I think he still has the potential to be a good player,” Russell said. “We’ll see where it goes the next few days.”

– Moss was DFA’ed to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for right-hander Hayden Penn, who was claimed off waivers from the Florida Marlins. Penn, 25, was on the Marlins’ Opening Day roster in 2009 and went 1-0 with a 7.77 ERA in 16 outings (one start). After being demoted to Triple-A, he went 2-4 with a 4.11 ERA in 14 games (13 starts).

Penn was the Baltimore Orioles’ fifth-round draft pick in 2002. Three years later, he became the 29th Oriole to make his major league debut before turning 21.

In 30 games (15 starts) in the majors, Penn is 4-6 with an 8.89 ERA.

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New-look batting order this year

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BRADENTON, Fla. — At first glance., the Pirates’ batting order today might look a bit odd. Get used to it.

Manager John Russell revealed this morning that he plans to regularly bat the starting pitcher eighth, followed by shortstop Ronny Cedeno. Aki Iwamura will hit in the No. 1 spot, followed by Andrew McCutchen.

“It really seems to make a lot of sense, a way to get more guys in scoring position in front of Aki, Andrew, (Garrett) Jones and (Ryan) Doumit,” Russell said.

I’ll throw out a few numbers and take a closer look at the plan in tomorrow’s Trib.

Lineups for today’s game:

Astros — 1. Jeff Keppinger 2b, J.R. Towles c, 3. Hunter Pence rf, 4. Geoff Blum ss, 5. Jason Michaels cf, 6. Chris Johnson 3b, 7. Chris Shelton 1b, 8. Edwin Maysonet lf, 9. Gustavo Chacin lhp

Pirates — 1. Aki Iwamura 2b, 2. Andrew McCutchen cf, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 4. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Lastings Milledge lf, 6. Jeff Clement 1b, 7. Andy LaRoche 3b, 8. Paul Maholm lhp, 9. Bobby Crosby ss

– Cedeno, by the way, was scatched due to a sore back. He’s listed as day to day and told me he expects to be back in action tomorrow.

– Reliever Joel Hanrahan (elbow) will throw 2 innings/40 pitches tomorrow in a minor league game at Pirate City.

– D.J. Carrasco (3 innings/45 pitches), Brian Bass (2 innings) and Jeremy Powell (1 inning) will throw today at Pirate City. They were supposed to pitch yesteday against the Phillies, but the game was rained out.

– Tuesday, Charlie Morton (6-7 innings/95 pitches) will start against the Twins. Javier Lopez, Vinnie Chulk, Anthony Claggett and Jeff Karstens also are slated to pitch.

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Spring training rarities

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Here’s something you don’t see often in spring training games: an intentional walk.

The Pirates trailed 7-1 in the fourth inning when right-hander Ross Ohlendorf faced Carlos Pena with one out and a runner at third base. Pena already had smacked a two-run homer and grounded out. Catcher Ryan Doumit stuck out his arm, and Pena took four balls.

“To set up the double play,” Ohlendorf explained. “And to practice throwing intentional walks, too. I mean, they (the Rays) practiced the squeeze when they were up by five, so …”

That’s another spring training rarity, especially for an American League club. The Rays had runners at first and third with one out in the second inning, when Gabe Kapler dropped down a bunt. Ohlendorf snagged the ball on the run and threw to Doumit to force Pat Burrell at the plate.

“It’s nice to do it,” Ohlendorf said. “We practice squeezes all the time in PFPs, but rarely get them in a game. I’m glad I was able to make a good play. Every out was important to me at the time.”

– Ohlendorf wound up allowing eight runs on 10 hits in four innings, as the Rays rolled to an 8-2 win. That’s two straight awful outings by Ohlendorf, the No. 2 guy in the rotation, and boosted his ERA to 9.82.

“My slider needs to improve, both the action and the location,” Ohlendorf said. “With my fastball, it’s mainly just command. I feel good. I’m encouraged it will come around. I just hope it comes around in my next two starts. My changeup’s been good. My slider has kind of been following its normal path. It’s usually good the first one or two games, then it’s bad for a little while.”

– Closer Octavio Dotel showed no mercy in his one inning. He faced four batters and threw a total of 10 pitches (seven strikes). It’s encouraging to see him dominate a major league team after starting out equally strong in minor league games. “

Dotel also is scheduled to pitch Monday against Houston. It will be his first back-to-back outings this spring.

“There is not a weak enemy,” Dotel said. “In my mind, they’re all hard to get (out). Everybody is the same.”

– Sunday’s other split-squad game against the Phillies in Clearwater was rained out. Long reliever D.J. Carrasco was slated to start that game, so the rainout will not affect the starting rotation’s setup.

– Paul Maholm will start Monday against Houston and throw six innings/90 pitches. Javier Lopez (one inning), Brian Bass (one inning), Anthony Claggett, Jeff Karstens and Jeremy Powell also are scheduled to pitch.

– The Pirates will work out at 1 p.m. Sunday at PNC Park before the season opener. The Los Angeles Dodgers might be a bit weary for their 3 p.m. workout on Sunday. They’re scheduled to arrive in Pittsburgh around 1 a.m. Sunday, after playing an exhibition against the Angels on Saturday afternoon at Dodger Stadium.

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Games 22/23: Split-squad day

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — The Pirates have their final split-squad games today, with half the team here and the rest in Clearwater to play the Phillies. At 6-15, the Pirates have the worst record among NL teams (the Rangers are 6-16) out in Arizona.

Lineups for today’s games:

Pirates — 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Delwyn Young 2b, 3. Garrett Jones rf, 4. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Bobby Crosby ss, 6. Jeff Clement 1b, 7. Brandon Moss lf, 8. Ramon Vazquez 3b, 9. Ross Ohlendorf rhp

Rays — 1. Jason Bartlett ss, 2. Carl Crawford lf, 3. Ben Zobrist 2b, 4. Carlos Pena 1b, 5. Pat Burrell dh, 6. Hank Blalock 3b, 7. Gabe Kapler rf, 8. Sean Rodriquez cf, 9. Alvin Colvina c. Matt Garza rhp

Pirates — 1. Aki Iwamura 2b, 2. Andy LaRoche 3b, 3. Lastings Milledge lf, 4. Ryan Church rf, 5. Steve Pearce 1b, 6. Ronny Cedeno ss, 7. Erik Kratz c, 8. John Raynor cf, 9. D.J. Carrasco rhp

Phillies — TBA

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Cedeno takes the blame

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Shortstop Ronny Cedeno muffed back-to-back plays in the second inning today, then was jeered every time he touched the ball the rest of the game. After the game, Cedeno said quietly at his locker and accepted the blame for his errors, which led to three unearned runs in an 11-2 loss against the Blue Jays.

“Everybody makes errors. It happens,” Cedeno said. “But I’ve got to stay focused. I’ve got to get ready for the season.”

With one out in the second, Cedeno tried to make a backhanded stop and booted Jose Molina’s grounder.

“He just didn’t stay with it,” Russell said.

Joey Gathright followed with what looked to be a perfect double play roller, but Cedeno couldn’t snag it.

“He didn’t get his feet set right,” Russell said. “It’s a fundamental thing. I know he and Carlos (Garcia, infield coach) will get it ironed out.”•

Uh oh, sounds like somebody will be on the practice field really early Sunday morning, fielding grounders.

• When the rest of the team heads north Thursday night, starter Daniel McCutchen will stay behind in Florida to pitch April 6 in a minor league game at Pirate City. That way, McCutchen will be on his normal four days’ rest when he makes his first regular-season start April 11.

• McCutchen singled in the third inning today off Blue Jays lefty Brian Tallet.

“I’m probably gonna get some crap back in camp once they hear about it,” Tallet said. “I probably could’ve struck (McCutchen) out on a changeup. But what are you gaining by just striking out the pitcher on a changeup? You know you can do that. Let’s see you get him out with something else.”

McCutchen slapped a looper into right field.

Tallet nodded when someone mentioned it was the third straight game in which a Pirates pitcher got a hit.

“Well, I was just keeping it going, then,” Tallet said with a chuckle.

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Kevin McClatchy in the house

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BRADENTON, Fla. — I just spent a few minutes chatting with former owner Kevin McClatchy, who’s in town just long enough to see today’s game. “I used to go to every spring training game, home or away,” McClatchy said.

McClatchy bought his own tickets to the game against the Toronto Blue Jays and is seated, as usual, behind home plate. McClatchy, wearing sunglasses and a cap — but nothing bearing a Pirates logo — came to McKechnie Field with agent Tom Reich, a friend.

“It’s great to get down here,” McClatchy said. “I love Bradenton. It’s a trip down memory lane to come down here.”

McClatchy ran the franchise from Feb. 14, 1996 until Jan. 18, 2007, when Bob Nutting became principal owner. More on what McClatchy had to say — including the possibility of him getting back into baseball — in Sunday’s Trib.

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