Postgame: Maholm works inside

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Breaking balls? What breaking balls? Lefty Paul Maholm took that weapon out of his arsenal today in the 6-4 loss against the Orioles. and instead focused on pitching inside with fastballs and changeups.

“I didn’t get ahead of as many hitters as I wanted, but for the most part it felt good,” Maholm said. “I went after guys. I was a little jumpy and left some over the plate, but that’s the first outing of spring. It happens.”

Maholm gave up two runs on four hits over two innings. He also struck out two and picked a runner off first base. Maholm isn’t bothered by the early dink on his spring ERA.

“I’d love to be perfect for all of spring training. But, I’ve learned I’ve got to be sure I’m ready for April,” he said. “If that takes me going out there today and throwing nothing but fastballs and changeups and cutters in, that’s what I’ll do. I’m not trying to strike out everybody.”

Will he break out the breaking balls in his next outing? “I’m going to see how the bullpen goes,” Maholm said. “My sinker was good today. I was trying to work on four-seamers and other pitches inside. We’ll see how it goes in the bullpen. If I think I need another outing where it’s fastballs and changeups, that’s what I’ll do. I know my breaking balls are there during my bullpen, so I’m not extremely concerned about those right now.”

Miles Durham
Miles Durham

»»» Prospects Mel Rojas Jr., Jim Negrych and Miles Durham got a decent amount of playing time today against the O’s. Durham, a 22nd-round pick in 2006, smacked a two-run homer in the ninth inning.

Durham, 27, went deep 10 times last year for Double-A Altoona. He’s hit 43 homers in five seasons in the minors. In the ninth inning today, with Andy Marte on base, Durham whacked a pitch from Josh Rupe over the left field wall.

“I got it decent and it carried out,” Durham said.

However, Orioles manager Buck Showalter thinks the stiff breeze blowing out to left might’ve helped.

“That last ball that (Rupe) gave up, I think the shortstop could have caught it under normal conditions,” Showalter said. “To hold them to four runs under these conditions, that’s pretty impressive.”

»»» Josh Rodriguez made a nice diving stop of Craig Tatum’s hard grounder in the sixth inning. Rodriguez was shaded toward the hole, and had to burst to his left to snag the ball deep behind second base. Tatum reached on an infield single, but the play was a positive indicator of Rodriguez’s range, reflexes and instincts.

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Pregame: Russell’s return

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Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Reynolds and the Orioles players are here, but third base coach John Russell and manager Buck Showalter will be late arrivals.
Vladimir Guerrero, Mark Reynolds and the Orioles players are here, but third base coach John Russell and manager Buck Showalter will be late arrivals.

BRADENTON, Fla. — The game today against the Orioles marks a return to McKechnie Field by former manager John Russell, who’s now the O’s third base coach. The Pirates fired Russell the day after the 2010 season ended.

The Orioles have just about finished their batting practice, but Russell and manager Buck Showalter haven’t yet arrived at the field. They stayed behind at the O’s complex in Sarasota to oversee workouts for the players who didn’t make the trip here.

Showalter and Russell are expected to get to McKechnie about 10-15 minutes before game time. A couple of weeks ago, I spoke at length with Russell in Sarasota about his past with the Pirates and his new role in Bawl’mer.

This will be the first Grapefruit League game of the season for the Orioles, who yesterday had an intrasquad scrimmage. Their top two free-agent pickups, sluggers Mark Reynolds and Vladimir Guerrero, will make their O’s debuts here today.

»»» Baseball Prospectus today released its list of top 101 prospects. The Pirates are represented by the Big Three pitchers who were acquired last summer — Jameson Taillon is No. 8, Stetson Allie is No. 39, Luis Heredia is No. 81 — and catcher Tony Sanchez, who’s No. 93.

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Pregame: Beimel injury minor

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Joe Beimel this morning said his injury is not serious — there is no structural damage in his arm or elbow. He first noticed the pain, which is said is centered in a muscle near the elbow, while playing catch Saturday.

“It’s not too big of a deal,” Beimel said. “When I was playing catch, I over-extended on one (throw) and it got a little sore. I was a little worried because it’s something I never felt before. They’ve done all the tests and there’s nothing (wrong) with the ligament. It’s one of those things where I can move it, like, 10 times and on the 11th it will hurt. Since (Sunday), it’s become less and less (painful), to the point now that I don’t really feel it.”

Beimel will wait until he’s pain-free for a day before he starts throwing again.

»»» Because there are two split-squad games today, the Pirates called up several top prospects to fill out the rosters. Among those brought up from minor league camp are Jim Negrych, Jordy Mercer, Mel Rojas Jr., Jeremy Farrell and Brock Holt. First baseman Calvin Anderson, whose dad Fred played for the Steelers, also is here.

»»» Most of the starters will get a break for Tuesday’s game against the Yankees. Here’s an early peek at that lineup: Alex Presley cf, John Bowker lf, Matt Diaz rf, Garrett Jones dh, Garrett Atkins 1b, Andy Marte 3b, Chris Snyder c, Josh Rodriguez 2b, Pedro Ciriaco ss. James McDonald wlll start (two innings), followed by Daniel McCutchen, Chris Resop, Daniel Moskos and Ramon Aguero.

Lineups for this afternoon’s games:

Orioles – 1. J.J. Hardy ss, 2. Felix Pie rf, 3. Mark Reynolds 3b, 4. Vladimir Guerrero dh, 5. Adam Jones cf, 6. Nolan Reimold lf, 7. Brandon Snyder 1b, 8. Craig Tatum, 9. Cesar Izturis 2b. RHP Brad Bergesen.

Pirates – 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Josh Rodriguez ss, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. Lyle Overbay 1b, 6. Garrett Jones 1b, 7. Ryan Doumit dh, 8. Chase d’Arnaud 2b, 9. Jason Jaramillo c. LHP Paul Maholm.

Pirates – 1. Gorkys Hernandez cf, 2. Ronny Cedeno ss, 3. Neil Walker 2b, 4. Matt Diaz rf, 5. Josh Fields 3b, 6. Garrett Atkins 1b, 7. Alex Presley lf, 8. Chris Snyder dh, 9. Dusty Brown c. RHP Bryan Morris

Rays – 1. TBA. RHP Jeff Niemann.

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Postgame: Making contact

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Saturday, the Pirates struck out nine times in 32 at-bats against the Rays. They lost, 9-5.

Today, the Pirates struck out four times in 37 at-bats against the Rays. They won, 10-3.

It’s no coincidence, said manager Clint Hurdle.

“We had over 20 at-bats with two strikes today,” Hurdle said. “We put the ball in play 20 times. We had (four) punchouts, compared to nine yesterday. We made better adjustments at the plate than yesterday. We need to pay attention on deck and watch the hitter before us. We went through a stretch yesterday of 13 up, 13 down. Kind of soft. Today, it looked like our focus was a bit better. The quality of pitching can have something to do with it. I just thought our game plan on offense played out better today.”

»»» Rule 5 pickup Josh Rodriguez will get his first start Monday in the split-squad game against the Orioles. Rodriguez will bat second and play shortstop.

Ronny Cedeno will start at short tomorrow against the Rays. Cedeno will bat in the No. 2 spot. The starting outfield in that game will be, from left to right, Alex Presley, Gorkys Hernandez and Matt Diaz.

»»» Neil Walker will be split away from Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen tomorrow. After batting second in the first two games, Walker will be in the No. 3 spot against the Rays. In the Orioles game, Tabata will lead off and McCutchen will hit third.

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Olsen, Doumit, J-Rod

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Someone on the councourse at McKechnie Field this morning remembers Aki's glory days with the Rays and not his sour season with the Pirates.
Someone on the councourse at McKechnie Field this morning remembers Aki's glory days with the Rays and not his sour season with the Pirates.

 

BRADENTON, Fla. –Lefty Scott Olsen is scheduled to throw a side session Monday, along with Ross Ohlendorf and Charlie Morton. It will Olsen’s his third time pitching off the mound since he strained his left hamstring two weeks ago.

“We decided to try to keep his arm in shape as best we can by continuing a throwing program,” GM Neal Huntington said. “We need to get him back running and back in a fielding position as a pitcher. That will determine his progress and when he gets into games.”

Huntington said Olsen has not fallen too far behind Charlie Morton in the battle for the No. 5 job in the rotation. “Spring training is long enough that we can get a guy stretched out. So, he’s still right in the mix.”

»»» Whoever does not get the final rotation spot will be a candidate for the bullpen. “Every one of them — (Jeff) Karstens, (Brian) Burres, Morton, (Daniel) McCutchen,” Huntington said. “The young guys who haven’t been in the big leagues before? No. But, certainly the guys who are out of options could become a viable bullpen option.”

One guy in limbo is Kevin Hart. He’s out of options and has ML experience, but he is on the mend from shoulder surgery. Hart had a setback before spring camp opened, and currently is working out but not throwing off a mound. It’s hard to envision him being ready for the start of the season.

»»» Ryan Doumit remains on the trading block, but there’s not been much action lately. “Things kind of died, in terms of most conversations, once you get into February,” Huntington said. “They (usually) pick back up again the first couple weeks of games. Right now is a very quiet period for most clubs.”

»»» Rule 5 pick Josh Rodriguez hasn’t gotten much action so far, but Huntington isn’t ready to write off his chances of making the club. “I don’t think we’re going to run our starting nine out there for five innings every game this spring,” Huntington said. “There’ll be plenty of opportunity for Rodriguez (to play). There’s plenty of at-bats to be had in spring training.”

If the Pirates keep Rodriguez, they must keep him on the ML roster the entire season or offer him back to the Indians. If the Pirates decide they can’t keep Rodriguez on the roster, Huntington indicated he’d first try to work out a trade with Cleveland in order to keep him.

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More from Morton

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BRADENTON, Fla. — A few final thoughts from Charlie Morton, who looked sharp (albeit for just two innings) yesterday in his spring debut against the Rays:

Whether he thinks it’s important to look dominant early in the spring: “I don’t. I think that’s only going to put added pressure on me. It’s just not beneficial. Before, I probably would put more pressure on myself. But it’s not worth it. What’s going to let me do my job is keeping it simple and being aggressive, just being me and going out there to pitch.”

Whether he made any changes over the course of last season: “I wouldn’t say my routine ever changed, in terms of preparation. I watched too much video, I can tell you that. When I came back up, I didn’t watch any video. Instead of a bullpen that I would’ve had two days before, I threw a live b.p. It’s all the same. The biggest thing wasn’t my routine. That’s the last thing I would blame for what happened last year. It had more to do with hitters seeing the ball and it taking its toll on my mentality. You can’t go out there with the mentality of confidence and aggression when balls are flying all over the park. It’s more me figuring out how to not let them hit balls everywhere. I didn’t adjust my routine or some quirky thing, like, should I eat pizza today or Subway?”

»»» Evan Meek (strained calf) had a 30-pitch bullpen session this morning, throwing a variety of pitches. He’s slated to throw again Tuesday, either in the game against the Yankees or, more likely, live batting practice.

»»» Monday will be a split-squad day. I’ll be reporting from McKechnie Field, where Paul Maholm (two innings), Jeff Karstens (two innings), Tyler Yates, Jeff Locke, Mike Crotta, Justin Wilson and Cesar Valdez (one inning apiece) will pitch against the Orioles. In Port Charlotte, Bryan Morris (two innings), Fernando Nieve (two innings), Sean Gallagher (two innings), Aaron Thompson and Kyle McPherson (one inning each) will pitch against the Rays.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Rays (1-0): 1. Desmond Jennings cf, 2. Sam Fuld lf, 3. Kelly Shoppach c, 4. Matt Joyce rf, 5. Felipe Lopez 3b, 6. Casey Kotchman 1b, 7. Justin Ruggiano dh, 8. Joe Inglett 2b, 9. Ray Olmedo ss. . RHP James Shields

Pirates (0-1): 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Neil Walker 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. Lyle Overbay 1b, 6. Garrett Jones rf, 7. Ryan Doumit c, 8. Josh Fields dh, 9. Ronny Cedeno ss. RHP Kevin Correia

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Tabata an “option” at leadoff

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BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates had Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen, in that order, atop their lineup today against the Rays. But manager Clint Hurdle said it’s only one possible lineup combo this season.

“It’s one of many,” Hurdle said. “It’s the one we threw out there today. We all pretty much understand what Andrew can do at the top of the lineup. We need to look at what we can do to stretch out lineup, to become more diverse and dynamic. We need to score more runs than we did last year. I do believe he has the skill to hit third. We’ll see how it plays out.”

»»» The third inning ended when righty Brad Lincoln picked Sean Rodriguez off second base. Lincoln made a perfect strike to shortstop Ronny Cedeno, who tagged Rodriguez.

“It was the right timing,” Lincoln said. “It’s one of those plays where, you see him go and then basically it’s a timing play. It’s not called or set up. It just happens.”

»»» Jose Tabata had a run-scoring single and Garrett Atkins hit an RBI double. The Pirates’ other three runs scored on grounders. … In the seventh, Robinson Chirinos put the Rays ahead 5-2 with a two-out, three-run double off Daniel McCutchen. … Lefty Justin Thomas gave up four unearned runs in the eighth after a two-out fielding error by third baseman Josh Fields.

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Veteran look to lineups

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Good morning from Charlotte Sports Complex in Port Charlotte, Fla.
Good morning from Charlotte Sports Complex in Port Charlotte, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates will use an Opening Day-style lineup today, and the Rays also will start a number of veterans. That’s a bit different from early-spring games in previous years, when there are plenty of prospects in the lineup. Manager Clint Hurdle has said he wants to get good looks at all his players — he has to get a handle on what he’s working with — so no better time than the present.

The tentative lineup for tomorrow’s game is basically the same as today. The differences are Ryan Doumit will catch, Josh Fields will DH and Garrett Jones will start in right field. Also, Lyle Overbay will hit in the No. 5 spot with Jones at No. 6.

»»» Charlie Morton and Brad Lincoln will piggyback today. Chris Resop, Daniel Moskos, Daniel McCutchen, Justin Thomas and Cesar Valdez also will pitch.

»»» After today, the Pirates will play seven of their next nine games at McKechnie Field. … Last year, the Pirates went 7-21-1 in the Grapefruit League. They’ve had one winning record in the past seven spring trainings.

»»» Delwyn Young led the Pirates last spring with six homers and 18 RBI. During the entire regular season, Young collected seven homers and 28 RBI. He was non-tendered by the Pirates and signed with the Phillies over the winter.

Lineups for this afternoon’s game:

Pirates: 1. Jose Tabata lf, 2. Neil Walker 2b, 3. Andrew McCutchen cf, 4. Pedro Alvarez 3b, 5. Matt Diaz rf, 6. Lyle Overbay 1b, 7. Ryan Doumit dh, 8. Chris Snyder c, 9. Ronny Cedeno ss. RHP Charlie Morton

Rays: 1. John Jaso c, 2. Johnny Damon lf, 3. Evan Longoria 3b, 4. Manny Ramirez dh, 5. Ben Zobrist rf, 6. B.J. Upton cf, 7. Dan Johnson 1b, 8. Sean Rodriguez 2b, 9. Reid Brignac ss. LHP David Price

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A question of perception

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BRADENTON, Fla. — I saw this Associated Press story today in the online sites of two California newspapers, one in Texas and one in Canada. Ouch.

Is that really representative of what folks back home think of the Pirates? It certainly seems to be the image people outside our region have of us and our relationship with the ballclub.

I know more than a few Pirates diehards back home, but I also know quite a few who gave up quite a while ago. Is there a “lost generation” of Pirates fans in Pittsburgh? I think so.

»»» I hate to bear even more bad news, but … according to an email I got from an online betting site, Clint Hurdle has an 18.3 percent chance of becoming the first newly hired manager to be fired this season.

According to BookMaker.com, of the 12 skippers hired this offseason, the Cubs’ Mike Quade (20 percent chance) most likely will be the first to go. Hurdle was second, followed by the Brewers’ Ron Roenicke, the D’backs’ Kirk Gibson and the Blue Jays’ John Farrell (17.5 percent each).

»»» My favorite line about today’s 21-1 drubbing of SCF came from Hurdle: ” We move on to the second round.” In other words, it’s kinda like taking care of a 16th seed in the first game of March Madness.

“Those games are hard to play,” Hurdle said. “You want to do well and get your work in. You hope (the college players) enjoy the experience to some degree.”

SCF certainly didn’t enjoy it as much as in 2009, when the Manatees beat the Bucs, 6-4.

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Money matters

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BRADENTON, Fla. — When I spoke yesterday with owner Bob Nutting about the team’s payroll, he twice referred to the “cycles” of the team. As I understand it, those cycles are sort of a combination of where the team is in terms of the level of talent on the club and where the players are in terms of their salary situations (i.e. 0-to-3 guys, arbitration-eligible guys, free agency-eligible guys).

“What we’ve said consistently with payroll is we must make sure we’ve allocated appropriate resources at the various cycles of the team,” Nutting said.

The past couple of years, the front office has been focused mostly on restocking the farm system. That’s why the Pirates have been among the biggest spenders on the draft and international signings.

“The level of the payroll today is more a reflection of the players we have and their (career status),” Nutting said. “What I’m most pleased about is we have the team in a position now where we can make decisions about payroll, on drafts and allocation of dollars from a baseball standpoint. It’s driven by the needs at the time and the opportunities we see at the time. … We have an opportunity to be strategic as we supplement (with players). We can be strategic as we focus this year on the (No. 1 overall) draft pick, which is an opportunity we hope not to have again.”

At this point, Nutting and president Frank Coonelly can say whatever they want about how they spend the team’s money. Yes, the payroll is the lowest in the majors and a lot of folks — the fans, the players’ union, the players — aren’t happy about it. But the Pirates are spending more than a lot of clubs for amateur talent.

The next big test of Nutting’s commitment to winning will come when it’s time to sign Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, et al to multi-year contracts.

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