All posts by Rob Biertempfel

Game 6: Marte uses all his tools

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

IceBucketAfter yesterday’s dramatic win against the Braves, Gerrit Cole had some high praise for walkoff home run hero Starling Marte: “He’s probably, truly the only five-tool player I’ve ever played with.”

Power wasn’t one of those tools last season, though. Marte went deep just nine times. He hit 19 homers in 2015. It wasn’t that Marte got off to a slow start last season, either — he hit three home runs by April 26.

Manager Clint Hurdle has repeatedly said he believes there is more juice in Marte’s bat. Will it show up this summer? “I don’t know,” Marte said through translator Mike Gonzalez. “We’ll see. I don’t try to hit home runs. I just try to put the ball in play, steal a base. Sometimes, I get a good swing and the ball goes.”

>>> About four hours before tonight’s game, Alen Hanson and Phil Gosselin took grounders at third and second base. Joey Cora looked on as Hurdle swung the fungo bat. The workout enabled Josh Bell to get in more reps snagging throws at first base. Two birds, one stone.

>>> According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Reds’ 8-0 win vs. the Cardinals was their second-largest shutout in St. Louis in the last 100 years. The Reds blanked the Cards,10-0, at Busch Stadium on Aug. 28, 2013.

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 6, Braves 5: Marte’s homer won it, but don’t overlook David Freese’s DP-busting slide in the ninth inning.

Notebook: In which Stewie makes his first start of the season and Glasnow awaits his turn.

>>> Monday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds (4-2): Billy Hamilton 8, Jose Peraza 6, Joey Votto 3, Adam Duvall 7, Eugenio Suarez 5, Scott Schebler 9, Zack Cozart 6, Scooter Gennett 4, Tucker Barnhart 2, LHP Brandon Finnegan (1-0, 0.00)

Pirates (3-2): Jordy Mercer 6, Starling Marte 8, Andrew McCutchen 9, Gregory Polanco 7, David Freese 5, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Bell 3, Adam Frazier 5, RHP Tyler Glasnow (2017 debut)

Gamecast: Finnegan won’t turn 24 until Friday but already is in his third season in the majors. On Wednesday vs. the Phillies, he became the first Reds pitcher to throw at least seven shutout innings while allowing no more than one hit in his first start of a season since Jerry Arrigo in 1967… Three of Glasnow’s seven outings with the Pirates last season came against the Reds. At Great American Ball Park, he tossed three scoreless innings of relief Sept. 18 and one hitless inning Sept. 16. At PNC Park, he gave up two runs on five hits in three innings Sept. 11.

UPDATE: 3:59 P.M.Josh Harrison is not in the lineup today, but will be available off the bench, per Hurdle. Harrison was struck by a pitch on his right calf in the eighth inning last night. He stayed in the game for the rest of that inning and limped as he made his way around the bases to score the Pirates’ third run, then was benched in the ninth. “It tightened up dramatically (during the game), but he felt better this morning,” Hurdle said. Harrison said he was fortunate to be hit on the right (back) leg. “If it had hit me on the left leg, it would have gotten a lot more bone,” Harrison said.

UPDATE: 6:24 P.M. — Zack Cozart was scratched due to a sore wrist. The new Reds lineup is above.

>>> Tuesday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: RHP Rookie Davis (0-0, 12.00)

Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (0-0, 0.00)

>>> Wednesday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: None (due to conflict with Penguins playoff game). Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: LHP Amir Garrett (1-0, 0.00)

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (1-0, 0.00)

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

Pirates: RHP Chad Kuhl (1-0, 3.60)

Red Sox: LHP Eduardo Rodriguez (0-1, 7.20)

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

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Game 5: Cole seeks 23rd win at PNC Park

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By Rob Biertempfel

ColeAllStarThis afternoon, Gerrit Cole will make his 50th start at PNC Park. Cole ranks third with 22 wins here since the ballpark opened in 2001. He trails Paul Maholm (36 wins at PNC Park) and Zach Duke (33). At home, Cole has put up a 3.32 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP.  Over 436 road starts, he has a 3.23 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. The Pirates have gone 31-18 in his previous home starts.

“His ability to recall pitches, sequences and reasons why after a game is as good as anybody I’ve come across in all the years I’ve been involved in ball,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It jumps out at you. I freshen up every starter, either every day or two days after his start, ask them for some ups and for some points they found challenging. His abiltiy to recall is second to none.”

>>> David Freese is out of the lineup for the second day in a row after taking a hopper off his collarbone on Friday. However, Hurdle said Freese is available off the bench today.

>>> The battery of Cole and Chris Stewart has been successful in the past, and they are reunited today. However, Hurdle said that ESP between the two “has nothing to do whatsoever” with why Stewart’s making his first start of the season today. “(Francisco) Cervelli has been working his way back from his foot challenges and he’s in a good place. A day game after a night game, that’s the sole reason for (Stewart’s start).”

>>> Trevor Williams is the lone member of the bullpen who hasn’t yet gotten into a game. Williams has done work on the side to stay sharp and was warming up during last night’s game.

>>> As of 11 a.m., Hurdle said it had not yet been determined whether Daniel Hudson and/or Tony Watson will be available out of the pen today after woking in back-to-back games.

>>> A win today would give the Pirates their first three-game sweep of the Braves in Pittsburgh since April 29-May 1, 1994.

Luis Heredia in 2011, checking out big league spring training camp.
Luis Heredia in 2011, checking out big league spring training camp.

>>> RHP Luis Heredia will continue to be developed as a reliever, according to farm director Larry Broadway, but has not yet been assigned to a minor league team and remains in extended spring training. Heredia was an intriguing prospect — a 16-year-old with a 92 mph fastball — when the Pirates signed him in 2010 for a $2.6 million. At the time, it was the biggest bonus the club had ever given an international amateur. Heredia has batted poor conditioning, shoulder soreness and general inconsistency/ineffectiveness with his pitches. Last season, he worked as a closer with High-A Bradenton — he was pretty good for about the first half of the year, then crashed in the second half. He’ll be a free agent after this season and almost certainly will not be back with the Pirates.

>>> UPDATE 1:52 P.M. — Some news and notes from the weekly presser with GM Neal Huntington:

Nick Kingham sprained his ankle near the end of spring training. After the ankle has healed, it will take a while for Kingham to be built up before he’s ready to join the rotation at Triple-A Indianapolis. “The challenge with Nick is that he hadn’t gotten to five innings or 90 pitches when he rolled the ankle, so there is some build-up time,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “So, it’s going to be every bit of April and maybe even some of May before we get him out and get him going.”

– David Freese will get the bulk of the playing time at third base during Jung Ho Kang’s absence. Josh Harrison and Adam Frazier also will get some time at that spot. “We feel very comfortable David can (take) a huge part of the workload over there,” Huntington said. “It’s as much about how much Clint (Hurdle) uses and feels about the matchups with Adam, Josh and David.

– The Pirates are “still working through” getting a valid passport for Gregory Polanco, Huntington said. The issue prevented Polanco from traveling to Montreal for the two preseason exhibition games agains the Toronto Blue Jays. The Pirates will play an interleague series in Toronto in mid-August. Huntington said he expects Polanco’s situation will be resolved by then.

– There have been a few shaky defensive plays with the new outfield alignment of Polanco in left, Startling Marte in center and Andrew McCutchen in right. Huntington is not concerned it’s anything that will linger. “We’re showing the typical adjustment period coming north (from spring training),” Huntington said. “We play very few night games in spring training and when we do the lights are completely different.” The outfielders also might be bothered by the LED lights on the new videoboard in right field. “The LED lights might have an impact, as they are a different look than our guys are used to,” Huntington said. “We’ve had a few challenges, but we feel these guys are going to adjust quickly.”

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Pirates 6, Braves 4: In which Chad Kuhl is bailed out by Gregory Polanco’s four hits and the Braves’ sloppiness

 

Notebook: Freese update and thoughts on lineup construction

>>> Sunday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves (1-4): Ender Inciarte 8, Dansby Swanson 6, Freddie Freeman 3, Adonis Garcia 5, Nick Markakis 9, Brandon Phillips 4, Tyler Flowers 2, Jace Peterson, RHP Julio Teheran (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Pirates (2-2): Adam Frazier 5, Starling Marte 8, Andrew McCutchen 9, Gregory Polanco 7, Josh Bell 3, Jordy Mercer 6, Phil Gosselin 4, Chris Stewart 2, RHP Gerrit Cole (0-1, 9.00 ERA)

Umpires: HP: Phil Cuzzi, 1B: Vic Carapazza, 2B: Mark Ripperger, 3B: Tom Hallion.

>>> Monday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: LHP Brandon Finnegan (1-0, 0.00)

Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (2017 debut)

>>> Tuesday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: RHP Rookie Davis (0-0, 12.00)

Pirates: RHP Jameson Taillon (0-0, 0.00)

>>> Wednesday’s game: Reds at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM.

Reds: LHP Amir Garrett (1-0, 0.00)

Pirates: RHP Ivan Nova (1-0, 0.00)

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

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Game 4: Dashing through the snow …

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PNC Park as of 8:43 this morning. Not a postcard-pretty day for ball.
PNC Park as of 8:43 this morning. Not a postcard-pretty day for ball.

By Rob Biertempfel

I know it’s Happy Home Opener Day ’n’at, but please excuse me if I seem a bit ragged (I haven’t shaved since Wednesday) and cranky this morning. The storm that washed away game three of the Pirates-Red Sox series yesterday also delayed my flight home for several hours. When I triggered my garage door opener this morning, the clock in my car said 3:02 a.m. Five hours later, I’m in the press box at frosty PNC Park.

Misery loves company, though, am I right? Fellow scribes Adam Berry, Stephen Nesbitt and Dustin Dopirak were on the same flight, so we hit a few watering holes near Fenway Park before grabbing an uber to the airport.

OK, enough whining. On with the game. Oh, wait. One last dose of whining (because SNOW) …

>>> The Braves originally were going to start R.A. Dickey today, but wound up moving the knuckleballer’s season debut back to Saturday. RHP Mike Foltynewicz will get the ball today.

>>> Chad Kuhl is still bummed about yesterday’s rainout, which wiped out his scheduled start. He had lots of family who made the 5 1/2-hour drive from Delaware to Boston to see him pitch against the Red Sox. “My mom and dad and brother were actually at the exit (into Boston) when I texted to tell them the game was rained out,” Kuhl said. “I’m upset they drove all that way for a rainout.” Kuhl will pitch tomorrow against the Braves and is in line to work the make-up game Thursday at Fenway Park.

>>> During his pregame presser, manager Clint Hurdle was asked about what progress he believes his team has made: “They’ve grown from being young players and learning things to … They’ve gone from being survivors to being contributors to now, I believe, being winners. The opportunity is in front of us with this group collectively to own everything we do moving forward. That would be my biggest get for the season. The thing I’m encouraged by, watching the transition through spring training, is the work that was done physically, mentally. I’m very encouraged by all of it.”

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Here’s everything you need to know about the home opener,

Gorman: “It’s the opener, simple as that, so it’s ‘Play ball!’ Let’s just hope it’s not with snowballs.”

Hurdle didn’t exactly call out Starling Marte for an ill-timed bunt attempt, but …

Notebook: In which it rains (and rains, and rains) in Boston, Juan Nicasio goes one and done, and Andrew McCutchen is 0 for the season so far

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

Braves (1-2): Ender Inciarte 8, Dansby Swanson 6, Freddie Freeman 3, Matt Kemp 7, Nick Markakis 9, Brandon Phillips 4, Adonis Garcia 5, Kurt Suzuki 2, RHP RHP Mike Foltynewicz

Pirates (0-2):  Starling Marte 8, Josh Bell 3, Andrew McCutchen 9, Gregory Polanco 7, David Freese 5, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Harrison 4, Jordy Mercer 6, RHP Ivan Nova (2017 debut)

Gamecast: Nova went 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in four Grapefruit League starts. He also pitched in two minor league games during spring training. … Last season, Nova ranked fifth in the majors with a average of 1.56 walks per nine innings pitched. He issued three walks in 64.2 innings pitched after being traded to the Pirates.

>>> Saturday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: None. Radio: 93.7 FM

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

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Chad Kuhl (2017 debut)

Gamecast: Dickey’s final tune-up was on March 31, when he tossed two scoreless innings and gave up one hit against the New York Yankees in an exhibition at SunTrust Park in Atlanta. It was the knuckleballer’s best outing of the preseason.

>>> Sunday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA. RHP Julio Teheran (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Gerrit Cole (0-1, 9.00 ERA)

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

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Rainout: Hurdle won’t blame Marte (not out loud, at least)

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By Rob Biertempfel

marte2BOSTON — UPDATE 9:49 A.M. – The final game of the Pirates series at Fenway Park today has been rained out. It will be made up one week from today at 2:05 p.m.

The Pirates and Red Sox have five common off days this season, with April 13 being the easiest option. The Red Sox will be in the midst of a homestand, while the Pirates will be between the end of a homestead and the start of a weekend road series against the Chicago Cubs.

The other four dates would put either the Pirates or Red Sox in violation of MLB’s rule which prohibits a team from playing more than 19 games in a row.

>>> Locked in a scoreless tie in the ninth inning, the Pirates put their leadoff batter on first base when Jordy Mercer reached via an error. Up stepped Starling Marte, who at that point was 0 for 3 with two strikeouts — and 0 for 7 on the season.

Facing Craig Kimbrel, whose fastball was touching 100 mph, Marte tried to bunt. He popped the ball ball into foul ground where third baseman Pablo Sandoval, whose error let Mercer reach base, made an easy catch. The Pirates went on to lose 3-0 in 12 innings. Manager Clint Hurdle said Marte decided on his own to try the bunt. “Marte felt it was the best move for him to try to help us win the game,” Hurdle said. “There was no bunt sign on.”

Did Marte make the correct choice? Hurdle smiled. “I’m not going to second-guess my players publicly. I know it’s hard to bunt a guy who throws almost 100 mph. However, that’s the initiative he took to try to help us win the game. It’s hard to tell a player, when he says he’s trying to help you win a game, that he might’ve done the wrong thing.”

>>> In addition to Mercer reaching on the miscue, the Pirates got five singles and one walk. None of those runners made it past first base. “I’m not going to overcook this thing offensively,” Hurdle said. “They threw some good stuff at us.” OK, in that case, let’s allow Joe Block to do some cooking via Twitter …

>>> Juan Nicasio tossed a tidy 11th inning, getting two strikeouts and a grounder. He has the ability to pitch multiple innings, but gave way to Antonio Bastardo to start the 12th. Bastardo served up Sandy Leon’s game-winning, three-run homer.

Hurdle said he didn’t want to tax Nicasio by keeping the righty out there on a late, chilly evening. “He’d gotten up earlier in the game and gotten hot,” Hurdle said. “Then he was down for three innings and got hot again. I didn’t think it was in our best interests on a cold night to run him out any more than he had to in the second game of the season.”

>>> Andrew McCutchen got his first assist as a right fielder on Wednesday. He made a catch to rob Mitch Moreland of a home run for the first time, too. That’s two items checked off the bucket list in the same game. “Now, if I can get my first hit off that bucket list, I’ll be good to go,” McCutchen said.

McCutchen went 0 for 5 in the 12-inning loss against the Red Sox. That dropped him to 0 for 9 on the season. It’s the deepest he’s gone into a season without getting a hit. In 2012, McCutchen went hitless in his first six at-bats.

Despite the slow start, McCutchen said he feels good at the plate. He didn’t strike out on Wednesday (after whiffing three times on Monday) and flied out twice to the outfield. “I know I haven’t gotten a hit yet, but it’s game No. 2, so I’m not going to stress over it,” McCutchen said. “I’m going to keep my approach. I’m going in the right direction. I took some good swings at some good pitches. I hit a couple of balls decent. That’s baseball sometimes. I’m looking forward to (Thursday) and going at it again.”

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

Red Sox 3, Pirates 0: Leon whacked a Monster shot, as the Pirates waste a stellar effort by Jameson Taillon.

Notebook: In which Gregory Polanco is fixed in No. 4 spot, the payroll dips, and the home opener is threatened by The Winter That Wouldn’t End.

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

PNCparkAllStar>>> 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)

>>> Saturday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: None. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA. RHP Mike Foltynewicz

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Tyler Glasnow (2017 debut)

>>> Sunday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA. RHP Julio Teheran (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Gerrit Cole (0-1, 9.00 ERA)

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

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Game 2: Team payroll goes down this year

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By Rob Biertempfel/Photo by Christopher Horner

moneyBOSTON — This morning, I spent a few minutes looking over the MLB payroll information compiled by USA Today. The Pirates’ opening day payroll of $94.6 million ranked 23rd among the 30 big league clubs. It’s also about $6 million less than the club’s total player salaries last year.

Payroll information can be tricky to decipher. The USA Today numbers involve only players on the active (25-man roster) and do not include deferred payments, incentives, money received in trades or the costs of players who were released. Keep in mind that when Pirates execs, such as prez Frank Coonelly, talk about team payroll, they like to use figures that pertain to the entire 40-man roster — it inflates the total, even if most of those players are making around the MLB minimum of $535,000. This year, the Pirates’ 40-man roster salaries cost about $104.3 million (which is still a lower total than it was a year ago).

>>> A team press release from today reminds us that Friday’s game against the Braves is not merely the home opener — it’s the “home opener presented by PNC Bank.” Gates will open at 11 a.m. Starling Marte will get his Gold Glove on the field before the game.  Sally McCrady, chairwoman of the PNC Foundation, will throw the honorary first pitch. Bob Friend will be recognized for his contributions to the franchise over the years. “God Bless America” and the National Anthem will be performed by Gabby Barrett. The four children of fallen Canonsburg police officer Scott Bashioum will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

IndyLogo2>>> UPDATE 5:33 P.M. – Triple-A Indianapolis released its preliminary roster. The starting rotation order will be Steven Brault, Drew Hutchison, Tyler Eppler, Clay Holmes and Josh Lindblom. The bullpen will consist of Cody Dickson, Dan Runzler, Pat Light, Brett McKinney, Dovydas Neverauskas, Angel Sanchez, Edgar Santana and A.J. Schugel. A press release from the team listed just two outfielders — Austin Meadows and Danny Ortiz — and added that 1B Jose Osuna also will get some time in the outfield.

AltoonaLogo>>> UPDATE 5:45 P.M. — Double-A Altoona’s roster includes four of the Pirates’ top 30 prospects, as ranked by Baseball America: SS Kevin Newman (No. 4), RHP Yeudy Garcia (No. 16), LHP Brandon Waddell (No. 17) and 2B Kevin Kramer (No. 21).

>>> UPDATE 5:51 P.M. – RHP prospect Nick Kingham sprained an ankle during spring training and will begin the season on the minor league disabled list as he gets built up to eventually join Indy’s rotation. Kingham, 25, had Tommy John surgery in May 2015.

>>> You want links? I’ve got links:

CutchSwing2017Some interesting comments from hitting coach Jeff Brason at the end of this piece about power bats and launch angles.

Gorman: Josh Bell left his mark on the Green Monster.

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

Pirates: Jordy Mercer 6, Starling Marte 8, Andrew McCutchen 9, Gregory Polanco 7, David Freese 5, Francisco Cervelli 2, Josh Harrison 4, Josh Bell 3, Adam Frazier DH. RHP Jameson Tailon (2017 debut).

Red Sox: Dustin Pedroia 4, Andrew Benintendi 7, Xavier Bogaerts 6, Hanley Ramirez DH, Mitch Moreland 3, Chris Young 9, Jackie Bradley 8, Pablo Sandoval 5, Sandy Leon 2. LHP Chris Sale (2017 debut).

Gamecast: On Monday, Gregory Polanco said he expected to start the game in left field. Polanco, who has a tender shoulder, was the designated hitter in the season opener. … During the winter meetings, the Red Sox swapped prospects Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz to the White Sox for Sale. … In his final spring training tuneup, Taillon worked three innings Friday against the Blue Jays. He gave up a run on three hits, walked one and struck out two. His final Grapefruit League ERA was 3.52 over five outings. … The Red Sox have won each of their past six and 15 of their past 17 interleague games. … Here’s a good tidbit courtesy of Pirates PR man Jimmy Trdinich: As high school opponents, Andrew McCutchen (Fort Meade High) homered off Sale (Lakeland High). They have never faced each other in a regular-season MLB game, but McCutchen did get a base hit off Sale during the 2012 All-Star Game in Kansas City.

>>> 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)

>>> Saturday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park. TV: None. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA. RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2017 debut)

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Tyler Glasnow (2017 debut)

>>> Sunday’s game: Braves at Pirates, 1:35 p.m., PNC Park. TV: Root. Radio: 93.7 FM

Braves: Lineup TBA. RHP Julio Teheran (0-0, 0.00 ERA)

Pirates: Lineup TBA RHP Gerrit Cole (0-1, 9.00 ERA)

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. — 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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