Pirates 6, Astros 5

So I’m writing this entry for the second time since, much to my disgust, my connection cut out as I was trying to save my original post-game recap and erased it all. On that note, Take 2.

***

While the story on the main site will go into a bit more detail about Paul Maholm’s strong outing on Saturday, I don’t want to leave Jeff Karstens out of the mix either. Karstens made his first appearance and ended up pitching two innings, despite only being originally slated to toss one. But when he got out of his first inning of work with little sweat, the Pirates decided to let him extend his day.

Karstens ended up throwing 27 pitches in all, though it was the sinkers that he threw that were most notable. Under the direction of pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, Karstens has lowered his arm slot and has incorporated a sinker into his pitch repertoire. It’s not a pitch that Karstens has used much in the past, but one that he feels will make him more efficient.

“It feels good, and I’m going to keep running with it,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes.”

Karstens has taken some time to talk with Maholm this spring about the sinker pitch, which has been key to Maholm’s success. And now Karstens has seen some immediate success of his own — all six of his outs were recorded via groundballs.

Manager John Russell, too, was impressed: “He threw the ball well. He’s a command guy. I think the key to him is being efficient. When he is efficient, just as we saw last year, he can be pretty good. Today kind of showed what he can do.”

***

The wind was blowing out at Osceola County Stadium on Saturday, and the Pirates hitters took full advantage. After coming in with just one team home run in three games, the Pirates knocked four balls out of the park on Saturday. Three were from outfielders — Brandon Moss, Jeff Salazar and Craig Monroe. Catcher Robinzon Diaz also went deep.

The home run barrage was a bit of a surprise on two fronts. One, the Pirates aren’t expected to be a team relying on the long ball. And two, this early in Spring Training, it’s usually the pitchers who have the advantage.

Obviously, the wind could care less about either.

***

First baseman Adam LaRoche came into Spring Training with a new plan of attack, and he’s certainly sticking to it. LaRoche vowed to take a strike in every at-bat before he swings this spring so that he’d be able to see more pitches. The hope is that he can then get his eye trained earlier — i.e. before April.

I’ve kept careful watch and LaRoche has indeed taken a called strike before taking his bat off his shoulders in every game. We’ll just all have to wait to April to see if the approach proves useful.

***

It’s about as meaningless as the outcome of these early Spring Training games, but take note that Pirates starters have not allowed an earned run yet this spring. Chris Bootcheck, Ian Snell, Tom Gorzelanny and Maholm have all made starts thus far and have combined to log seven innings without an earned run allowed.

It will be up to Jimmy Barthmaier on Sunday to keep the streak alive.

***

Up Next: The Pirates begin a four-game homestand in Bradenton with a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Tigers. Barthmaier will make the start and is scheduled to be followed by Bootcheck, Sean Burnett, Evan Meek and Tyler Yates.

Detroit is scheduled to send the following pitchers to the mound: Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Joel Zumaya and Zach Miner.

For those in Pittsburgh still trying to find a way to spend a Sunday without the Steelers, the game will be broadcast on 104.7 FM.

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