Yankees 9, Pirates 8
Nyjer Morgan (pictured left) has been a popular point of discussion between the media and GM Neal Huntington as of late. And rightfully so. The Pirates named Morgan the starting left fielder before the spring started, largely based on Morgan’s impressive showing with the Pirates last August/September.
However, this spring has been a battle for Morgan. Though he finished Sunday with two hits, Morgan entered the day with just 12 in 64 at-bats. The Pirates like what Morgan has done on the bases, but he hasn’t been getting on base enough to really justify his position as a starter.
I get the impression that the Pirates aren’t going to be overly patient with Morgan once the regular season rolls around if he can’t get on base enough. But at the same time, all signs point toward Morgan still being the team’s Opening Day left fielder one week from Monday.
“Nyjer has had a tough spring, but we don’t want to make too much of good or too much of bad in Spring Training,” Huntington said. “Nyjer has done what we’ve asked of him, he just hasn’t gotten hits. Has he expanded the zone too much? Yes. He is aggressive. He is high-energy. What he showed in August and September showed that he can perform at the big league level and to take that away from him may be a little bit tough.”
Huntington followed that up by clarifying the difference between Morgan’s situation and that of former Pirates catcher Ronny Paulino last year. In other words, how can management say that Morgan can’t lose a starting job in Spring Training when Paulino did to Ryan Doumit last spring?
“Last year Ryan Doumit came in and took the job away from Ronny Paulino, but he took it away from him from the beginning of October,” Huntington said. “Nyjer has done what he needed to do from the beginning of October. He’s come in in shape. He’s come in ready to go. It’s a tough decision. We don’t want to make a short-term decision with long-term ramifications on this type of situation.”
However, while Morgan will start the season in left field, the Pirates will also carry some legitimate backup options (Eric Hinske, for one) that will supplant him if he starts out poorly. Not to mention, Andrew McCutchen, assuming he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, will be breathing down Morgan’s neck while in Triple-A.
Huntington reiterated on Sunday how the business side could play a large role in the decisions about the four open bullpen spots.
Huntington said of Rule 5 pick Donnie Veal that it would be a “tough decision to not put him on the club.” The Pirates would obviously have to offer Veal back to the Cubs should he not be on the 25-man roster all year.
And then there are Sean Burnett and Craig Hansen who are out of options, meaning that the Pirates could potentially lose either if they don’t make the spring cut. Expect that to weigh heavily during decision-making time. I don’t get the impression that the Pirates are ready to risk losing either. They saw Burnett have success in 2008, and they still like Hansen’s power arm upside.
“The roster decisions at this point aren’t going to be made on what somebody shows us today,” Huntington said. “It’s going to be more the big picture puzzle. There are some moves that are irreversible. We take a player who is out of options out and he goes somewhere else, you can’t get that player back.”
Huntingon reiterated on Sunday that Andy Phillips looks to be out of contention for an Opening Day roster spot because of his extended absence with a back injury. Phillips did come into Sunday’s game to play first, marking his first appearance since March 7. However, the Pirates wanted more time to test Phillips’ versatility before giving him a roster spot.
That leaves Brian Bixler and Luis Cruz as the remaining infield bench options.
The line score for Zach Duke — 3 1/3 innings pitched, 9 hits, 8 earned runs, 3 walks, 1 strikeout — was obviously not very good. But let’s try to pull what positives we can out of it for a second, since that was Duke’s goal.
He was obviously OK with getting the bad outing out of the way this week as opposed to one week from now when games count. He was charged with seven earned runs in the fourth, but seemed pleased with the opportunity to have the practice of working through an extended inning.
“I think it’s definitely good to have an extended inning where I have to throw a lot of pitches,” he said. “You never want to get in that situation in the regular season and melt down. So if I can go through an experience like that right now then it’s definitely better than [if it happened] in a couple weeks.”
Duke’s fastball location was just fine through the first three innings. His curveball was decent as well. His changeup wasn’t as sharp as desired, though that’s something that Duke said he is continuing to work on.
Heading into Sunday, Duke had a 1.83 ERA in six Spring Training games. He had struck out 13, walked four and allowed only 14 hits in 19 2/3 innings.
Jason Davis, who is fighting for a long relief bullpen spot, didn’t help his case on Sunday. After seven consecutive scoreless outings, Davis took the loss, allowing one run on two hits and two walks in two innings.
Davis has crept into recent bullpen discussion because of his recent results. However, the loser of the Virgil Vasquez/Jeff Karstens battle for the No. 5 rotation spot would also be under consideration for that long reliever spot.
If he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster, Davis will start in Triple-A.
Up Next: It’s round No. 5 of 6 against the Reds this spring on Monday when the Pirates return home to face their fellow National League Central mates in a 1:05 p.m. ET contest. Ross Ohlendorf will make the start for the Pirates against Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto.
The game will be webcast on www. pirates.com.