Braves 4, Pirates 2

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Morton, Charle 03-04_189.jpgIt was not an especially impressive showing of control by Pirates pitchers on Thursday. There were a total of 10 walks and two hit batters during the contest. The breakdown was as follows: Charlie Morton (3 BB, 1 HBP), Brian Burres (4 BB, 1 HBP), Vinnie Chulk (2 BB) and Anthony Claggett (1 BB).  The latter two pitched just one inning apiece.

Gold stars go to Brad Lincoln and Jeff Karstens for throwing the ball over the plate in their respective innings.

The one silver lining manager John Russell found after watching way too many balls thrown out of the zone was that the majority of those pitches were low. Always less dangerous to miss down in the zone than up, of course. Russell noted that the trend of low pitches could be a byproduct of the pitchers throwing with that low pink string during their side sessions.

Of course remember, too, that all six pitchers that appeared in Thursday’s loss were pitching in a game for the first time since the 2009. So we won’t jump to any conclusions just yet.

***

Don’t ignore the significance of Lincoln’s one-inning appearance on Thursday because he sure wasn’t. Having had his first stop in Major League camp cut (back in 2007) short by an arm injury, Lincoln is quite clearly embracing everything to do with his journey to the big leagues. It’s refreshing, at least for me, to see someone clearly loving what he does and showing such an appreciation for being given a second chance.

Anyways, I’m sure Lincoln wasn’t expecting to face a likely future Hall of Famer in his first Grapefruit League game, but sure enough that’s what he got when Chipper Jones walked to the plate to lead off the fifth.

“And then he swings at the first pitch,” Lincoln noted afterward. “I was like, ‘Come on, man. I’m trying to get my feet wet.'”

Jones laced that first pitch to left for a single. A diving Lastings Milledge came up just short of making what would have been a spectacular catch. After Jones was erased on a double play, Brian McCann took Lincoln’s 3-2 fastball and sent it into the right-center field gap for a double. Lincoln then responded with three straight strikes to fan Matt Diaz and end the inning.

“The adrenaline was definitely flowing,” Lincoln said. “To go out there and face guys like I did was exciting for me. I was having fun out there going out for my first time. Throwing strikes is the main thing. I didn’t want to walk anybody. I’m going to challenge guys and if they hit it, that’s the outcome. I like to go right at them.”

Russell’s impression: “He was throwing the ball well. He was keeping the ball down for the most part. His emotions were probably a little high. It was a good first outing for him.”

For the record, Lincoln threw one changeup in the inning. He stuck with fastballs and curveballs the rest of the way. I mention this only because the changeup is the pitch that Lincoln is really focusing on as spring progresses.

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Prize for the first home run in Pirates camp this spring goes to third baseman Andy LaRoche (Sorry Steve Pearce, Erik Kratz and Brandon Moss. We’re not counting Tuesday’s exhibition affair). LaRoche deposited a Juan Abreu pitch over the left-field wall in the seventh.

LaRoche has entered 2010 with the goal of being more aggressive, particularly in hitter’s counts, and this could be a sign of that paying off. He’s never going to be the club’s primary home run threat, but LaRoche seems to believe there is more pop in his bat than he showed in ’09. LaRoche went deep 12 times last year and finished with another 34 extra-base hits.

***

Up Next: Let the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation officially begin on Friday. Daniel McCutchen is scheduled to follow Zach Duke in the Pirates’ game against their new Florida neighbors, the Orioles. The game, which will be played in Sarasota, is scheduled to begin at 7:05 pm ET and will be broadcast on 104.7 FM.

Duke and Maholm are each scheduled to throw two innings in the game. Virgil Vasquez (who served up Wednesday’s walk-off homer), Evan Meek, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Powell, and Claggett are expected to follow.

Don’t expect to see a bevy of regulars in the lineup on Friday because of its late starting time. Playing them on Friday night wouldn’t bode well for also getting starters into Saturday’s home opener, which Russell plans to do.

The Oroles are scheduled to start right-hander Chris Tillman. He’ll be followed by Jim Johnson and Alfredo Simon.

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

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