Orioles 6, Pirates 4 (ss); Pirates 6, Rays 5 (ss)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

The Pirates split the split-squad affairs, with the road group claiming a victory against the Rays in Port Charlotte. I didn’t see that game, obviously, but a few things stand out in the box score:

  • Garrett Atkins had a three-run homer, his second homer of the spring if you count the one he hit off the college kids on Friday. Both of Atkins’ hits in Grapefruit League play have been for extra bases.
  • The line wasn’t pretty for Fernando Nieve, one of many guys fighting for a bullpen spot. He was scheduled to pitch two innings and only made it through one. In that frame, Nieve allowed five hits and three earned runs. Two of those hits were doubles and four of the knocks were line drive hits.
  • Bryan Morris appeared to have a strong first inning and worked his way out of trouble in his second inning of work. He struck out Evan Longoria in a 1-2-3 first and induced a key double play in the second. A wild pitch allowed one run to score against him.

***

The most important development in Paul Maholm’s outing on Monday — and what I highlighted in the Beat item on the left-hander — was his attention to throwing inside. Be sure that this is going to be key not just for Maholm, but for this entire rotation to take significant steps forward. This and first-pitch strikes are going to be crucial.

Maholm learned long ago the importance of setting aside spring results and focusing on particulars. That said, he seemed hardly concerned about his final line — which included four hits and two runs.

“I would say I’m getting a lot more comfortable on the mound right now and getting in better rhythm,” Maholm said. “My rhythm is good. Everything is good. It’s just being able to do it consistently for a long stretch. For me, that’s what spring is for.”

Spring Training is also a pretty loose environment, and Maholm made sure to give Orioles catcher Craig Tatum some friendly flack. Maholm and Tatum were battery mates at Mississippi State, and Tatum tagged Maholm for a single when they faced each other in the second inning on Monday. Maholm responded by promptly picking Tatum off first.

“He can only pull the ball. I made him look good by throwing him a fastball in,” Maholm said, grinning. “I picked him off to make him look bad. We’re somewhat even. I’ll send him a text later asking him what he was thinking.”

***

Split-squad days, in particular, allow a handful of players from Minor League camp to get an opportunity in front of the Major League coaching staff. A number of those players spend the day with the big-league club and serve as late-inning substitutions when the starters take their early exits.

On Monday, Mel Rojas Jr., Miles Durham and Jim Negrych had their chance to make a first impression on new manager Clint Hurdle. For Durham, the impression was an especially good one.

Durham came to the plate twice, drawing one walk and launching a two-out, two-run homer in the ninth.

“First day and I just wanted to come here and help them out a little bit, and I did pretty well,” Durham said afterward. “[Hurdle] had never seen me play before, so it’s good to get a good first impression.”

The homer came after Durham fell just short on what would have been a sensational diving catch in the eighth. Durham laid out as the ball just missed his glove.

“I got real close,” Durham said. “It hit off the end of my glove and once I hit the ground, I lost it.”

Durham was the Pirates’ 22nd-round pick in 2006. He hit .259 with Double-A Altoona last season and went 3-for-10 in six Major League Spring Training games last year.

***

On the main site, you will find the following tonight:

  • The main story takes a look at Pedro Alvarez, who has showcased a terrific work ethic and has a serious motivation to not rely solely on his natural talent to be good. Let me emphasize for the last time that a report about Alvarez gaining 15 pounds this winter was entirely inaccurate. Alvarez did gain muscle this offseason (not nearly 15 pounds worth), but it’s been unfair that he has had to answer questions this spring about a weight issue that isn’t an issue at all.
  • Bucs Beat has an update on Joe Beimel, as well as a closer look at Maholm’s outing. From Port Charlotte, MLB.com’s Evan Drellich contributes a note about Morris’ outing. Interesting, too, that Morris faced Manny Ramirez, who was a part of that three-team trade that sent Morris to Pittsburgh and Ramirez to the Dodgers back in 2008.

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

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