Results tagged ‘ Denny Bautista ’

Hansen, Bautista outrighted to Triple-A; Bootcheck elects free agency

By Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

In order to start making additional room on their 40-man roster, the Pirates outrighted right-handed pitchers Denny Bautista and Craig Hansen to Triple-A on Tuesday. Chris Bootcheck was also removed from team’s 40-man roster but informed the Pirates that he will declare free agency since his length of Minor League service time gives him the option to do so.

With those moves, the Pirates now have 38 players on the team’s 40-man roster. Hansen had been on the 60-day disabled list and therefore wasn’t counting as a player on the Pirates’ roster even before being outrighted.

With these three moves, general manager Neal Huntington has begun the process of clearing space for the Pirates to make necessary additions to the roster in advance of the Major League Rule 5 Draft in December. Too, any open space on the roster would allow the Pirates to make a selection in that Rule 5 Draft, which Huntington has done in each of his seasons as the Pirates’ GM.

The Pirates do in fact have some roster shuffling left to do. Right-handers Jose Ascanio and Evan Meek, both of whom ended the season on the 60-day DL, will need to be added in the next few weeks. Those two additions alone would fill the roster back to its maximum.

Right-hander Tyler Yates is also currently on the 60-day DL. However, the Pirates almost certainly won’t tender Yates a contract since the right-hander will not be healthy enough to pitch until midway through the 2010 season at the earliest. Yates underwent Tommy John surgery in July.

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August 15: Pirates (46-69) @ Cubs (59-55); Bixler recalled, Bautista selected, Salazar DFAed, Ascanio to DL

Well, we have quite the checklist to go through on this early morning in Chicago… Since Friday’s 17-2 trouncing by the Cubs, the Pirates have made four roster moves. Right-hander Denny Bautista and shortstop-turned-utilityman Brian Bixler walked into the clubhouse at about 9:30 CT this morning, fresh off a flight from Columbus, Ohio, where the Triple-A Indians are playing a series.

Bautista takes a spot in the bullpen that was freed up by having to place righty Jose Ascanio on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis. Manager John Russell said that Ascanio first start feeling some soreness during his Aug. 11 appearance in Colorado and continued to feel the tightness while throwing lightly on Friday.

The Pirates have had all sorts of issues keeping their bullpen arms healthy this year. Craig Hansen hasn’t pitched since April and is out for the year. Tyler Yates is out for the season after having to undergo Tommy John surgery in July. Evan Meek suffered a left oblique strain already on this road trip. Donnie Veal is just returning to throwing after being sidelined with a sprained left index finger. And Phil Dumatrait is finishing up a rehab assignment in Triple-A, though he is expected to join the Pirates’ bullpen next Friday.

Bautista had a 4.88 ERA in 36 appearances with Indianapolis this season. In 48 innings, Bautista struck out 58 and walked 34. It’s that control that plagued Bautista during his time with the Major League club last season.

With Bautista needing to get on the 40-man roster and that roster full, the Pirates were forced to designated outfielder Jeff Salazar for assignment. The Pirates now have 10 days to trade, release or outright Salazar to the Minors if he passes through waivers. Salazar went 1-for-26 with the Pirates, playing primarily as a pinch hitter.

Salazar’s exit led to Bixler’s entrance, as the Pirates needed to call up a position player already on the team’s 40-man roster. Bixler has recently been converted to a utility player, splitting time at short, second and in center field since the beginning of July. In all, Bixler has started 60 games at short, 24 at second and 11 in center since the start of the season.

Bixler is not expected to get substantial playing time, though Russell said he hopes that Bixler’s recent offensive success in Triple-A will be sustained off the bench here. Bixler had a 15-game hitting streak with Indianapolis at the time of the call up and had hit .335 since July 1. He was recently named Indianapolis’ July Player of the Month.

Phew… got all that?

As for today’s other news, notes and randomness…

  • Pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and Charlie Morton, who gave up 10 runs in his one-inning start here on Friday, had a lengthy discussion early this morning out on the bullpen mound. They also talked at length Friday afternoon after Morton met with the media postgame.
  • Veal threw his second side session on Saturday, with Russell watching. Veal is still expected to be reexamined in Pittsburgh on Monday. 
  • Catcher Ryan Doumit is back in the lineup after a two-game hiatus. Doumit’s right wrist is said to be just fine.
  • Luis Cruz is getting a start at second and Ramon Vazquez is getting the start at third this afternoon. Just a day off for Andy LaRoche and Delwyn Young, so nothing more there.
  • This isn’t a pretty stat: The Pirates are just 4-52 when trailing after six innings. That doesn’t say much for late-inning comeback chances.
  • Saturday is Zach Duke’s fourth go at 10 wins, though had he had some bullpen and offensive help, he’d be well past that mark already. He’s had some success at Wrigley Field, though not recently. In his first five starts here, Duke went 3-1 with a 1.43. In his last two, he’s 0-2 wiht a 6.33 ERA. His last win at Wrigley: May 2, 2006.
  • Double-A third baseman Pedro Alvarez went 3-for-3 with a home run for Altoona on Friday night. The homer was his 23rd of the season. Alvarez has hit .468 in August.
  • Lefty Daniel Moskos pitched eight strong innings in that Double-A game. He allowed two runs on five hits and struck out eight. The start was the longest of his career.

Pirates lineup:

  1. Andrew McCutchen (CF)
  2. Lastings Milledge (LF)
  3. Garrett Jones (RF)
  4. Ryan Doumit (C)
  5. Steve Pearce (1B)
  6. Ronny Cedeno (SS)
  7. Ramon Vazquez (3B)
  8. Luis Cruz (2B)
  9. Zach Duke (LHP)

Cubs lineup:

  1. Ryan Theriot (SS)
  2. Milton Bradley (RF)
  3. Derrek Lee (1B)
  4. Jake Fox (3B)
  5. Jeff Baker (2B)
  6. Alfonso Soriano (LF)
  7. Geovany Soto (C)
  8. Sam Fuld (CF)
  9. Tom Gorzelanny (LHP) 

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Red Sox 4, Pirates 3

Thumbnail image for Huntington.jpg

The Pirates have officially told Craig Monroe that he is on the team — we didn’t get official word this morning, so I figured I’d update this bit of news now.

As of 5 p.m., the Pirates were in the process of contacting whoever is being removed from the team’s 40-man roster to make room for Monroe. Once that player is reached, the move will be officially announced. Check back for an update later this evening.

***

One thing that GM Neal Huntington (pictured above) has tried to emphasize – and which I’ll do again here – is that the Pirates team that stands on the Busch Stadium field Monday for the National Anthem very well might not be the team that fills PNC Park midway through the month. In other words, the Pirates have options, plenty they feel, to call upon should any of the 25 players the team leaves camp with falter.

So who would be the most likely to come up soon?

There’s Andy Phillips to consider, as he was putting himself in position to be the team’s utility infielder until a back injury cost him three weeks in March. The Pirates want to still see Phillips play second, and if he can go down to Triple-A, get in some at-bats and move around the field, the Pirates could very well swap Luis Cruz for Phillips pretty soon.

Andrew McCutchen is another one to keep your eye on. The Pirates have a few more areas of development for McCutchen to meet, but as soon as he does, he should be in Pittsburgh. Whether that’s early summer or late is a point of interest. And be sure that if Nyjer Morgan or Brandon Moss struggle to be everyday contributors that the Pirates will have to look hard at McCutchen.

From a starting standpoint, Virgil Vasquez and Jason Davis would be the two likeliest candidates to be called up should a starting need arise. Jeff Karstens is going to have to continue to earn his rotation spot, and should he slip, the Pirates won’t hesitate to make a move.

Then there is the bullpen, which could very well be a revolving door all season. Actually, I’d bet on it being that way. There certainly will be some up and down movement; it’s just a question of who and when. As it stands now, Denny Bautista, Chris Bootcheck and either Evan Meek or Jesse Chavez (whoever doesn’t make the roster) would seem to be the first in line for a call-up. With so many unknowns in that bullpen, there is the potential for plenty of experimenting.

***

Meek, who is battling for the final bullpen spot, threw a light side session on Wednesday despite still looking visibly ill with bronchitis. The Pirates are hopeful that he’ll be well enough to pitch in Thursday’s game against the Reds, as they’d like another look at the right-hander before making final roster decisions.

Meek last pitched on March 20. He was then shut down for a week due to a tired shoulder. Then, just as he was cleared to return to the mound, Meek came down with the stomach flu and then bronchitis. 

***

Paul Maholm has been waiting to have his “bad outing” all spring. In his mind, it came on Wednesday. Maholm’s final line wasn’t awful – 4 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 1 HR – but Maholm definitely wasn’t satisfied.

“Today was the first day I actually felt bad,” he said. “To go all spring and only feel bad in one start is pretty good. You could throw every pitch out but the fastball today, since that’s how things were going. [I'm] glad to get [the bad outing] out of the way.”

When Maholm surrendered a three-run homer in the fourth, it snapped a streak of 18 2/3 scoreless innings for the left-hander. He finished the spring with a 1.52 ERA. And like all of us, Maholm is just relieved finally to have finished.

“More than forever,” Maholm answered when asked how long Spring Training felt. “Eternity in Bradenton. Seven weeks in sunny Florida is way too long.”

I have to selfishly add an “amen” to that.

***

Just as Maholm did on Wednesday (only pitching four innings), all the starters will back off on their pitch counts this week. Each has already reached the 90-pitch mark in an outing this spring, and this is the last time through the rotation before the season starts.

***

Minor Matters: LHP Tom Gorzelanny threw five shutout innings in a Triple-A game on Wednesday. He allowed four hits, two walks and struck out six. Since being sent down to Minor League camp, Gorzelanny has allowed three earned runs, nine hits and four walks in 12 innings. He has 13 strikeouts in that span.

***

Up Next: The Pirates will have two games on Thursday. The Major League players will head over to Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota for a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Reds. Ian Snell, assuming that he is over a bout with the stomach flu, will start for Pittsburgh against Cincinnati’s Edinson Volquez.

The Pirates will also host Manatee Community College at McKechnie Field on Thursday in the two team’s annual charity game. Vasquez, recently demoted into the Triple-A rotation, is expected to pitch for the Pirates. The rest of the team playing in the exhibition game will likely be made up of players from Minor League camp.

Day 47: Red Sox @ Pirates; Karstens, Monroe, Cruz in; Eight others out

Today held the big wave of cuts we had all been anticipating… and finally, the final 25-man roster is coming into view. Here’s the news from this morning…

  • Jeff Karstens has been named the team’s fifth starter. Virgil Vasquez was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis where he will be in the starting rotation. Ultimately, the Pirates decided against keeping Vasquez with the big league team as a long reliever. The thought is that if the need for a long reliever presents itself, the team will dip into its Minor League options.
  • Utility infielder Luis Cruz has been told that he will be on the team, barring any unforseen acquisition. Craig Monroe has not been officially added to the roster, though GM Neal Huntington said he expects that to be done by the end of the day today. Monroe had an escape clause in his deal that would have allowed him to leave the organization today if he did not make the team. The Pirates are ready to put Monroe on the club, but have to clear a spot on the 40-man roster before officially doing so.
  • Three relievers — Jason Davis, Chris Bootcheck and Denny Bautista – were reassigned to Minor League camp. Also reassigned to Minor League camp were Andy Phillips, Garrett Jones, Eric Kratz and Jeff Salazar.
  • There are now five relievers — Craig HansenSean Burnett, Donnie Veal, Evan Meek and Jesse Chavez – competing for the final four bullpen spots. Huntington said that none of those relievers has won a job just yet. Hansen and Burnett are out of options, so they are likely to break camp with the team. Donnie Veal must make the team as a Rule 5 pick or be offered back to the Cubs, and Huntington said on Sunday that it would be hard to leave Veal off the roster at this point. That would seem to leave Meek and Chavez fighting for that final spot.
  • Meek’s health is improving, but he is still out with bronchitis. His shoulder feels fine, though. Huntington said that the team would like to give Meek another opportunity to show where he is physically and command-wise before making any final bullpen decisions. The question is whether Meek can get healthy quickly enough.
  • Though the Pirates have been scouring the waiver wire and calling teams about possible trades, Huntington said that there are no imminent acquisitions likely.

“We continue to look and we continue to explore. Some of the people that we’ve talked to have chosen other opportunities. Some of the people that we’ve talked to our looking for more than we are willing to give and that’s in trades and free agency. Nothing is imminent, nor do we feel like we have to do anything to add. We like what we have. Can we be better? We can always be better. But we feel good about the options that we have internally really at every spot. Now we just need young guys to step up and capture their opportunities.”

  • Though jobs have been handed out, Huntington made it quite clear that jobs have to be kept. He singled out left field (Nyjer Morgan), right field (Brandon Moss), third base (Andy LaRoche), the rotation and the four relievers-to-be-named-soon as having the most to prove early.
  • With Wednesday’s cuts, the Pirates have 27 players remaining in camp. Phil Dumatrait is scheduled to start the season on the 15-day DL, which means that there is only one other cut necessary before the start of the season.

And if that isn’t enough for you… here’s the starting lineup, one that looks as I’d expect it to look on Opening Day on Monday.

Pirates lineup:

  1. Nyjer Morgan (LF)
  2. Freddy Sanchez (2B)
  3. Nate McLouth (CF)
  4. Ryan Doumit (C)
  5. Adam LaRoche (1B)
  6. Brandon Moss (RF)
  7. Andy LaRoche (3B)
  8. Jack Wilson (SS)
  9. Paul Maholm (LHP)

Red Sox lineup:

  1. Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)
  2. Dustin Pedroia (2B)
  3. Chris Carter (1B)
  4. Rocco Baldelli (DH)
  5. Jed Lowrie (SS)
  6. George Kottaras (C)
  7. Chip Ambres (LF)
  8. Ryan Kalish (RF)
  9. Gil Velazquez (3B)

Pitcher: Josh Beckett 
 

Pirates 7, Rays 7 (11 innings)

The competition for those final rotation vacancies spotlighted Tom Gorzelanny and Jeff Karstens on Sunday.

After two fairly efficient innings, Gorzelanny stumbled slightly in his third and final inning. However, he did successfully limit the damage to just two runs despite allowing four hits (all singles) in the frame.

“Today was a really good step forward,” he said afterward. “I feel strong out there. The ball feels good coming out of my hand.”

Gorzelanny had targeted being able to finish four innings, but the extended third inning kept him from reaching that mark for the first time this spring.

Karstens also tossed three innings and had arguably his sharpest outing yet. After giving up five runs in his last 4 2/3 innings, Karstens pitched three scoreless frames and allowed only two baserunners.

“It was better today,” manager John Russell said of the two performances. “More strikes. Down in the zone. It was progress.”

It could very well come down to Karstens and Gorzelanny for that final rotation spot.

***

When asked if he was comfortable penciling any other starters into the rotation, GM Neal Huntington wouldn’t define Ian Snell and Zach Duke as being locks just yet, but did say that “they certainly are cementing their inside track.”

Huntington was then asked who else has made an early impression for the final two spots. Huntington’s response: “[Ross] Ohlendorf has thrown the ball well at times. Virgil Vasquez has thrown the ball well at times. But I can’t say that anyone has really stepped out and put a stranglehold on one of those two spots.”

It’s assumed that Karstens and Gorzelanny are both still in the mix, as well.

***

Huntington also said to expect a significant wave of cuts early this week. With 53 players left in camp, the Pirates are going to start quickly clearing space so that those in the Major League camp can get sufficient playing time during these last three weeks.

Players who are already slotted in to start the season in the Minors are going to be among the first cut. Also, expect the Pirates to cut one to two starters (my guess: Jimmy Barthmaier and possibly Daniel McCutchen), so that the rest of the starters can continue to build up their innings. With the way starters are piggybacking right now, there would come a point where the Pirates wouldn’t be able to get any relievers into games if they don’t slim down their starters in camp.

***

There was a nice glimpse of the future (a future that is coming pretty quickly…) for the Bucs on Sunday. Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata, both of whom could be in the outfield at PNC Park by the end of the season, each started and made their own impact. Pedro Alvarez entered the game midway through to ensure that all three of the organization’s top prospects were on the field at once.

In addition to a spectacular catch on a full out sprint, McCutchen had two hits (one triple) and scored once.

Tabata went 2-for-4 with a double, RBI and run scored. He also threw out Carl Crawford at home when Crawford tried to score from second on a single.

“This guy is under the radar a little bit, but he’s someone to watch,” Russell said. “He’s a special kind of hitter.”

And though Alvarez, had just two at-bats, he had time for a monster three-run homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth that closed a four run deficit to just one. The home run hit halfway up the batter’s eye in dead center (414 feet from home).

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Alvarez said of his Spring Training experience. “They’ve all kind of taken me under their wing. Just the fact that I’m here is a huge stride in itself. I would do anything to be able to play with these guys. It’s pretty cool to be a “candidate” to have an impact on a Major League club.”  

***

World Baseball Classic update:

  • Snell will start for Team Puerto Rico on Monday when the Puerto Rican team faces Team Venezuela.
  • Ramon Vazquez, also on Team Puerto Rico, went 1-for-4 with a double and two runs scored in Puerto Rico’s statement win against the US on Saturday night.
  • John Grabow pitched for the US in that game and had two strikeouts in a scoreless inning of relief.

***

Up Next: It’s the first game under the lights at McKechnie Field this year on Monday and it will be the Rays coming to town. The game, which is scheduled to start at 7:05 p.m. ET, is the first of two night games at McKechnie this spring. The facility hosted its first night game last season after lights were installed.

Scheduled to pitch for the Pirates: Paul  Maholm, Denny Bautista, Chris Bootcheck, Craig Hansen, Donnie Veal. Tampa Bay is scheduled to start Andy Sonnanstine.

Also, note that the game will be televised by FSN-Pittsburgh, so those of you in the Pittsburgh area can get your first glimpse at your 2009 Bucs club.

Pirates 6, Phillies 5


Thumbnail image for Daniel McCutchen 2.jpgZach Duke
had a stellar game, his best yet in what had already been an cumulatively impressive spring.

Fellow starter Daniel McCutchen (pictured to left), however, didn’t fare so well. McCutchen took a step back in his Spring Training progression on Friday — 1 1/3 innings pitched, six hits, five earned runs, one walk, one strikeout.

What had McCutchen most disappointed, too, was that this outing came on the heels of his strongest spring showing his last time out.

***

On Thursday, it was non-roster invitee Craig Monroe (three homers) who stole the show. On Friday, it was non-roster invitee Jeff Salazar who hit the headline shot. Salazar’s three-run home run with one out in the ninth sealed the come-from-behind win for the team.

Both Salazar and Monroe are battling for a backup outfield spot that only one of them will be able to get. But the Pirates have to like the fact that both guys, along with a number of others, are going to make those final roster decisions as tough as possible.

“It’s a nice problem to have,” manager John Russell said. “Last year we were trying to search for things a lot, especially when the season got going and we needed help. We felt like we were in a bind. This year, we like the options we have.”

Monroe still likely has the leg up in the competition for that bench spot because the Pirates ideally need a right-handed hitting outfield option. Still, Salazar, who has three home runs this spring, would give the Pirates an intriguing option down at Triple-A if he starts there and then the Major League club runs into a need for another outfielder.

***

No new injury updates today. Eric Hinske (left rib cage contusion), Andy Phillips (lower back stiffness) and Shelby Ford (sprained right wrist) all stayed back at McKechnie Field for the day. As mentioned in the blog this morning, Brandon Moss has also returned to Bradenton and seemed encouraged by decreasing swelling in his right thumb. Now it’s just a matter of how long it will take Moss to get the strength back in his grip.

***

When Salazar’s three-run homer in the top of the ninth ensured a bottom half of the inning, former Expos pitcher Jeremy Powell got to make an appearance before the day’s end. Powell, who was signed by the Pirates to a Minor League deal this offseason, is participating in Minor League camp, but traveled with the team to Clearwater, Fla., in case the need for an extra reliever arose.

This is Powell’s first time back playing professionally in the US since 2000, when he was playing in Montreal. From 2001-08, Powell pitched in Japan.

***

Up Next: The mighty Yankees come to town on Saturday, except for they won’t, uh, be so mighty this time around. New York has a split-squad on the schedule tomorrow, and I’d suspect that most of the Major League players on the team will stay behind for the game in Tampa. Sorry to all of you who bought tickets for the game expecting to see the Yankees’ Major League team.

Pirates starter Ross Ohlendorf will get to face his former team for the first time in what will be Ohlendorf’s fourth spring appearance. Denny Bautista, Chris Bootcheck, Sean Burnett, Jesse Chavez, Craig Hansen and Donnie Veal are also scheduled to pitch for the Pirates.

The Yankees will start right-hander Phil Hughes.

For those back in Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast on 104.7 FM.

Pirates 2, Blue Jays 2 (11 innings)

Starter Paul Maholm may have said it best when he jokingly approached reporters and said: “Same old, same old.”

That’s about right for the lefty, who continues to breeze through his spring appearances looking more and more in regular season form by the outing. His efficiency has been remarkable.

On Wednesday, Maholm increased his workload to four innings. He allowed three hits, but kept Toronto off the scoreboard. He struck out one.

“I felt comfortable,” he said afterward. “For me, you go out there, compete and get guys out. I’m not really worried about necessarily working on specific things. I go out there and challenge guys and make them hit it on the ground.”

Unlike most of the other starters who have attributed spring struggles to the fact that they are using their outings to work on certain pitches or mechanical adjustments, Maholm went out on Wednesday and threw every pitch in his repertoire.

Of the 38 pitches he threw, 28 were strikes. And mastering what pitching coach Joe Kerrigan has preached, Maholm threw first pitch strikes to 11 of the 14 hitters he faced.

“Right now, I have a rhythm of challenging guys, no matter which pitch I’m throwing, and trying to get strikes with it,” he said. “I make sure the ball’s down so if they’re early-swinging, the ball’s hit on the ground.”

Maholm has now allowed just five hits and one run in nine Grapefruit League innings. He also said on Wednesday that he has never felt better duing Spring Training than he does now. That’s a benefit of the confidence he’s carried over from last season and the consistency he’s found in his mechanics.

***

Jeff Karstens continues to make his pitch for a rotation spot, as he made his third spring appearance on Wednesday. Karstens allowed two runs on three hits and struck out two in two innings.

Other than Karstens’ pitches looking “flat,” as manager John Russell put it, to three consecutive hitters in the sixth, Russell and Karstens both appeared pleased with the appearance. 

“On the whole, though, it was a positive outing,” Karstens said. “I feel good about it, other than giving up a couple of runs. I threw a lot of strikes. The big thing I need to do now is keep the ball down in the strike zone. I’m still leaving too many pitches up and I can’t get away with that in the regular season.”

Karstens threw just 28 pitches (18 for strikes) and was taken out after two innings. Don’t worry, though — that had nothing to do with health or ineffectiveness. Though Karstens is being built up as a starter (and as a rotation candidate for the Pirates), the Pirates cut back on his work Wednesday so that Maholm could go four innings.

Karstens will be brought back either a day before or after Maholm next time out so that both of them can build up their innings count on different days. If the two were to pitch consecutively again, there would potentially be no room to squeeze in an appearance by a reliever.

***

Bucs bits:

  • With a scoreless appearance in the ninth, Evan Meek has now made six scoreless spring appearances. Meek has not walked a batter yet this spring and has allowed just two hits. He has five strikeouts.
  • Former Pirate T.J. Beam (who was claimed by Toronto after being designated for assignment by Pittsburgh back in January) pitched a scoreless inning against his former team.
  • With a walk in his only plate appearance of the day, Brian Bixler extended his on-base streak to eight consecutive games.

***

Up Next: The Pirates face the Twins on Thursday in a 1:05 p.m. game at McKechnie Field. Scheduled to take the mound for the Pirates are: Virgil Vasquez, Tyler Yates, Jesse Chavez, Chris Bootcheck, Denny Bautista and Sean Burnett. Minnesota is scheduled to start Scott Baker.

The game will be webcast on www.pirates.com. Also, Sirius XM will be broadcasting live from McKechnie Field prior to the game. The “Power Alley” show will be on air from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. and will highlight the Pirates outlook for the season.  

Pirates 10, Twins 1

Moss 09ST 02-13 (040.jpgObviously the big story/concern of the day is the severity of Brandon Moss’ (pictured left) thumb injury.

There’s a story up on the main site with all the ins and outs of Moss’ injury, so I won’t rehash it here. That story can be found here.

There’s a chance we might know more later Saturday night once the Pirates get the results of Moss’ X-rays. If not, though, the Pirates should know tomorrow how long they can expect their right fielder out for.

We won’t go into worst-case scenarios just yet, since we don’t know anything, but in the meantime, the Pirates outfielders are dropping pretty quickly.

Here’s what we’re looking at on the injury front right now:

  • Eric Hinske has been out since Feb. 26 with a left rib cage strain. He’s progressing, but isn’t expected back until the latter part of next week.
  • Steve Pearce, too, hasn’t appeared in a game since Feb. 26 and is dealing with a strained left calf. Pearce is tentatively expected back late next week as well, but that’s only if everything progresses well.
  • Jose Tabata is slowly working his way back to throwing after being shut down because of some mild inflammation in his right shoulder. Manager John Russell said that Tabata could play as a DH maybe as early as Monday, but his return to the outfield isn’t so imminent.

So with the slew of outfielder injuries, where does that leave the team? The club has five healthy outfielders left in camp — Nyjer Morgan, Nate McLouth, Andrew McCutchen, Jeff Salazar and Craig Monroe. However, they also have a number of listed infielders who can play the outfield, too. Garrett Jones, Andy Phillips and Luis Cruz all fall in this category.

Also, don’t be surprised if the Pirates dip into mini-camp for a few extra bodies to hold them over until these injured outfielders start returning.

***

Lost in the news of Moss’ injury and a hit parade by the offense were some notable pitching performances. Starter Zach Duke and Russell both were pleased with the Duke’s third start of the spring. Unlike some of Duke’s rotation counterparts earlier this week, he was successfully able to finish three innings of work.

“I left a couple pitches up in the zone. Other than that I felt pretty good,” Duke said. “I’m definitely where I’d like to be [right now]. My feel for my secondary pitches is a lot further along than it has been at this point in past years. It’s a very encouraging sign for me.”

Duke allowed one run on three hits in his three inning. He didn’t issue a walk and struck out one. Afterward, Duke credited some improved offseason workouts and work with a physical therapist (arm care specialist as he so perfectly put it) to his increased strength and sturdiness up to this point.

“I liked the way the ball was staying down more today,” Russell said. “His breaking ball was more consistent. He used both sides. When he does that, he’s pretty efficient.”

***

Daniel McCutchen, also fighting for a rotation spot like Duke, also made a nice impression with Russell. After struggling a bit in his first two spring appearaces, a more relaxed McCutchen took the mound on Saturday and had notable success.

He allowed just one baserunner in two innings.

“He’s starting to trust what he’s doing more,” Russell said. “He’s looking more comfortable on the mound, and the more outings he gets, the better rhythm he’s getting.”

McCutchen is still likely to start the season in the Triple-A rotation, but he’s giving the Pirates a good look now at what they can expect from him in the Majors down the road.

***

The long line of relievers continue to throw scoreless innings this spring. Craig Hansen, Chris Bootcheck and Tyler Yates all kept that 0.00 Spring Training ERA with scoreless one-inning appearances on Saturday. Each allowed one baserunner.

Hansen has accumulated five scoreless innings, Bootcheck has accumulated six and Yates has accumualted four.

***

World Baseball Classic Update:

  • Lefty reliever Dave Davidson pitched the eighth inning for Team Canada on Saturday in the Canadians’ 6-5 loss to Team USA. Davidson pitched a scoreless frame, allowing one hit, one walk and striking out one.
  • Ramon Vazquez earned the start at third base and is batting second for Team Puerto Rico against Team Panama. However, that game is just getting underway as I sit here typing that, so you’ll be on your own for checking on his final stats. 

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For those wanting to check in with former Pirate John Van Benschoten, I wanted to pass along a link. My MLB.com colleague in Chicago, Scott Merkin, talked with JVB for this story and pulled out some pretty good thoughts from the always quotable right-hander.   

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Up Next: The Pirates play at home on Sunday against the Astros in a 1:05 p.m. ET contest. Ross Ohlendorf will make the start for the Pirates and is scheduled to be followed by Jesse Chavez, Matt Capps, Denny Bautista and Donnie Veal. Brandon Backe will start for Houston.

For those coming to McKechnie Field on Sunday, be sure to show up early. The Pirates will be holding their third annual street fair outside the stadium on 9th St. W. Players will be signing free autographs and there will be plenty of activities for kids.

For those back in Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast on 104.7 FM

Photo Credit: Dave Arrigo (Pirates)  

Pirates 2, Twins 1

Andy LaRoche2.jpg

Third baseman Andy LaRoche is now 4-for-8 this spring after knocking the game-winning two-run homer on Wednesday.

After a pitiful start as a Pirate last year, LaRoche has come into camp noticeably looser and more relaxed than he was at the end of last season. And the results have followed.

“He’s had a very good approach to this point,” manager John Russell said. “He understood what he went through last year. He admits that he put too much pressure on himself to do too much. We just want him to be himself. If he stays within himself then he’s got a good idea of what he’s doing.”

LaRoche also made a nice defensive stop on Wednesday, one of a handful of good plays he’s made this spring.

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Eric Hinske (left rib cage contusion) continues to cite improvement, but is still not ready to return to the field. Russell said that Hinske could appear in a game as early as this weekend, but the most likely scenario is that he sits until after the off-day on Tuesday.

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Up Next: The Pirates make the oh-so-short trip south to Sarasota (can you tell your beat writer likes that close drive?) tomorrow to face the Reds.. again. Just think, by the end of the season, the Pirates will have played the Reds 24 times between Spring Training and regular season games.

The Pirates have Paul Maholm, Jeff Karstens, Donnie Veal and Denny Bautista lined up to pitch.

Photo Credit: Dave Arrigo (Pirates) 

Pirates 2, Reds 1

Cruz DA2_0990.jpg

Luis Cruz (pictured left) returned to the field after missing a week with a left hip flexor strain. He entered the game to play second and aided the Pirates’ win with a sacrifice bunt in the eighth that moved outfielder Andrew McCutchen into scoring position.

The Pirates will ease Cruz back into playing time, but manager John Russell said that he will then use Cruz around the infield and outfield to test his versatility. That includes playing first base, something that Russell says he sees happening probably next week.

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Third baseman Neil Walker came less than a step short of completing the always unusal triple play. Walker fielded a sharp grounder off the bat of Jeff Keppinger, tagged one runner and threw onto second for the second out. However, Freddy Sanchez’s throw to first came in just a half step too late for the third out.

What’s a bit ironic is that Walker said that the thought of a triple play passed through his head a few pitches before the play.

“When I saw [the runner] was right there, I was surprised,” he said after the game. “[If the hitter was] one step slower, I would have had it. It would have been fun, a lot of fun.”

For thos curious, the last triple play turned by the Pirates in the regular season came back in 1993 against the Cardinals — SS Jay Bell to 2B Carlos Garcia to 1B Kevin Young.

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With the win, the Pirates improved to 5-1 in Grapefruit League play, the best record in the 16-team league. … Right-hander Evan Meek recorded his second save of the spring on Monday. Both times he has come in to pitch the ninth with one-run leads.

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Up Next: Tomorrow it’s the Netherlands team that comes to McKechnie Field for a 1:05 p.m. contest. The club will bring some familiar faces with it as well — Bert Blyleven (pitching coach), Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens (hitting coach) and players Randall Simon and Yurendell DeCaster all have former ties to the Pirates.

Sidney Ponson will make the start for the Netherlands. Ross Ohlendorf will start for the Pirates and is scheduled to be followed by Matt Capps, Jesse Chavez, Denny Bautista and Donnie Veal.

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