Results tagged ‘ Neil Walker ’

Game 38: Dodgers (18-20) @ Pirates (18-19)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Manager Clint Hurdle made a point when he benched Ronny Cedeno for one game last month after Cedeno didn’t run out a ball. Hurdle made a POINT on Thursday when he left Andrew McCutchen out of the lineup for the same reason. Sitting a guy who has been in the doghouse before and isn’t one of the integral pieces in the lineup can be pretty easy to do. But to make an effective point, Hurdle needed to be consistent — and he’s being just that by letting the team know that he’ll call out anyone for a lack of effort.

“We are focused on winning, but we are focused on building something greater and better as we go forward,” Hurdle said. “I think there are certain things that are non-negotiable along those lines.”

McCutchen did not run to first in the eighth inning after striking out. He will, Hurdle said, be available off the bench on Thursday.

Other news and notes:

  • Second baseman Neil Walker is back in the lineup… for now. Walker was going to go through batting practice and see how he felt closer to game time. Those flu-like symptoms that kept him out on Wednesday (Walker was sent home before the game began) aren’t completely gone — but he is improving.
  • If Walker can’t play — or whenever he gets future days off — it sounds like Cedeno would be the first choice to play second. Cedeno and Brandon Wood have been getting work there for the past week, but the Pirates felt more comfortable using Cedeno at the position and he did nothing last night that has changed anyone’s mind.
  • Steve Pearce has actually been getting work at second over the past two days as well. This is a case of, well, just in case. Pearce isn’t going to be making starts at second, and he remains behind Walker, Cedeno and Wood on the depth chart at the position. But if the Pirates get into a bind, they like having Pearce as an emergency option.
  • Right-hander Kevin Hart threw 25 pitches in a simulated live batting practice session. It was an encouraging sign for a guy who hadn’t thrown to hitters since having shoulder surgery in May 2010.
  • For those not in the local market, tonight’s Dodgers-Pirates game is the MLB.TV free game of the day. Log on to MLB.com and watch the game online.

Lineups:

PIRATES: X. Paul (CF), J. Tabata (LF), G. Jones (RF), N. Walker (2B), P. Alvarez (3B), L. Overbay (1B), C. Snyder (C), R. Cedeno (SS), C. Morton (RHP)

DODGERS: T. Gwynn Jr (LF), A. Miles (2B), A. Ethier (RF), M. Kemp (CF), J. Uribe (3B), J. Loney (1B), D. Navarro (C), J. Carroll (SS), J. Garland (RHP)

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

Game 34: Astros (13-20) @ Pirates (16-17)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Most importantly, Happy Mother’s Day to all the readers who fall in that category. In particular, wishing my mom (who reminds me often that she is a faithful blog reader), my sister (who is probably huddled up studying for finals) and my grandmothers (who, unfortunately, will never read this because neither has learned to operate a computer) a terrific day. Thanks especially to my mom for unwavering support and unconditional love — I’m sure I didn’t always deserve both.

And, since my mom will likely spend the day watching baseball, let’s honor her with some Sunday morning Pirates news…

  • Pedro Alvarez is still not ready to return to the lineup, but he is currently out taking grounders at third. That’s the first I’ve seen him do any defensive work since the right quad tightness crept up on Tuesday. Alvarez was also supposed to do some running this morning.
  • Evan Meek just completed a session of long toss on the outfield grass. He is eligible to come off the DL on May 12, though I’m guessing he won’t be ready by then since he hasn’t yet resumed pitching off a mound.
  • Manager Clint Hurdle talked this morning about Jose Tabata losing his swing lately. And that has really put a dent in his production after such a strong season start. Tabata is is 2-for-25 since April 25. The injury probably didn’t help his timing, but even before that, Tabata’s swing was getting long — as if he was purposefully trying to hit for more power.
  • Pink bats, wristbands and batting gloves were spotted around the clubhouse this morning. Donning pink is an annual Mother’s Day tradition. Garrett Jones, Ronny Cedeno, Chris Snyder, Tabata, Lyle Overbay, Steve Pearce, Matt Diaz and Neil Walker will all be swinging pink bats. Walker and Joel Hanrahan will be wearing pink cleats. Under Armour will have over 170 Minor League and Major League players and coaches sporting the bright shoes.
  • Once again, the Pirates have a shot at returning to .500 with a win this afternoon.
  • Triple-A starter Rudy Owens has been handed a three-game suspension and will have his next start pushed back to Tuesday (from Monday) as a result. Owens was ejected from his last start for hitting a batter after giving up a home run.
  • Outfielder Alex Presley continues to do little wrong in Indianapolis. With three more hits on Saturday, Presley now has a league-leading 40. He has driven in 15, scored 19 and stolen seven bases, too. Working against Presley, though, is the simple fact that the Pirates don’t need an outfielder. The recent addition of Xavier Paul only further hurt Presley’s chances of earning a big league call-up anytime soon.

Lineups:

PIRATES: A. McCutchen (CF), J. Tabata (LF), M. Diaz (RF), N. Walker (2B), S. Pearce (1B), R. Doumit (C), B. Wood (3B), R. Cedeno (SS), J. McDonald (RHP)

ASTROS: M. Bourn (CF), C. Barmes (SS), H. Pence (RF), C. Lee (LF), B. Wallace (1B), C. Johnson (3B), B. Hall (2B), H. Quintero (C), J.A. Happ (LHP)

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

Game 23: Giants (10-11) @ Pirates (10-12)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

The defending World Series champs are in town, which means former Pirates Freddy Sanchez and Javier Lopez are visiting for the next three days. Oh, and it’s been raining. Weather could be a factor each of the next two days.

News and notes…

  • In case you missed it, the Pirates claimed Xavier Paul off waivers today from the Dodgers. He’s an outfielder, so you’d have to think that either John Bowker or Steve Pearce are going to be on their way out soon. More on that here.
  • Paul is likely to arrive in Pittsburgh either Wednesday or Thursday. He has 72 hours to report, so technically he could also meet the team in Colorado on Friday.
  • Ross Ohlendorf will throw his first bullpen session on Wednesday. He threw from a distance of 120 feet today. Ohlendorf will throw 2-3 bullpens and then a live batting practice session. Once he gets through all those steps, he’ll begin a Minor League rehab assignment that will likely last one or two starts.
  • In case you missed it last night, it was confirmed that Jameson Taillon (No. 2 overall pick in 2010) will make his professional debut on Wednesday. He is joining the low-A West Virginia rotation. And as the schedule would have it, Taillon will be facing Bryce Harper’s Hagerstown team. So it’ll be No. 1 vs. No. 2.
  • Manager Clint Hurdle mentioned yesterday that he wanted to find a day off for Jose Tabata and Neil Walker pretty soon. For Tabata, that day ended up being Tuesday. Matt Diaz moves to left and Garrett Jones sticks in right. Walker’s day off will have to wait, though Brandon Wood is spelling Ronny Cedeno a day.
  • With his save on Monday, Joel Hanrahan is 6-for-6 in save opportunities this month. The last Pittsburgh closer with more than six April saves was Salomon Torres. He had eight in April 2007.
  • Right-hander Jose Ascanio (who was struck in the head by a line drive last Friday) returned to the mound for Triple-A Indianapolis on Monday. It was not a stellar outing (1 1/3 IP, 2 H, 4 ER, 1 HR, 2 BB), but certainly a good sign that he was OK after a scary incident.
  • All-Star ballots have been released and you can find more information on how to vote online here. This year’s game will be played in Phoenix.

Lineups:

PIRATES: A. McCutchen (CF), M. Diaz (LF), L. Overbay (1B), N. Walker (2B), G. Jones (RF), R. Doumit (C), P. Alvarez (3B), B. Wood (SS), C. Morton (RHP)

GIANTS: A. Rowand (CF), F. Sanchez (2B), A. Huff (1B), B. Posey (C), P. Sandoval (3B), P. Burrell (LF), C. Ross (RF), M. Tejada (SS), M. Cain (RHP)

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

Game 2: Pirates (1-0) @ Cubs (0-1)

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

I continue to get a number of questions about Clint Hurdle, specifically from people curious about how he differs from previous manager John Russell. I think their contrasting personalities have come across quite plainly in interviews or public appearances that Hurdle has made already. But let me also offer you this…

Hurdle is omnipresent in the clubhouse. He was at Wrigley Field to greet players (saying good morning or hello or whatever greeting he desired) as each player entered the clubhouse this morning. He sat with them to watch MLB Network highlights with his hat on backward and a bat in hands. He is constantly engaging in conversations with guys and very much a vocal presence.

He also showed little hesitancy in singling out Pedro Alvarez when asked about what went wrong on the two dropped pop-ups in the infield on Friday (more on that in today’s Beat on the main site later).

Hurdle has said he does not want to take over the clubhouse — which is the players’ quarters. But he’s not going to hide, he’s bound to keep his team accountable and he desires to have a relationship with his players.

Other news and notes…

  • Hurdle gave Neil Walker the umpires’ lineup card from Friday’s game as a memento for the second baseman’s big game. Speaking of Walker, he is now 17-for-36 in his career against Chicago with six doubles, four homers and 11 RBIs. Walker has hit safely in all 10 games he’s played against the Cubs.
  • Jason Jaramillo will start Sunday’s game, Hurdle said on Saturday. Hurdle had mentioned on Friday that he also wants to get Matt Diaz involved this series, so I’d expect to see him in Sunday’s lineup as well. Other than trying to get some of these bench guys involved early in the season, Hurdle intends to fiddle little with his lineup.
  • Has anyone forgotten that the Pirates went 17-64 on the road last year? That makes Friday’s road win that much more significant.
  • Interesting note on Paul Maholm, who makes the start on Saturday — he has made more starts (153) than any left-hander in the National League since the start of 2006. Look for Maholm to pitch inside today more than you might have seen him do so last year. It’s something the lefty focused on all spring.
  • Right-hander Ross Ohlendorf will start the season finale on Sunday and he said he believes some tweaks he has made recently with pitching coach Ray Searage are going to help him get off to a strong start. Those adjustments involve getting a better line to home plate during his delivery (in other words, not letting his body get too rotational during his motion).

Lineups:

PIRATES: J. Tabata (LF), N. Walker (2B), A. McCutchen (CF), L. Overbay (1B), P. Alvarez (3B), R. Doumit (C), G. Jones (RF), R. Cedeno (SS), P. Maholm (LHP)

CUBS: J. Baker (2B), S. Castro (SS), M. Byrd (CF), A. Ramirez (3B), G. Soto (C), C. Pena (1B), A. Soriano (LF), T. Colvin (RF), C. Zambrano (RHP)

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

Astros 10, Pirates 6

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Manager Clint Hurdle and hitting coach Gregg Ritchie had Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Ronny Cedeno all on the field after the game today taking extra swings. Hurdle didn’t want to make that big of a deal about the extra batting practice (which three players, including Alvarez, participated in on Monday). But that doesn’t mean that the extra work shouldn’t be pointed out.

“It’s something I’ve always done,” said Hurdle, a former hitting coach. “I would have preferred to have done it a few times earlier, but we waited because of the workload these guys have been carrying. It’s just more practice is all it is.”

You can read more on pirates.com tonight specifically about what Alvarez is targeting in these extra sessions.

***

It wasn’t a great day for lefty Brian Burres, who had previously not been scored upon this spring. On Wednesday, Burres was knocked around for 10 hits and six earned runs in five innings. The good news was that Burres was able to get his pitch count up. The bad news is that a lot of those pitches were up and over the plate. Command was the biggest issue.

“Even when I was throwing strikes, it wasn’t where I wanted them all the time,” Burres said. “Little bit wild with the strike zone today. I wasn’t keeping the ball over the plate enough and when I was, it was up and they did a pretty good job taking advantage of it.”

Burres and Jeff Karstens, as Hurdle pointed out again on Wednesday, are being built up as starters as part of a Plan B. In other words, either would be ready to step in if the Pirates need another starter the first time through the rotation. This could be the case if James McDonald is not ready to begin the year in the rotation.

Otherwise, Burres still has a shot at a bullpen role. The Pirates lack left-handed options, though I have a hard time seeing Karstens and Burres (both of whom fill very similar roles) both in the bullpen.

Burres said he’s trying not to think about such roster decisions, though that’s obviously easier said than done.

“You try every time to go out there and just take it outing by outing,” Burres said. “The other stuff is going to take care of itself after you’re done pitching so you want to make it as simple as possible with how you pitch and go out there and throw as many strikes as you can and not think about what will happen afterward.”

***

Speaking of McDonald, he is scheduled to return to game action on Saturday. Hurdle said the return will likely be in a Minor League game. By pitching McDonald in a Minor League game, the Pirates would be able to place McDonald on the 15-day disabled list to start the season but could do so with a retroactive date that would allow him to miss just one start.

Players who do not appear in an “A” game after March 22 can be backdated to the 22nd for DL purposes. That means that a player would eligible to come off the DL on April 6.

Burres or Karstens could step in for that one start and then McDonald could jump back into the rotation.

I bring this up as a possibility simply because McDonald has yet to pitch more than 2 2/3 innings in any of his three starts. He has time for just two outings (Saturday and then another late next week) before he’d be up in the rotation, and I just wonder if that’s enough time to get his pitch count up to where it needs to be.

***

Catcher Chris Snyder had 10 at-bats in a Minor League game on Wednesday, Hurdle reported, and will return behind the plate for the Pirates’ game against the Orioles on Thursday.

***

With another two hits and a walk, Lyle Overbay just keeps on producing this spring. He’s now batting .425 (17-for-40) and has hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games.

Spring Training results often mean little, but the Pirates are hopeful that these recent results are a product of Overbay’s changed approach at the plate. If so, the success could carry over into the season.

“We started talking about him being more aggressive in the count early,” Hurdle said. “He’s had a good eye. Last season, we talked about the reason for some of the numbers. I think last season was more of an aberration.

“This man is determined this spring. He has made a conscious effort of getting out of the blocks clean. The confidence should have been built up. I think he’s found an approach that is going to work. It’s good to see.”

***

On the main site tonight, you can find notes about Alvarez’s extra work, Matt Diaz’s determination to get off to a better start, John Bowker’s push for a bench spot and Snyder’s expected return.

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

Day 22: Rays @ Pirates

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

One of the unique aspects of Spring Training is the fact that the day start so early. For the rest of the year, players, coaches and the media are trained to be nocturnal. Down here, it is early to bed, early to rise.

The clubhouse opens to the media at 7:30 am and by then, most players are already in. Some have already worked out. Early work commences at that hour and runs until the regularly scheduled 9 am workout.

For those who don’t have early work, they pass the time in varying ways. Today, second baseman Neil Walker sat down with a stack of fan mail. He signed baseball cards that had been sent to him and read every letter that was written.

Catcher Dusty Brown has a morning routine that involves crossword puzzles. For the last four years, Brown has done a crossword every morning. He says he finishes them every time, too. It was something Brown said he saw Tim Wakefield do every day during Red Sox Spring Training.

The practical joke of the morning was played on James McDonald, who had a rubber snake placed in his pants by a teammate who will remain unnamed. Unfortunately, I was conducting an interview on the other side of the room when McDonald headed to his locker so I missed his reaction. 

Anyways, your morning news…

  • Ronny Cedeno is back in the lineup after missing three games with a bruised right middle finger. He didn’t have any issues gripping a bat on Sunday, so he’ll give it a go.
  • Right-hander Evan Meek will make his first spring appearance in this game, too. He’s slated to come in and pitch the fourth.
  • Scott Olsen will throw his first session of live batting practice on Tuesday. He is scheduled to pitch two innings. The Pirates haven’t announced whether Olsen will need one or two sessions of live BP before he is ready to pitch in a game.
  • I wrote yesterday about the Pirates not using Steve Pearce at third base in a game yet. Well, Pearce’s first test at the hot corner is coming soon. He is scheduled to start at third in the Pirates’ “B” game against the Twins in Fort Myers on Tuesday. The Pirates will play this “B” game three hours before the normally scheduled 1:05 pm game.
  • In that “B” game, the Pirates will use the following pitchers: Brad Lincoln, Bryan Morris, Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, Ramon Aguero.
  • The following pitchers will then throw in the regular game: Brian Burres, Sean Gallagher, Fernando Nieve, Chris Leroux, Jeff Locke and Daniel McCutchen.

Lineups:

PIRATES: J. Tabata (LF), R. Cedeno (SS), N. Walker (2B), M. Diaz (RF), G. Atkins (3B), L. Overbay (1B), C. Snyder (C), G. Hernandez (CF), R. Ohlendorf (RHP)

Pitchers: R. Ohlendorf, E. Meek, J. Veras, T. Yates, M. Crotta, D. Moskos

RAYS: J. Jaso (C), J. Damon (LF), E. Longoria (3B), M. Ramirez (DH), M. Joyce (RF), B.J. Upton (CF), D. Johnson (1B), J. Inglett (2B), T. Beckham (SS)

Pitchers: D. Price, M. Ekstrom, R. Delaney, M. Bush, A. Cobb

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

Phillies 7, Pirates 4

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

On the main site tonight, you can find a look at Josh Rodriguez, the Pirates’ Rule 5 pick who is trying to make the club as a backup middle infielder. To this point, Rodriguez has looked like he is trying a bit too hard to make an impression. We’ll see if he can get his nerves in check and just allow himself to relax and play as camp continues on.

I’m not really sure who among Rodriguez, Corey Wimberly or Pedro Ciriaco would be considered the favorite for that bench spot yet. Ciriaco is the best defensively of the three, but there are concerns about his bat. Wimberly and Rodriguez have to show that they are strong enough to play short at the Major League level. Wimberly has intriguing speed. Rodriguez probably has the best long-term potential with the bat.

Could be an interesting race over the next three weeks.

Also on the main site, you’ll find notes about Paul Maholm wanting the Opening Day start, Kevin Correia commenting about his outing Friday, Ronny Cedeno being scratched with a finger injury, and Minor League pitcher Michael Dubee talking about the chance to pitch in front of his dad — Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee.

Also, don’t hesitate to send over some fresh Inbox questions over the weekend. If I can get enough good ones, I’ll put out an Inbox sometime next week. Remember to include your first name, last initial and hometown when you send your email to jenifer.langosch@mlb.com.

As for your leftovers…

***

Manager Clint Hurdle’s call for aggressive baserunning have been answered. Today, Neil Walker was thrown out trying to go first-to-third on a hard hit single to right. Phillies outfielder Wilson Valdez made a perfect throw to get Walker by a few steps. The attempt to take the extra base stalled a rally in the inning, but it’s what Hurdle wants to see at this point in spring.

Matt Diaz stole his first base of the spring after getting a single in the second. The Pirates now have 11 steals, a Grapefruit League high. The club has had three runners thrown out attempting to swipe a base.

***

Tony Sanchez, the Pirates’ top position player prospect and a first-round pick, finally got to see some Grapefruit League action. Sanchez had been solely watching from the bench since playing against the college kids, but Hurdle got him in to DH for the final few innings on Friday.

Despite not having played, Sanchez put together two pretty impressive at-bats. He fell into an 0-2 count his first time up, stayed alive and eventually ripped a ball down the left-field line for a double.

He fell into an 0-2 hole in his second at-bat, too, before taking three pitches to work the count full. Though Sanchez eventually was called out on strikes, his ability to work his way back into both at-bats was encouraging.

“Tony is going to be a good player,” Hurdle said afterward. “He is going to be a good hitter. He likes making things happen when he’s on offense. He is fun to watch.”

***

Fernando Nieve is not doing himself any favors in trying to earn a spot in the bullpen. He had another terrible outing on Friday. Nieve gave up five hits, four runs and walked one in 1 1/3 innings. This comes after he allowed three earned runs on five hits in one inning on February 28.

The Pirates signed Nieve to a Minor League deal over the winter. Much can still change, but at this point, plenty of other relief candidates have performed much better early.

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

Pirates 10, Rays 3

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

The Pirates have Grapefruit League win No. 1 under their belt now after a lenthy three hour, 27 minute affair here at McKechnie Field on Sunday.

You can find a short game recap here, with a box score attached. Other content coming on the site soon:

  • Feature on Joe Beimel and how his Pittsburgh ties drew him back to the city this offseason
  • Bucs Beat: Former manager John Russell talks about his time in Pittsburgh on the eve before he returns to McKechnie Field; Kevin Correia discusses how fastball command issues bothered him on Sunday; Scott Olsen (hamstring) continues to progress; Trade talks have simmered involving Ryan Doumit

And now for the loose ends…

***

Since it’s not the main focus of the Beimel story on pirates.com, I want to mention again here that Beimel missed his scheduled appearance on Sunday due to some soreness in his left elbow. This was apparently something that crept up on Sunday, though Beimel had left the ballpark before the club notified reporters of the injury. That said, it will certainly be something I will check into on Monday.

With the lack of left-handed relief options, the Pirates really cannot afford for this to be an ailment that lingers. Right now, Beimel is listed as day-to-day.

***

It was a big day for Andrew McCutchen on Sunday, as he finished 3-for-3 with three runs scored and two RBIs. This marked the second day manager Clint Hurdle put McCutchen into the third spot in the lineup, a slot that Hurdle is considering for the center fielder this season.

Two of McCutchen’s three hits went for extra bases — a first-inning home run and a double in his final at-bat. Though it might not be his calling card, the power that McCutchen has shown makes it even more appealing to think about him in that No. 3 hole.

“He’s got usable power,” Hurdle said. “I just want to look at it. I think it would be silly not to look at something different after what we went through last year. Why would you come to Spring Training and not move some people around and see how we can find an offense that can score some more runs? We’re going to move some other guys around to take some different looks. This is the one, probably, that is as important as any look that I’m going to take.”

McCutchen hasn’t lobbied one way or another for where he wants to hit this season. As he noted on Sunday, “As long as I’m hitting, that’s all that matters.”

You can also anticipate seeing McCutchen run more in the coming weeks. He swiped second after singling in the fourth and continues to work on refining his baserunning technique.

“See what I can or cannot do,” McCutchen said. “The only way you can work on it is to try it. Not to give anything away, but when the opportunity is there, I’m going to try and go.”

***

After watching 10 days of practice, it is certainly encouraging to see the team execute some of those fundamental drills early in the Grapefruit League season. A few instances, in particular, stood out…

  • At least one session during workouts last week was spent practicing dirt ball reads — in other words, players tried to read how far away a ball in the dirt got from the catcher and whether or not a baserunner could advance 90 feet. It’s not that exciting of a drill to watch, but Garrett Jones made a perfect dirt ball read on Sunday that allowed him to move to second on a ball that didn’t get that far away from the catcher. Had he not been on the move immediately, Jones would have been thrown out easily.
  • The coaching staff has talked about being aggressive on the basepath, and Chase d’Arnaud followed on cue. With a hit-and-run called, d’Arnaud took off from second as Steve Pearce grounded out to short. D’Arnaud never slowed down, rounded third and scored at home on a bang-bang play. Moving from second to home on a groundout isn’t something you saw the Pirates attempt much (if at all) last year.
  • In addition to McCutchen stealing second, the Pirates also later executed a double steal with Jones and Doumit running.

All of these are encouraging signs of implementing instruction and attempting to be more aggressive.

***

Some odds and ends:

  • The Pirates went 6-for-19 with runners in scoring position, while the team’s pitchers held the Rays hitless in 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
  • Joel Hanrahan made his first appearance and pitched a scoreless inning. He had two strikeouts and walked one.
  • It doesn’t shine much in the boxscore, but credit Corey Wimberly with a terrific at-bat in the eighth. He fouled off a number of pitches before drawing a two-out walk.
  • By my count, Neil Walker and Ronny Cedeno have turned three double plays in three chances and have looked very comfortable doing so.
  • Asked to pick out what he was most impressed with on Sunday, Hurdle had this to say: “Probably the number of at-bats (more than 20) we had with two strikes and finished the day with three strikeouts. We made better adjustments at the plate yesterday. We need to pay attention on deck. Today, I thought we were just in a better place. It looked like our focus was just a little bit better.”

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

Day 13: Pirates @ Rays

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Grapefruit League play kicks off today across parts of Florida, as the Pirates are one of eight teams kicking off their spring season on Saturday. Manager Clint Hurdle is running most of the starters out there on Day One, and for those who are attending the home opener at McKechnie Field on Sunday, you’ll see a similar lineup then.

Take a close look at the top four in Hurdle’s lineup — Jose Tabata, Neil Walker, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez. Hurdle hasn’t said as much (yet), but you have to wonder if this is going to be the top of the batting order that the Pirates will employ during the regular season.

Interesting note… Pedro Alvarez will get to face his former Vanderbilt teammate David Price his first time up at Charlotte Sports Park. Bets on who is going to win that battle?

I will remind you that one of the most impressive home runs I have seen hit by any Pirate in recent years came off Alvarez’s bat here in Port Charlotte. He took one over the batters eye in dead center field. The wall is 414 feet from home, and that batters eye stands probably close to 30 feet high. You can do the rest of the math…

Other news:

  • The following pitchers are scheduled to pitch in Sunday’s home game against the Rays: Kevin Correia (2 innings), Brian Burres (2), Joel Hanrahan (1), Joe Beimel (1), Jose Veras (1), Tony Watson (1), Chris Leroux (1)
  • Lefty Scott Olsen was scheduled to throw a 25-pitch bullpen on Saturday. His session on Thursday went well. Olsen will then take a day off, throw again on Monday and be re-evaluated after that.

Lineups:

PIRATES: J. Tabata (LF), N. Walker (2B), A. McCutchen (CF), P. Alvarez (3B), M. Diaz (RF), L. Overbay (1B), R. Doumit (DH), C. Snyder (C), R. Cedeno (SS)

Pitchers: C. Morton (2 innings), B. Lincoln (2), C. Resop (1), D. Moskos (1), D. McCutchen (1), J. Thomas (1), C. Valdez (1)

RAYS: J. Jaso (C), J. Damon (LF), E. Longoria (3B), M. Ramirez (DH), B. Zobrist (RF), B.J. Upton (CF), D. Johnson (1B), S. Rodriguez (2B), R. Brignac (SS)

Pitchers: D. Price, C. Archer, M. Bush, C. Cabral, R. Delaney, D. Hayhurst, A. Russell

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

Day 9: Daily Squeeze

Jenifer Langosch/MLB.com

Atkins, Garrett.jpgI’ll admit that watching fielding drills day after day can get a bit monotonous after a while. But there can be times when something catches your eye — which was the case in the relay/cutoff throw drill that third base coach Nick Leyva ran yesterday. There was something different in the instructions than I remember there being last year.

The detail is small, but, after talking with Leyva about it today, he believes it could also be significant. In a situation where a runner is on second and a ball is hit up the middle, Leyva is instructing the first baseman (Lyle Overbay, in most cases) to come to the middle of the infield and be the cutoff man. Last year, that was the third baseman’s duty.

Leyva said that his reasoning for making the change is simple — and he added that 90-95 percent of clubs already position their players this way for cutoffs. By keeping the third baseman on the bag, that forces the baserunner to be more honest. He can’t sneak down the line as far as he might if it was just the shortstop running over to cover. Those few extra feet can make a big impact.

Just something for you to keep an eye on once games begin…

  • Third baseman Pedro Alvarez, who missed Monday’s workouts with a muscle spasm in his neck, was back to work early Tuesday morning. He went out to take some swings in the batting cage and then joined his teammates for defensive drills. He appeared to be just fine, though he did not go through a full day’s workout.
  • A total of 13 pitchers threw live batting practice to hitters. Kevin Correia, James McDonald, Paul Maholm and Ross Ohlendorf all took mounds simultaneously to kick things off. Don’t think that grouping was on accident, either. Hurdle had praise for the four members of the Pirates’ rotation afterward, too.
  • One person that was missing from the pack today was right-hander Jose Ascanio. GM Neal Huntington confirmed that Ascanio felt some tightness in his right elbow on Monday and is, as a precautionary measure, taking it easy for a few days. Ascanio had thrown his first bullpen session on Sunday. The good news is that the Pirates don’t believe the discomfort is anything more serious than a day-to-day issue, and Ascanio was already ahead enough in his workload (he pitched in winter ball through December) that this won’t set him back at all. 
  • The position players’ first drill of the day was working on hit and runs, delayed steals and reading balls in the dirt. The emphasis on the hit-and-run play was for a player to keep his lead consistent so as not to give away that he’s running. The coaching staff is pushing players to try to move first to third on a single this year, in what is being defined as “disciplined aggression.” For the most part, if the ball touches grass on the way through the infield, the expectation is that a player advances to third. The coaches also talked about the importance of knowing where the outfielders are in order to get the best read on the ball.
  • “Shin guards tell the story,” Hurdle said, as he walked over while the Pirates position players were deciding whether to advance on balls in the dirt. “This is a game changer right here and anyone can do it.” You better believe Hurdle is going to expect his players to.
  • Catchers spent some time practicing blocking balls in the dirt, as their priority was on the other side of the play.
  • Pitchers and position players worked together through signs to know who covers on a stolen base attempt. Then the groups split up for some individual work. The infielders took grounders, with Neil Walker working specifically on taking a double play feed from the shortstop. Outfielders tracked fly balls. Pitchers practiced covering first base on a grounder to the right side.
  • Garrett Atkins was taking his infield work at first base after working at third on Monday. Corey Wimberly, who is getting work in the outfield and infield, spent time at both second and short. Moving these utility players around will continue to be a key component of workouts: “They don’t seem like a high priority position, but when you can stabilize your roster with a guy that is versatile, they are very valuable,” Hurdle said. “We have a handful of guys that we’re looking at in that situation.”
  • Hurdle announced after practice that he will be using seven pitchers for one inning apiece in Friday’s exhibition game against the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. Aaron Thompson will make the start and be followed by Tyler Yates, Jeff Locke, Michael Crotta, Justin Wilson, Kyle McPherson and Rudy Owens.
  • Hurdle said he will announce the beginning of his Grapefruit League pitching assignments on Wednesday.
  • Yates is not throwing live batting practice with the rest of the group, though he has not had any sort of setback. Pitching coach Ray Searage thought Yates would instead be better served having a supervised side session on Wednesday where the focus could be on the right-hander’s mechanics. Yates was actually so far ahead in his throwing program that he had thrown batting practice before the start of Spring Training.
  • On the field as guests today were members of the Manatee adult baseball league. They fielded balls in the outfield during batting practice. Tomorrow, the Manatee High School baseball team will be at Pirate City to do that.

Follow me on Twitter: @LangoschMLB

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