Iwamura's stats belie his effectiveness
Bucs leadoff hitter has excelled at working opposing pitchers
PITTSBURGH -- The 0-for-7 listed next to Aki Iwamura's name in Thursday morning's stat sheet doesn't begin to tell the story of what Iwamura's presence at the top of the lineup has meant to the club during these first two days. The hits may not have fallen for the veteran infielder just yet, but no one has been as tough of an out as Iwamura.
"He's done great," manager John Russell said. "He's making pitchers work, and that sets up a lot of things for our offense. The quality of at-bats that he is having is a big plus for our lineup."
In his 10 plate appearances so far, Iwamura has seen at least six pitches eight times. He's worked the count full seven times, and gone to a three-ball count all but twice. Iwamura has already drawn three walks, two of which preceded home runs by Garrett Jones, who hits two spots behind Iwamura.
The byproduct of such plate discipline is obviously invaluable. It has allowed No. 2 hitter Andrew McCutchen to see more pitches before coming to the plate. It gives Jones a chance to see how the pitcher attacks a left-handed hitter. And it has the potential to cumulatively tax the opposing pitcher.
"Aki communicates very well when he comes back to the bench," Russell said. "What he's doing for us is what we kind of envisioned he would be doing. The value that he has brought to our lineup has been very good."
Vazquez given unconditional release
PITTSBURGH -- Five days after designating Ramon Vazquez for assignment, the Pirates have given the veteran infielder his unconditional release. The team had up to 10 days to trade Vazquez, but they never found a willing trade partner.
For now, the Pirates are on hook for all of Vazquez's $2 million salary. If another team picks Vazquez up during the season, that club would owe the infielder just the Major League minimum, which is $400,000 for a full season of service time. That amount paid by the new team would then be subtracted from the $2 million owed by Pittsburgh.
The Pirates left Vazquez off the Opening Day roster in order to open up a spot for Rule 5 pick John Raynor and reliever Hayden Penn. Vazquez, who signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the club prior to the '09 season, hit .230 in 204 at-bats with the Pirates last year.
Russell shuffles lineup in finale
PITTSBURGH -- With the quick turnaround from Wednesday's four-hour game to an early afternoon affair on Thursday, manager John Russell took advantage of his deep bench by resting three regulars for the team's series finale against the Dodgers.
Jeff Clement, Lastings Milledge and Ronny Cedeno each had the day off. Inserted in as replacements were Ryan Church, Bobby Crosby and Delwyn Young, each of whom had not started a game yet this season. Garrett Jones shifted from right field to first base to open up a space for Young in the outfield.
Russell has talked extensively about the value of having such experience players on the bench for late-game, pinch-hitting situations. However, on days when he would like to rest some of his starters, the presence of such experienced backup options gives Russell the freedom to do so without also anticipating a loss in production. It's a luxury the club did not enjoy last season.
"We've got three pretty good players out there," Russell said. "It gives us an option to get those guys some at-bats, but we don't feel like we're missing a whole lot either."
Jones trying to ride out hot streak
PITTSBURGH -- So what's gotten into Garrett Jones?
Sure, the Pirates maintained high expectations for the slugging 28-year-old coming into the season. However, those didn't include three home runs in his first five season at-bats. Yet, such has been reality.
"I'm feeling good, feeling relaxed," Jones said. "I'm using my hands and seeing the ball pretty good. I know there's going to be ups and downs all year, but you try and stay in that zone as long as you can. You battle even when you're not feeling too good. Right now, I'm feeling OK."
With those three homers in the team's first two games, Jones entered Thursday's series finale with a Major League-best six RBIs. Only Toronto's Vernon Wells had him matched with three home runs in two games.
"He's a little more comfortable," manager John Russell said when asked if there has been any noticeable difference between Jones this year as compared to last. "He went through Spring Training knowing he's on the club, so he's probably a bit more relaxed than he was last year."
Ohlendorf shows old form in debut
PITTSBURGH -- Lost in Ronny Cedeno's heroics and the bullpen's valiant effort on Wednesday night was an encouraging start to the season by right-hander Ross Ohlendorf. The results weren't stellar, but considering some of the issues Ohlendorf had this spring, they were much improved.
Spring Training performances are hardly ever an accurate harbinger for what's to come in the regular season, but the flatness of Ohlendorf's pitches last month, and the inconsistency with his fastball command, did raise some eyebrows.
That changed on Wednesday. Ohlendorf's start lasted only five innings, but he showed encouraging life to his fastball and maintained a velocity close to where it was at the end of 2009. It wasn't the same dominance that the Pirates saw from Ohlendorf in the second half of last season, but, if nothing else, it was a step back in the right direction.
"I felt like I was getting back the feeling that I had last year, just in terms of how the ball was coming out of my hand," Ohlendorf said afterward. "I felt like it had some life on it."
Ohlendorf breezed through his first two innings and worked out of minor trouble in the next two. He gave up three runs (two earned) to the Dodgers in the fifth, which lasted a lengthy 27 pitches.
"I felt like I pitched well until the fifth inning," Ohlendorf said. "The home run didn't really bother me because we were up at the time. It was giving up hits with runners in scoring position that I was disappointed with."
PITTSBURGH -- Right-hander Joel Hanrahan is still on schedule to make his first Minor League rehab assignment on Thursday night. He'll make the appearance with high Class A Bradenton (Fla.), which will be hosting its first game as the Pirates' newest affiliate. ... A total of 70,085 fans came through the PNC Park turnstiles for the club's first two games of the season. That's the highest two-game total to open a season since the Pirates drew 72,451 for the first two games in 2002. ... ESPN personalities Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic threw out the ceremonial first pitch on Thursday. The radio pair was in town to promote their new book.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.