BRADENTON, Fla. -- In Spring Training, players prepare for the regular season by working on all aspects of the game, physical as well as mental. You can also include elemental, at least for the Pirates and Blue Jays in their first two Grapefruit League games.Saturday's high winds in Dunedin accelerated to 25-mile gusts for Sunday's rematch in McKechnie Park and were compounded by a 25-degree temperature drop all the way to 62 -- not that anyone in Pittsburgh will want to hear about that. The conditions certainly added another element -- excitement -- to a drill that had already been on the agenda: Infield popups, ejected from a pitching machine, with infielders taking turns circling under them. You've never seen so many poppers caught by fielders running in. To their credit, the Pirates "didn't drop any," noted Chase d'Arnaud. "A couple of times, I did have to go from having my glove up to doing the old basket-catch maneuver." So the Bucs already seem ready for Wrigley Field. Or for Candlestick Park's unlikely comeback.
Defense disappoints Bucs manager Hurdle
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Two uninspiring games into the Grapefruit League schedule, and Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle already is not a happy camper. Like most skippers, he is quick to dismiss results. Effort and focus, not so much."We were sloppy in the field," he said following Sunday's 8-5 loss to Toronto, which in turn had followed Saturday's 7-1 loss to the Blue Jays in the Spring Training opener. "Our awareness wasn't where it needs to be to play a game -- a Major League game, a Minor League game or an exhibition." The Bucs were charged with three errors, bobbled or kicked several other balls and committed the biggest uncharged gaffe of all in the sixth, when first baseman Jeff Clement's failure to cover the bag allowed the Blue Jays to score two runs on a grounder back to the pitcher. "It's a lack of focus," Hurdle said.
He was in no mood to lay part of the blame on the windy, relatively chilly game conditions."The Blue Jays I thought played a great game defensively," Hurdle said, "and they were playing in the same weather."
Flexibility and versatility will be one of the Pirates' biggest assets. As a quick indication of that, in Monday night's game against the Orioles, they'll start their third different center fielder in as many games -- Gorkys Hernandez, after Nate McLouth and Andrew McCutchen had started against Toronto. Charlie Morton is still scheduled to face batters in a game situation for the first time on Wednesday, but instead of a "B" game, he is now slated to pitch in an intrasquad game the club will hold to give other pitchers needed innings, too. The 10 a.m. ET, four- or five-inning game will pit teams from the Major and Minor League camps. Jose Morales, a catcher with some Major League experience who had been on the Pirates' list of non-roster players invited to camp, hasn't been in uniform all spring due to an oblique strain he had suffered during the team's mid-January minicamp. However, Morales reports feeling better and hopes to play some catch next week. The 29-year-old appeared in 22 games last season with the Rockies, hitting .267. Josh Harrison, plunked on the elbow in Saturday's game, was scratched from bench duty in Sunday's rematch with the Blue Jays, just to be on the safe side. But he is already penciled in to start at short Monday night. Garrett Jones, making his first spring start at first base, made a deft pickup of Chase d'Arnaud's relay throw to complete a second-inning double-play.
The McKechnie Field attendance of 5,006 was in line with the 5,500 fans the Bucs averaged for 16 spring games last year, when they said a club record with the overall gate of 88,003.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.