PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Josh Harrison's exploration of the baseball field continued on Wednesday night, when he drew the start in left field against the Rays.The previous day, he had started at shortstop. Thus, on consecutive days the candidate for one of three openings on the Pirates' regular-season roster has been in the starting lineup at two relatively unfamiliar positions. Harrison did quite well at short against the Phillies. About all he got to do in left field was chase down a few of the Tampa Bay hits that were dropping around him before he shifted to third base in the sixth. "The one ball over the top [Evan Longoria's leadoff double in the fourth] -- he might've taken the wrong break on it. I don't know if he would've caught it anyway, it was hit pretty good," manager Clint Hurdle said. "[Yamaico] Navarro probably goes out there with more experience, but if the long-range plan is for Josh to be a super utility guy for us, I have every confidence that he'd be able to pull it off." Harrison had his chance to impact the game when he came to bat with two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth. He gave David Price his best lick, but his line drive found first baseman Carlos Pena's glove.
Morton might stay back in Florida
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Charlie Morton senses the Pirates may have already made a decision on his early-season status -- which could be staying behind in Florida to continue working toward the time a No. 5 starter is needed -- only they haven't yet shared it with him."I know we'll be playing with some off-days. Maybe they have decided. Maybe they wanted to see this game then decide," Morton said. He had to hope that wasn't the case. An erratic sinker threw Morton out of sync in his five-inning outing against the Rays, and he was knocked around for eight hits and six runs in the Bucs' defeat. This was in sharp contrast to his prior start on Friday, when he silenced a tough Detroit lineup for four innings on two hits.
"I was in a really good groove then. I felt nothing like that this time," Morton said. "As soon as I felt myself going out of sync, I couldn't make adjustments fast enough. I felt like I was pulling a lot of sliders, not being aggressive, not throwing it through [catcher] Rod [Barajas]."Obviously, Morton still said, "I want to pitch." But he conceded the possibility of remaining for extended Spring Training when the Pirates break camp following Sunday's exhibition. He also admitted that Wednesday night's effort wasn't compelling enough to change minds if they were already made up.
Cruz may have solidified place in bullpen
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Juan Cruz probably removed any doubt about his claim to a bullpen job -- if any had remained -- with his one-inning outing on Wednesday night.At some point on Thursday, the Pirates are likely to turn his camp invitation into a roster spot. Otherwise, up against a deadline that affects a couple dozen special-case veterans, the club would owe him either $100,000 or free agency. Cruz has mounted a month-long argument for being asked to stay around. The veteran righty, who was not signed to a Minor League contract until Feb. 1, tendered another perfect inning -- his seventh scoreless in nine total appearances -- as a highlight of the 6-4 loss to Tampa Bay. For emphasis, two of the three batters he retired were left-handed (Jose Lobaton and Elliot Johnson), which is an important factor, since his success against opposite-side hitters adds to his value. "He has pitched well, done everything we've asked him to do," said manager Clint Hurdle. "He has competed well, he's gotten outs and he's been efficient getting them." Hurdle and his pitching coach, Ray Searage, both love shallow counts. Cruz needed only seven pitches to get through his inning. In 10 innings, he has allowed two runs and six hits, walking one and striking out six.
The Bucs came to contract terms with a quintet of Colombian prospects on Wednesday, the youngest of them 17-year-old outfielder Tito Polo. The others are second baseman Fredys Padilla, and a trio from the town of Cartagena -- third baseman Gustavo Barrios, shortstop Jesus Ronco and outfielder Angelo Del Castillo. X-rays were negative on Yamaico Navarro's left forearm, which had stopped a Kyle Kendrick pitch in the seventh inning of Tuesday's game with the Phillies. The utility player is day-to-day with a bruise. It took that errant pitch to keep the busy Navarro off the field for only the second time in 24 games. The Mariners have already given the Pirates and the Diamondbacks something to shoot for: The 3-1 win over Oakland in Japan was their sixth straight Opening Day win, the Majors' best streak; next with five are the Diamondbacks and, yes, the Pirates, who can catch up next week. No one has put Spring Training to better use than Evan Meek, who has progressed from early efforts (five runs allowed in his first two appearances) that had the staff questioning his arm strength, to having allowed one run in his last six outings, covering eight innings. Meek did walk two, but also had two strikeouts in a hitless sixth. The Rays are 4-0 against the Pirates -- and 4-15 against the rest of their Grapefruit League competition. All four games between the teams have been competitive, with Tampa Bay winning them by a total of six runs. The Bucs' record dropped to 8-16 with seven exhibitions to go, clinching a losing spring record.
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.