BRADENTON, Fla. -- And then there was one -- the keeper.The Pirates on Thursday morning reassigned four non-roster players to their Minor League camp, all but relief pitcher Juan Cruz, who remained in line to be added to the 25-man roster as well as to manager Clint Hurdle's bullpen. Reassigned were right-hander Ryota Igarashi, who had begun camp in competition with Cruz for a relief role; catchers Eric Fryer and Jake Fox; and first baseman Nick Evans. With the moves, the Bucs have 30 active players in camp, including 29 roster players. Igarashi started on an even footing with Cruz, but an inability to keep his pitches down gradually eroded his effectiveness. In nine appearances covering 9 1/3 innings, he allowed 15 hits and nine earned runs. Evans (.111) and Fox (.269) both had their moments, but didn't produce consistently. Fryer was getting increased support for possibly wresting the backup catching job from Michael McKenry. But although Fryer batted .318 to McKenry's .217 and was his peer defensively, the staff had to respect the experience McKenry gained last season, when he also established good rapport with a number of the team's pitchers.
Despite progress, Morton to start season on DL
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Right-hander Charlie Morton continues to make steady progress in his comeback from October hip surgery, but his inability to reach his pitch target in Wednesday night's start confirmed the Pirates' intent to have him begin the season on the disabled list.Morton had hoped to make 90 pitches against the Rays but left after 75 pitches and five innings, during which he allowed six runs and eight hits. Morton underwent surgery to repair the torn labrum in his left hip on Oct. 10, and the prognosis for a full recovery was estimated at six months. He'll hit the six-month mark on April 10 -- a few days before the Pirates would need a fifth starter in back of the season-opening rotation of Erik Bedard, Jeff Karstens, James McDonald and Kevin Correia.
Conceding Morton's tremendous progress to reach this point, general manager Neal Huntington and on-field personnel have mapped out an agenda for him to reach game-ready condition.Morton will stay behind in Florida to pitch a simulated game on Wednesday. He will join the club for the next afternoon's Opening Day festivities in PNC Park, then make a start with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians on April 9 before being re-evaluated. "We saw he was very clean early [in the Wednesday night start against the Rays], and [the fourth inning, when he faced seven batters], kind of fatigued him, and he wasn't as sharp," said manager Clint Hurdle. "He has more work to do. Guys [have to] go through certain periods. A side isn't the same as a game. He's got to find that ability to be stronger, to repeat his deliveries."
Inconsistency continues to hurt McDonald
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Manager Clint Hurdle had one response to James McDonald's outing last Saturday, when he fired two-hit, no-walk ball for seven innings against the Astros: "Wow."McDonald's latest outing, on Thursday, elicited the same reaction.
"You've got to again say, 'Wow,'" Hurdle said.But this exclamation was for a different reason. McDonald's line against the Twins at McKechnie Field? 3 2/3 innings, seven hits, 10 runs (all earned), seven walks, one strikeout. You read correctly: 10 runs, seven hits and seven walks in less than four innings. McDonald faced 24 men; 15 of them reached base. "It's not frustrating. I've had worse days," said McDonald, who seemed quite subdued by his wobbly day. "One day you could be on top of the world, the next day you can be down. I just didn't have my good stuff. A bad day for me, but it's baseball. Sometimes these days happen." They happen quite frequently to McDonald, who has fought inconsistency his whole career. Only once in 47 starts -- admittedly a relatively small sample size -- has he made comparably strong starts back-to-back: On Sept. 7, 2010, he blanked the Braves for seven innings on five hits, and six days later he threw eight shutout innings on five hits against the Mets. He has had three other starts of seven-plus innings, and he followed those by allowing totals of 15 hits, 12 walks and 12 runs in 15 2/3 innings over the next three outings. "It's part of big league growth," Hurdle said. "Some days you get out there and end up wearing it a little bit. When you don't have your 'A' game, you have to adapt and find a way to still get something out of it."
Pedro Alvarez looked a little different on Wednesday -- and the results were a lot different. After working on a streamlined stance-and-swing in Minor League camp, he had his first two-hit game in more than three weeks, going 2-for-5 with a double. He'll get another bunch of at-bats in Minor League camp games on Friday before returning to play in Saturday afternoon's McKechnie Field finale. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay's scheduled starter on Friday, would be the 13th lefty to oppose the Pirates in 26 exhibitions. A 50 percent rate is quite extraordinary; last season the Bucs saw a lefty about one out of every four games. Jared Hughes remained a hot candidate to occupy a bullpen seat by blanking the Twins for an inning in his ninth appearance, tying Juan Cruz for the team high. Very strangely, however, it was Hughes' first outing in McKechnie Field. He'd previously appeared in eight of the Pirates' 11 road games.
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.