PITTSBURGH -- As the Pirates went through a pre-Opening Day workout at PNC Park on Wednesday, a common element emerged for the two leading stories of a Spring Training dissolving into the background.Matt Hague was the biggest surprise of the spring, and he was rewarded with his formal inclusion on the season-opening roster. Pedro Alvarez was the biggest disappointment of the spring, which was reflected in the questions being posed manager Clint Hurdle regarding the third baseman's security. The common element: Winter League in the Dominican Republic. Hague went, and unlocked the power that made him undeniable, hitting a homer every eight at-bats after averaging one per 44.5 at-bats last year in Triple-A Indianapolis. Alvarez declined to follow the team's request that he go, and he carried the same heavy bat through Spring Training that he had dragged last season. The coming weeks will tell how it goes for Alvarez and where he winds up, but a wide-eyed Hague wound up in his own heaven. "I'm excited. I'm happy," said the 26-year-old, whose next Major League at-bat will be his first. "I'll keep getting my work in, so whenever the times comes that they need me, I'll go out there and do what I've been working for." Also taking seats on the bench are Josh Harrison and Yamaico Navarro, who both have limited previous big league experience. The fourth survivor, reliever Jared Hughes, got into a dozen games in September. April is different. "This is something I dreamed about and envisioned all offseason," said Hughes, beaming. "I just went day to day, and it eventually blew up into a good Spring Training."
Alvarez must show he can produce for Pirates
PITTSBURGH -- They'll cheer Erik Bedard, go nuts for Andrew McCutchen and -- if he is needed -- will rock for Joel Hanrahan.But Pirates fans are most fascinated by Pedro Alvarez, who is unquestionably the most polarizing athlete in Pittsburgh. Alvarez will run out on the PNC Park field on Thursday afternoon without an average or without any strikeouts, just like everyone else in uniform. Good riddance Spring Training, and pass the eraser. But apparently Alvarez will also be going out there with a short leash. Manager Clint Hurdle remains an Alvarez booster and believer, but he will also have three hot bats on his bench he won't want to cool off. Josh Harrison (.341 spring average), Yamaico Navarro (.310) and Matt Hague (.400, with seven homers) -- not to mention Casey McGehee -- can all handle the hot corner. "We do have other opportunities and options," Hurdle said, "to keep anyone who doesn't get fast out of the blocks from getting overwhelmed. The three guys on the bench probably had the three best springs. With all the left-handers we'll be facing, we could very well mix up some things out of the chute." Translation: Despite his spring struggles, Alvarez was given the third-base job. Keeping it, however, will be up to him.
Charlie Morton threw 91 pitches in a Pirate City camp game on Wednesday, with nothing to suggest he doesn't remain on track to join the rotation in mid-April. "His velocity seemed good, his sinker was good," said manager Clint Hurdle, relaying witness reports. "There was some fatigue in the fifth but he went back out in the sixth, which was crisper." The last word: "A fast start is very important when you get off to one. What if we don't? Do you quit? No. Obviously we'll be challenged by our first 30 games. It's a Major League schedule. We got to show up." -- Clint Hurdle, on the Bucs' first eight series coming against teams that averaged 88 wins in 2011.
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.