02/25/2013 6:09 PM ET
Leroux aims to minimize time away from camp
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Call it a case of international incidental.
Russell Martin has stepped away from Team Canada. Infielder Ivan De Jesus did likewise from Team Puerto Rico. And right-hander Chris Leroux, already penciled in for a start with Canada, is believed to be looking for a way to limit his absence to just his pitch day.
Their priorities aren't scoring any points with World Baseball Classic fans. However, treating the international tournament as secondary to improving the Pirates, or to improving their chances of making the Pirates, is to the team's benefit.
Leroux is already on an accelerated timetable, as he threw an inning here Monday in his second exhibition outing in three days. He fanned two batters in a perfect fifth inning, inducing a comebacker by Joe Mauer in between.
Players involved in Pool D play, in Phoenix from Mar. 8-10, are loosely scheduled to leave their Major League camps to join their countries' teams on Sunday. Leroux, due to face Mexico on Mar. 9, would prefer to leave Bradenton just the day before and return the day after. The final call on that belongs to Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt.
"Obviously, the issue of missing camp is in the back of my mind. I absolutely want to do everything I can to crack this staff," said Leroux, who anticipates the Classic to be a positive experience regardless of how much time it demands of him. "Going there and pitching against Mexico, that's pretty good competition, almost like playoff baseball. So it'll be good for me.
"I've had various discussions with Ray [Searage, Pirates pitching coach], [manager] Clint [Hurdle] and [general manager] Neal [Huntington], and we're pretty much all on the same page, so it's going to be a good thing."
McPherson pleased with his spring debut
BRADENTON, FLA. -- Good thing the Pirates did not have a Kangaroo Court scheduled for Monday afternoon. Had court been in session, Kyle McPherson might have been fined: He gave up a hit in the Grapefruit League game against the Twins.
The second-inning single to Josh Willingham is all McPherson gave up in two innings. But that did make him the first of three Pittsburgh starters to give up a hit, in the hitless wake of Jeff Locke and James McDonald.
"Yeah, I did give up a hit," McPherson said with mock regret. "Overall, a good day. Just tried to keep it free and easy. The high point was just getting the first one out of the way, and if you have some success, that's also a plus."
"He made a statement," manager Clint Hurdle said with a wry grin, playing off what had been the observation after the first pair's outings.
McPherson pushed the scoreboard radar reading to 95 mph during his economical outing. He made only 15 pitches in the two innings, but unlike when Locke was allowed to go a third on Saturday, McPherson was done after two. It was a concession to him having been a biceps tendinitis patient last fall.
"We're not worried, but after the setback, for his first time out our biggest interest was the up-and-down twice," Hurdle said. "We weren't going to give him too many pitches, but the fact he came in underneath, that was fine."
"We want to err on the side of caution but, at the same time, I'm still going out there and competing for that spot in the rotation," said McPherson. "I want to be healthy and ready to go."
Asked if he had any apprehension about how his arm responds, he replied, "none whatsoever."
"If there's any hiccups," said the right-hander, "you just try to put it in the back of your mind, do what you need to do and not worry about it. You need that trust factor."
• Naturally, the Pirates' first Grapefruit League loss of the season would be by a 5-4 score. Last season, they played 14 games with that final tally (they went 7-7 in them).
• Pittsburgh starters -- and pitchers in general -- aren't the only ones running an early collective heat in Grapefruit League play. Jordy Mercer, Chase d'Arnaud, Clint Barmes and Ivan De Jesus have combined to go 6-for-11 while playing shortstop.
• Jose Tabata hit the ball hard again, yanking a solo homer in the seventh off Esmerling Vazquez that briefly tied the game at 4. Hurdle has been uncommonly frank in talking to the outfielder about what he needs to do to "recapture his skill set," and has noted Tabata's response.
"He understands that this is a game of second chances, but sooner or later you run out of chances," Hurdle said. "It's good to see him come out early swinging the bat in a very aggressive nature."
• Tuesday's start, against Baltimore at McKechnie Field, will be the first of two for Wandy Rodriguez before the lefty leaves camp to hook up with Team Dominican Republic for the World Baseball Classic.
"Everybody knows [Roberto] Clemente for me is special. But you know what? I'm Jose Tabata, and I've got to be known for doing my job. So I've changed everything, and I feel great. I don't know why, but I feel good." -- Tabata, on his decision to conceal his tattoo of Clemente as a first step to establishing his own identity.
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.