03/25/2013 11:27 PM ET
First-pitch strikes crucial for McPherson
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- For four innings Monday night, Kyle McPherson had a pretty good hold on a berth in the Pirates' starting rotation. Then the righty lost his grip, and the makeup of that rotation remained a mystery wrapped in suspense.
A strong start by McPherson unraveled into a five-inning, five-run, three-homer stint in the Bucs' 6-2 loss to the Rays.
If general manager Neal Huntington wanted to see something conclusive from McPherson -- good or bad -- before making a decision on Jonathan Sanchez, who has to be either released or added to the roster Tuesday morning, he did not get it.
"The game plan was to go out there, be aggressive, and it was working," McPherson said. "Then I failed to execute a couple of pitches, and things just snowballed."
McPherson started out giving a textbook example of the value of first-pitch strikes, something always being preached but not always practiced by pitchers lacking confidence in their stuff. He started off his first 10 batters with strikes and, not coincidentally, took a two-hitter into the fourth inning.
Until then, his only misstep was a hung breaking pitch on an 0-and-2 count in the second inning to Shelley Duncan, who deposited it on the lawn beyond the left-field fence for a solo homer.
When McPherson started falling behind, though, the Rays started figuring him out. Two-run homers in the fifth by Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria erased his 2-1 lead. Complicit in that undoing was his own defense, which was not erratic, just misfortunate. Zobrist's home run ball actually bounced over the fence off right fielder Jose Tabata's glove, and Longoria's shot followed a hot smash by Matt Joyce which second baseman Neil Walker could only knock down, not field cleanly.
"At this level, you can't fall behind, or give them too much to hit. They make you pay," said McPherson, who conceded having been stunned by Zobrist's go-ahead homer -- twice.
"I was surprised the ball went that far. I thought I got in there pretty good on that pitch. Strong guy," McPherson said. "At first, I thought [Tabata] actually had it and came down with it. But then I saw it rolling on top of the net, and I was like, 'That's not coming back.'"
Inge playing in pain in hopes of making team
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- As someone trying to make a team on a non-roster invitation, Brandon Inge has had a worst-case scenario Spring Training.
For openers, his participation was delayed, as the Pirates knew it would be, as he wrapped up rehabilitating his throwing shoulder from September surgery. Then, midway through the Grapefruit League schedule, he took a pitch off his right shoulder blade. The pain was enough to require X-rays five days ago, which were negative.
The pain hasn't miraculously gone away. But with the Bucs facing a Tuesday morning decision on his status -- make him official by adding him to the roster, or release him -- Inge had no choice but to play Monday night. All night, all over the infield, first and third base.
"It's pretty painful," Inge said after a 1-for-5 night that, on close observation, improved with each at-bat. "But I'm trying to give them a good shot [at evaluating me]. I'm giving it my best. But it is hard to do. It's painful, but ..."
Despite a poor spring on the surface -- 6-for-37 (.162) with no RBIs, awkward moments adapting to first base -- Inge has a booster in Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who sounded still willing to take a chance on the versatile veteran.
"In a perfect world," Hurdle said after the Bucs' 6-2 loss to the Rays, "you would've liked to have had him on the field more in different places, and get him more at-bats. A lot of the reasons we brought him here are still relevant. You're dealing with a guy who'd come off the bench, and the question is, do you still have time for him to get right once the season starts? I think you would. But you want to make sure, and we're still having those conversations."
Inge struck out against Tampa Bay southpaw Matt Moore his first two times up, lined out to right in at-bat No. 3, rolled a single up the middle on his next chance and ended his evening by pulling a hard liner, but right at the third baseman.
In the field, Inge couldn't handle shortstop Clint Barmes' rather routine throw on a two-out grounder by Shelley Duncan in the bottom of the fourth, drawing an error on the play.
Bucs' workout on Sunday at PNC open to public
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Fans who want the ultimate sneak preview of the 2013 Pirates will have that chance in a free public workout at PNC Park the day before the season opener.
The '13 Bucs are scheduled -- weather permitting -- to work out at the yard from 1 to 3 p.m. ET on Sunday. Opening Day is scheduled for Monday, April 1, in a 1:35 p.m. tilt against the Chicago Cubs.
Free parking will also be available for fans, in Lots Four (along Mazeroski Way) and Six (directly across from PNC Park on General Robinson Street). Fans then will be able to enter the ballpark through the Legacy Square Gates, in the left-field area, beginning at 12:30 p.m. Also open for fans' convenience will be the Federal Street Grill concession area (behind section 115).
• James McDonald, the Bucs' No. 3 starter, had an uneven start Monday in a Minor League exhibition, if you go by the 98 pitches he needed in 4 1/3 innings against Triple-A players.
• Jose Tabata appeared to come down awkwardly after leaping for Ben Zobrist's fifth-inning drive -- and having it bounce off his glove over the right-field fence for a homer -- and Travis Snider did hit for him the next half inning. However, Tabata was all right; the move to Snider was a planned switch.
• Huntington declined to comment on the club having had a scout at the Monday Minor League start of Chris Capuano, the left-hander being shopped by the Dodgers.
"We always follow due diligence on everybody out there, but right now our focus is on picking 12 pitchers from the guys we have in camp," Huntington said.
• Russell Martin, 3-for-30 coming in, hit the ball hard for hits his first two times up and played the entire game, going 2-for-5.
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.