3/24/2014 3:52 P.M. ET
If Liriano returns to full strength, Bucs' rotation is set
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has set his rotation through the first week of the regular season, but it comes with one major "if."
If left-hander Francisco Liriano is well enough and recovered from a tight left groin muscle to do Opening Day honors against the Cubs, this is how the Bucs will spin through the first homestand of the season:
• March 31: Liriano vs. Cubs
• April 2: Charlie Morton vs. Cubs
• April 3: Wandy Rodriguez vs. Cubs
• April 4: Gerrit Cole vs. Cardinals
• April 5: Liriano vs. Cardinals
• April 6: Edinson Volquez vs. Cardinals.
It all depends on Liriano, who is due to put the groin muscle through an intense test on Wednesday, either in a Minor League game in Pirate City or a simulated game at McKechnie Field.
"We'll have everything cleared up after that," said Hurdle, who would like to see Liriano approach 100 pitches.
The lefty had thrown 76 pitches against the Orioles on Thursday night, before leaving the mound when the tightness began to affect his delivery.
"We'll have him in a controlled situation early [Wednesday] to get in the flow," Hurdle said, "then have hitters up there, so whatever can happen in a game, he's gotta move, do those things."
Announcing final roster cuts never easy for Hurdle
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates still have 42 players in camp. By 3 p.m. ET Sunday afternoon, they will have to get down to 25. That subtraction will add up to a busy five days for general manager Neal Huntington -- and numerous trying conversations for manager Clint Hurdle.
Most likely on Tuesday morning, a procession will begin into Hurdle's office, and players will take a seat opposite the manager's desk to hear that they have not made the team, and why not.
"It's the most challenging part of this position," said Hurdle, who often heard that speech during his playing days. "I've been the guy that sits in that chair and been cut, as late as the Opening Day of the season. Those [talks] are tough, but they are real. You've got to honor the person sitting in that chair.
"You treat them like men, you talk to them, you tell them the truth. The ones that stay in the organization, you continue to challenge them to be the next guy called up. 'We're gonna need what you have at some point in the season.' And you let them know you appreciate the effort and laying out, and that right now just wasn't the right time."
Above all else, Hurdle will encourage those men to not leave the office with any extra baggage.
"Don't become a self-fulfilling prophet," Hurdle said. "If you go with bitterness or are angry, you won't play well and won't be attractive to anybody."
Pirates to honor Kiner with No. 4 patch on jerseys
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Fans of the 1946-53 Pirates refused to make an early departure from Forbes Field, rooted to their seats by the potential of getting one more look at No. 4.
During the 2014 season, fans will see that No. 4 -- worn by Ralph Kiner and retired by the Bucs in 1987 -- on the sleeves of all the Pirates as the club will honor the memory of the Hall of Famer, who passed away on Feb. 6.
The patch -- a black circle with gold trim and "4" outlined by gold in the center -- will be part of the Pirates' home white, road grey and black alternate jerseys.
"In February, Major League Baseball truly lost one of the cherished ambassadors of our game and a treasured member of the Pirates family," said club president Frank Coonelly. "We are humbled to honor one of the game's greatest power hitters by wearing Ralph's number on our sleeve during the 2014 campaign."
Kiner was unquestionably the greatest power hitter the Bucs have ever fielded, leading the National League in homers in each of his seven full seasons (1946-52) in Pittsburgh. He departed the Steel City in a mid-1946 deal to the Cubs, and from Chicago transitioned to a long second career in the broadcast booth of the New York Mets.
But, clearly, he never left Pittsburgh's heart. And in 2014, Pittsburgh will wear that heart on its sleeves.
First number, last word
March 21, 2007: Date of ESPN's last national telecast of a Grapefruit League game from McKechnie Field, as sensationalized Red Sox newcomer Daisuke Matsuzaka faced the Pirates as part of his first MLB Spring Training; the network's return engagement was rained out on Monday.
"Competition with guys wearing the same jersey is different, but it's the way it is. It keeps you in check. If you'd rather do without that, you shouldn't be in this room, in this uniform." - Closer Jason Grilli, on the heated and upscale battle for seats in the Pirates bullpen.
• Remarkably, Chris Stewart is moving around freely without the aid of crutches only a few days past his Wednesday knee surgery. In fact, he was tentatively planned to begin some running on Monday, until the wet conditions ruled that out.
• The biggest loss with Monday's rainout was the opportunity to hear the Richardson 5 singers, from Lake Wales, Fla., perform the National Anthem. To make up for not being able to take the field, the five youngsters sought refuge from the rain under a canopy outside the Pirates' clubhouse and performed a series of songs that delighted and amazed passersby.
• Bryan Morris did some indoor throwing in the batting cages Monday morning, and Jeanmar Gomez and Stolmy Pimentel were also due to throw bullpens.
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.