Not even a six-month hiatus could make the Pirates forget about the bad blood they developed with the Cincinnati Reds toward the end of last season.
First, Reds closer Aroldis Chapman hit Pirates star Andrew McCutchen with a 101 mph fastball in August at Great American Ballpark. The next month, Reds second baseman accused Pirates reliever Jared Hughes of using a racial slur after Hughes hit him with a pitch. Hughes denies the allegation, and video of the incident supports Hughes.
Meanwhile, the Reds ran away with the National League Central Division title and the Pirates went from 16 games over .500 to four games under by the end of the season.
"I think there might be some angst still hanging around," manager Clint Hurdle said Friday before the first meeting of the year between the teams.
Neil Walker said the "dislike" is still there.
Hughes said he is past the incident with Phillips and rarely thinks about it, but agreed with Hurdle and Walker on the lingering tension.
"There's definitely no love lost," Hughes said. "We take it personal."
Heading into that Aug. 3 matchup when Chapman hit McCutchen near his left shoulder, the Reds and Pirates were first and second, respectively, in the division. The Pirates ended the season fourth in the Central, behind St. Louis and Milwaukee.
"We've got to focus on winning," Hughes said. "We can't let all this other stuff distract us from the game."
Hurdle said the Pirates must channel their emotions against such a talented team.
"They are an in-division rival," he said. "Right now, you're going to have to go through them to get where you want to get."
The Pirates recalled right-handed reliever Bryan Morris Friday and designated right-handed reliever Chris Leroux for assignment.
"It was all about performance," Hurdle said. "Chris struggled at the end [of spring training] and struggled the first two times out."
In four innings, Leroux walked six batters, gave up four hits and allowed three earned runs for a 6.75 ERA. He has been in the organization since 2010 and made it through waivers last season to stick with the team.
Hurdle said he was not comfortable handing the ball to Leroux, which was necessary as starters have struggled to pitch deep into games this season.
"We were almost pitching one short," he said.
Morris, 26, made his major league debut last season and posted a 1.80 ERA in five appearances in 2012. He did not allow a baserunner over three innings in two appearances for Class AAA Indianapolis this year.
In the offseason, Morris was granted a fourth option year, which allowed the Pirates to send him to the minor leagues without the risk of losing him to another team. Leroux was out of options, and by designating him for assignment, the Pirates could lose him in waivers.
Hurdle said if Leroux clears waivers, the Pirates will try to trade him.
On the brawl
A benches-clearing brawl Thursday night between the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres that left star pitcher Zack Greinke with a broken collarbone will have little effect on how the Pirates would handle a similar situation.
"You have to make a decision," McCutchen said about whether to trot to first base or charge the mound after getting hit with a pitch.
After getting hit by Chapman, McCutchen jogged to first but shot an icy glare toward Chapman.
Hurdle said he advises players to do "what you feel is best."
"You're in front of 20,000 people and your teammates and everybody else," Hurdle said. "Are you going to walk away? Are you going to run to second? Are you going to hide behind the second baseman? Not going to happen, probably."
First Published April 13, 2013 4:00 AM