Spring Synopsis: Morris stands tall in debut

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The game:

Employing what he called a "taller delivery," Matt Morris pitched two scoreless innings in his spring debut, the Pirates' 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies yesterday at Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater, Fla.

This despite three singles and three 3-0 counts.

"I fell behind a couple times, but I felt physically good out there," Morris said.

He and pitching coach Jeff Andrews have worked together on a slight adjustment that keeps Morris' torso and arm higher in the follow-through, creating a more downward plane to his pitches. Previously, Morris said, that motion had been more of an arc, up then down.

"I like the results," he said. "I haven't been at my best the past couple years, so I'm open."

Shane Victorino and Eric Bruntlett opened the game with singles, but Morris overcame a 3-0 count to get Chase Utley to bounce into a double play, then froze Ryan Howard with a back-door curveball for strike three.

"Maybe a little wide," Morris said, grinning when recalling what might have been a generous call.

Philadelphia took a 2-0 lead in the fifth with three singles off Casey Fossum.

Neil Walker had a tough late entry: A soft grounder to third skipped off his glove in the seventh inning to give Philadelphia its third run, and he struck out looking at a J.C. Romero fastball with runners at the corners to end the eighth.

In the teams' morning B-game, the Pirates lost, 1-0. Starter Yoslan Herrera gave up a home run to Mike Cervenak and one other hit in three innings.

Today: Phil Dumatrait will face the Boston Red Sox's Daisuke Matsuzaka, 1:05 p.m. in Fort Myers, Fla. Bryan Bullington, Dave Davidson, Mike Thompson and Franquelis Osoria will follow.

Camp roster: 65, with 38 pitchers, 6 catchers, 13 infielders and 8 outfielders.

Injury update: Outfielder Nate McLouth (hamstring) could return to games tomorrow, manager John Russell said, pending a second day of successful running tests today.

Reliever Elmer Dessens (back) missed his scheduled outing in the B-game and has yet to pitch.

Battle lines: Luis Munoz, a prospect bound for Class AAA Indianapolis' rotation, followed Morris with two scoreless innings and one hit allowed. Evan Meek, the Rule 5 pick, was charged with a tough run on Walker's miscue. Two other relievers in the bullpen mix, Masumi Kuwata and Jonah Bayliss, each pitched a scoreless inning despite allowing two baserunners.

Fun in the sun: Hey, who is that big lefty wearing No. 25 taking the mound most every morning and pitching to Ronny Paulino?

The first baseman?

Adam LaRoche, son of former All-Star reliever Dave LaRoche, has pitching in his blood, as well as his scholastic background. He even did it once professionally -- for Class A Myrtle Beach in 2002 -- and relentlessly clamors for a chance to do it in a big-league game.

"My ideal situation is to pitch one day, play first base the other four," LaRoche said. "I've been on every manager ever since Myrtle Beach, and I'm on J.R. now."

He nearly got his wish last season in Houston, when an Aug. 24 game went 15 innings and the Pirates nearly were out of arms. One problem: LaRoche homered in the 15th to win it.

"Totally blew it," he said, shaking his head.

Inside pitch: Shortstop prospect Brian Bixler made a strong enough impression last spring to hang around an extra two weeks, but he could be out of camp soon to protect his confidence: He has struggled to make even routine contact, striking out six times in 12 plate appearances -- including two B-games -- with a single, double and walk.

Countdown to Atanta: 29 days.

First Published March 4, 2008 5:00 AM


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