Spring Synopsis: Andy LaRoche goes deep

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The game: Andy LaRoche's two-run home run in the fifth inning lifted to the Pirates past the Minnesota Twins, 2-1, yesterday at McKechnie Field and raised their Grapefruit League record to 6-1.

LaRoche, now 4 for 8 this spring after going 1 for 2 and getting robbed of another RBI earlier, launched a 2-2 fastball high and into the palm trees just beyond left field, his first home run of the spring. Just before, Brandon Moss doubled.

"What's impressed me about Andy is that he's been hitting to all fields all spring," manager John Russell said. "That's what happens when you get that confidence, when you don't press too much. He's a lot more relaxed."

"I'm starting to feel a lot more comfortable all around, but especially with the swing," LaRoche said. "Honestly, it doesn't feel anything at all like last season."

He batted .152 in 49 games after the Pirates acquired him last season.

Starter Tom Gorzelanny was erratic all through his two-inning start, allowing a run on a Wilson Ramos double to the fence in center while walking two and hitting a batter. Of his 35 pitches, only 15 were strikes, and he fell behind six of his nine batters.

"Getting the walks under wraps is a big thing, especially after last year," Gorzelanny said. "It kind of seems like it's not progressing, but I really feel like it is. I'm just kind of getting those last walks out of my system, I guess. I've just got to continue to pound the zone early, get ahead and good things will happen."

Today: The Pirates' Paul Maholm will face the Cincinnati Reds' Nick Masset, 1:05 p.m. in Sarasota , Fla. Jeff Karstens, Denny Bautista and Donnie Veal will follow.

Other news: The Pirates signed all 26 of their remaining players with three or fewer years experience in the majors. All salaries ranged from the minimum $400,000 to $450,000, with the exception of reliever Craig Hansen. He will make $825,000, the byproduct of his original contract with the Boston Red Sox as a first-round draft pick.

Camp roster: 57, with 28 pitchers, six catchers, 14 infielders and nine outfielders.

Injury update: First baseman Adam LaRoche had to do some extra stretching on his right leg to be cleared to play, minutes before the game. The matter is not deemed serious, though he did proceed to strike out all three times up.

Competition: This bullpen battle is becoming a blur. Chris Bootcheck and Evan Meek each pitched his fourth scoreless outing, Bootcheck's coming over two innings, Meek's producing his third save.

Sean Burnett, Tyler Yates, Craig Hansen and Juan Mateo also put up zeroes, as the bullpen allowed three combined hits over seven innings.

"We've gotten a lot of good pitching," Russell said.

Fun in the sun: Who was that No. 9 on the lineup card?

Playing a gag on Bill Mazeroski on his final morning in camp, Russell penned Mazeroski into the seventh spot of the batting order, listing him as the designated hitter. As might be expected, that caused quite a stir in the clubhouse until it became known later that Brandon Moss would be DH.

Was Maz set to go?

"Oh, yeah," he replied about an hour before first pitch. "Went out with the second group this morning for BP. I'm ready."

When he saw that he was being taken seriously, he and Bill Virdon at the adjacent stall busted out in laughter.

Inside pitch: With all players under contract, a projection of the opening-day 25-man roster shows a payroll of $51.1 million, including buyouts and other elements used in official calculations.

Meet me in St. Louis: 33 days until the opener.



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