Spring Synopsis: Maholm zips through four

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The game: Paul Maholm was exceptionally efficient, and Craig Monroe's home run with one out in the ninth inning brought the Pirates a 2-2 tie with the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday at Dunedin Stadium in Dunedin, Fla.

The game was called after 11 innings because each team ran out of pitchers.

Maholm, who is lined up -- and almost certain -- to start opening day, worked four scoreless innings, with three hits, two strikeouts and no walks. He needed only 40 pitches for the team's longest outing of the spring, 31 of those strikes, and 11 of his 14 batters saw a first-pitch strike.

"At some point, we're going to have to extend him to get his pitch count up," manager John Russell said afterward, with a grin. "We're just preparing him for opening day."

Maholm's ERA through three appearances: 1.00.

"I feel comfortable," he said. "There are some small things where I need to be more consistent, but I just want to challenge hitters, find a rhythm and keep my pitches down."

Eight outs came by ground balls, and one of the hits was an infield single.

Monroe's home run, a high shot to left, was his third, and it came off former Pirates reliever T.J. Beam.

Andy LaRoche went 1 for 2 to drop his average to .550. He has a hit in all nine of his games. He also turned a defensive gem in the third, ranging to the line and throwing across his body to brother Adam at first.

The Pirates are 8-4-1 in Grapefruit League play.

Today: Virgil Vasquez will make his first start against the Minnesota Twins' Scott Baker, 1:05 p.m. in Bradenton. Denny Bautista, Jesse Chavez, Chris Bootcheck and Sean Burnett will follow.

Camp roster: 53, with 26 pitchers, five catchers, 13 infielders and nine outfielders.

Injury update: Steve Pearce returned from missing a week to a strained left calf and went 0 for 2 and played first base the final four innings.

"I could have come back sooner, but everyone wanted it to get right," Pearce said.

Outfielder Eric Hinske (rib) began taking dry swings, but there remains no timetable for his return.

Competition: Jeff Karstens gave up two Toronto runs in the sixth, that on three hits, raising his ERA to 6.50, with 10 hits in 6 2/3 innings. He surely will need to improve to remain in the rotation battle.

"The big thing I need to do is keep the ball down in the strike zone," Karstens said. "I can't get away with that in the regular season."

Fun in the sun: No one has more fun each spring than Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC's popular "Countdown," who spent yesterday with the Pirates, watching batting practice and mingling. A former sports anchor and devoted baseball fan and historian, he makes the rounds across Florida to see as many teams and games as possible.

Inside pitch: Andrew McCutchen played right field for the first time this spring, having spent most of his time in left. Is he insurance if Brandon Moss is not ready for the opener?

Probably not. The Pirates sound set on having McCutchen start in Class AAA Indianapolis.

Meet me in St. Louis: 26 days until the opener.


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