Spring Synopsis: Maholm has first 'bad' day

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The game: Paul Maholm, in his final spring tuneup before pitching opening day, was charged with three runs -- all on a cheesy home run -- in the Pirates' 4-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox yesterday at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.

He still was not as sharp as he had been -- six hits, two strikeouts and a walk in four innings -- but his final spring ERA was 1.52.

"That was the first day I felt bad," Maholm said. "I think I threw two breaking balls for strikes. The fastball was pretty much the only pitch I could get close. I'm glad to get out of here. I'm glad Monday will be the start."

The Pirates took the lead in the third inning on Nate McLouth's two-run home run, his fourth, off a full-count Josh Beckett fastball to straightaway center.

Boston answered in the fourth on Chip Ambres' three-run shot to left, one heavily aided by 20-mph wind in that direction. That ended Maholm's streak of 18 2/3 scoreless innings.

"It's fine," Maholm said. "Most days, that's an out."

Nyjer Morgan went 3 for 3 with two doubles and an RBI, raising his average to .237. He has hit safely in six of his past seven games.

"He's swung the bat well lately," manager John Russell said. "He's getting into a little bit of a groove. When he gets on base, good things happen. He brings a lot of energy."

Injury update: Third baseman Andy LaRoche returned after missing two games to the stomach flu going around.

Today: The Pirates have their only split-squad day of the spring. Virgil Vasquez will start the annual exhibition against Manatee Community College, 12:05 p.m. in Bradenton. Ian Snell will start against the Cincinnati Reds' Edinson Volquez, 1:05 p.m., in Sarasota.

Camp roster: 27, with 14 pitchers, two catchers, six infielders and five outfielders.

Fun in the sun: There is precious little fun to be had on the big cutdown day, which begins right after dawn with player after player being summoned to manager John Russell's office to meet with him and general manager Neal Huntington.

First baseman Garrett Jones, clearly aware he would be cut despite batting.294 with four home runs, simply sat at his stall and stared at the door for nearly an hour until it was his turn.

Inside pitch: The Pirates have been charged with 16 errors, fewest of any team in either spring league. Next-lowest is 20, a mark shared by the Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles.

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

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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