ST. LOUIS -- It might have gotten lost in the Pirates' wild 6-4 victory last night against the St. Louis Cardinals, but the leadoff man -- the one who nearly played his way off the roster in spring training -- led off his year in style: Nyjer Morgan went 3 for 5 with two RBIs and a steal.
Yes, the same Morgan who batted .238 in the spring and drew strong suggestions from management that his starting job was in jeopardy.
"He's exciting," manager John Russell said. "That's what he can bring."
Morgan singled in his first two at-bats, but that went no further than most of the Pirates' rallies. He then decided to clear the table instead of setting it, delivering a two-run single in the sixth that brought a 2-2 tie. And this despite St. Louis manager Tony La Russa summoning left-hander Trever Miller to face him.
"I just went with the pitches the whole game," Morgan said.
And of his confidence?
"I'm happy with what I do. I had to battle a little, but I'm turning it on. Now, I'm staying within myself, just getting the boys going. Start the fire, you know?"
One might think Ian Snell would be on a tight pitch limit tonight, given that he missed his final spring start to the flu and was relegated to a two-inning outing against minor leaguers Saturday at Pirate City. And it was an effortless outing at that, with just 22 pitches.
"All sinkers, too," Snell said, grinning.
Still, Russell and Snell confirmed there would be no limit in large part because Snell was stretched out while pitching for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
"He's ready," Russell said.
He had better be: Snell's ERA in six meetings with the Cardinals last season was 7.20.
Andy LaRoche batted seventh most of the spring, but the lone surprise of Russell's opening day lineup was that he was bumped up to sixth, right behind brother Adam, while Brandon Moss dropped to seventh.
The reason, as Russell explained, was to keep a left-right alternation through as much of the lineup as possible.
"The opposition's going to have to think about how to use their bullpen against us," Russell said. "We'll see how it works."
LaRoche went 0 for 3 with a walk and, most glaring, two fielding errors on routine bouncers. The first of those led to a two-run inning for St. Louis.
Someone asked La Russa about these Pirates, and he responded pointedly.
"My memory of the Pittsburgh Pirates is 7-10," he said, referring to the Cardinals' record against them last year. "So, brand new year. I think they're doing a lot of things right over there. That makes them tough to play."
• Jeff Karstens threw six efficient innings Sunday at Pirate City -- 65-70 pitches -- in preparing for his start Friday in Cincinnati.
• The Reds' rotation for that series: Johnny Cueto, Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo.
• In all, the Pirates will see right-handers for at least their first seven games. An advantage? "I actually think we'll do well against lefties, too, with the good spring Craig Monroe had and some good balance," Russell said.