Spring training: Pirates' mark worst since 1985

Penn struggles in loss, possibly influencing final roster moves today

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PHILADELPHIA -- Now comes the really hard part.

The Pirates completed a 7-21-1 spring, including losses in 14 of the final 17 games, by falling short against the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-3, Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. Paul Maholm, limited to three innings because of illness, allowed two runs and five hits, and the offense dinked away for 13 singles.

Spring records mean precious little, but consider that this record represented the Pirates' fewest wins and lowest winning percentage in a full spring schedule since 1985, when they were 6-18. And that team, with Sammy Khalifa at shortstop and "Joggin'" George Hendrick in right field, would go 57-104 in the regular season for the franchise's worst record in the past half-century.

The record aside, the Pirates' general performance appeared to be no better: The offense batted .247, lowest of Major League Baseball's 30 teams. The pitchers' ERA was 5.30, which ranked 25th, and walked 107, which ranked 23rd. And the defense committed 26 errors for a .976 fielding percentage that ranked 17th.

The Pirates ranked No. 1 in the latter category last year.

It probably should not surprise, then, that the choices they have to make in completing their roster today -- the plan is to do so before a 1 p.m. workout at PNC Park -- should not be difficult ones ...

Management was eager to see what newly acquired reliever Hayden Penn would do Saturday, as he is out of options, and he had only three chances to pitch after being claimed off waivers from Florida. This one did not go well: He entered in the fourth inning and the first batter, Jayson Werth, homered. Raul Ibanez doubled and Shane Victorino singled before a double play and strikeout ended it.

Penn's ERA, including his time with Florida, was 8.04.

If Penn is kept, the Pirates will go with a 12-man staff. If he does not, they likely will go with 11, at least temporarily. The 12-man scenario would force them to cut two of these three position players:

• Ramon Vazquez, coming off a .230 output in 2009 and a .176 spring, is owed a guaranteed $2 million, and management has stated a willingness to eat that if his release is seen as the right choice.

• John Raynor, the Rule 5 draft pick, wound up with a .229 spring after going 0 for 3 Saturday to cap a 1-for-21 free fall.

• Steve Pearce, who has an option left and is the best bet of the three to be cut, had a .195 spring.

The following have not yet been told they have made the team but are sure to hear that today:

• Jeff Clement, learning on the job at first base, singled and walked Saturday to finish at .276, thanks largely to 13 hits in his final 35 at-bats.

• Jack Taschner's 1.50 ERA was the bullpen's best after a perfect inning Saturday.

• D.J. Carrasco, the other player who must be added to the 40-man roster, was second-best with a 2.25 ERA, and his .184 opponents' batting average was the lowest.

One curve too many

Penn showed a 95-mph fastball and a sweeping curve, but Werth's home run came on a third consecutive curve, a rare choice even for those with the best breaking stuff. This one hung, and Werth lined it beyond left-center.

Penn explained that, when he faced Werth in a game last year, he threw two curves then "tried to sneak a heater past him." Werth doubled that time.

"I made a mistake, and he hit it out," Penn said. "Overall, though, I was happy with the way I threw."

So, apparently, was manager John Russell.

"He has good stuff," Russell said. "He needs to be more consistent with his curveball. But, when he gets the angle down, he's got good velocity, and he's got some out pitches. It's a very interesting arm."

Russell dismissed the mistake to Werth as "just pitch selection, and we certainly can work with him on that."

Buried treasure

Andrew McCutchen led the team with a .351 average after going 1 for 2 Saturday. "I wish all these hits counted," he said. Lastings Milledge was second at .308.

Delwyn Young led with six home runs and 18 RBIs, the latter figure the most for the Pirates in spring since Craig Wilson had the same total in 2005.

• Starter Daniel McCutchen will be with the team for the season opener Monday, then fly to Bradenton, Fla., to pitch in a minor league game. He will make his first start Saturday in Phoenix.

Dejan Kovacevic: dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Find more at PBC Blog .


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