Spring Synopsis: Snell revs it up for opener

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The game: Ian Snell found a finishing kick in his tuneup for opening day -- two runs, six hits, a walk and four strikeouts in his six scheduled innings -- in the Pirates' 7-3 victory against Minnesota yesterday at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.

The Twins had five hits in the first three innings, including Jon Knott's line-drive home run in the second and back-to-back doubles by Joe Mauer and Michael Cuddyer in the third. But Snell retired 10 of his final 11 batters, and the lone exception to reach base came on an infield single.

"It got better as it went along," he said, smiling.

Snell's final spring ERA through six starts was 4.01.

His next outing will come Monday in Atlanta, the first opener of his young career.

"I'm ready," he said. "Let's get this thing going."

The Pirates' lineup, looking much like what manager John Russell might use in Atlanta, was hitless through three but took a 3-2 lead off Kevin Slowey in the fourth on four consecutive two-out hits, including Adam LaRoche's RBI double to the fence in center.

Jason Bay went 2 for 3 to raise his spring average to .255 and continued to look even more comfortable at the plate than his statistics would suggest. Of note: He has been driving the ball to the opposite field, a trait he had before his down 2007.

"It's just a matter of going out there and not thinking too much about what you're doing," Bay said. "There are times in this game when you can get too tight and not be yourself. I feel like I'm getting back to being myself."

Ronny Paulino also had two hits off the bench, including a double.

Damaso Marte and Matt Capps each pitched a scoreless inning of relief. Marte has given up nine hits in his six innings this spring, but no runs. Capps has held opponents scoreless in all but one of his eight innings.

Today: The Pirates' Zach Duke will start against the Detroit Tigers' Dontrelle Willis, 1:05 p.m. at McKechnie.

Camp roster: 33, with 17 pitchers, two catchers, nine infielders and five outfielders.

Six moves yesterday: Infielder Luis Rivas was added to the 40-man roster, his contract purchased from Class AAA Indianapolis. Outfielder Nyjer Morgan was told he will make the 25-man roster. Outfielder Kevin Thompson was optioned to Indianapolis. Reliever Jonah Bayliss was designated for assignment, with the Pirates hoping he will clear waivers and be outrighted to Indianapolis. Relievers Elmer Dessens and Casey Fossum were reassigned to minor-league camp and will report to Indianapolis.

General manager Neal Huntington said he would like to have his roster set before the spring finale Saturday.

Injury update: Nate McLouth, back after missing three games to strep throat, went 0 for 3 at the plate with two strikeouts, but he made an excellent catch to rob Jason Kubel in the fourth.

McLouth had been shading to left but sprinted all the way to right-center and dived face-first into the grass to come up with the ball. The sellout crowd of 6,020 gave McLouth a standing ovation as he returned to the dugout.

"That was nice," he said.

An hour later, McLouth learned he will be the starting center fielder.

Battle lines: Lost in the comeback story of Rivas, perhaps, has been the work of an established backup infielder, Chris Gomez.

He came off the bench to single as part of the Pirates' three-run eighth and, in the process, extended a 6-for-14 run that raised his spring average to .342 with a home run, four walks and a .405 on-base percentage.

"This guy is the consummate professional," utilityman Doug Mientkiewicz, once Gomez's teammate in Minnesota, said.

Fun in the sun: Rich "Goose" Gossage, the former Pirates closer being inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer, gave two current Pirates quite a thrill yesterday.

First, he phoned Chuck Tanner, his old manager, to invite him to attend the July 27 ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y.

"What an honor," Tanner said. "I'm thrilled to go."

Next, Tanner handed the phone to Capps, and the two closers spent some time chatting.

Inside pitch: If Morgan had not made the roster, the Pirates' plan would have been to use Mientkiewicz as the primary backup outfielder.

That is indicative of the sound work he has done at the corner spots this spring, but it also raises the question: Who would have been the backup center fielder behind McLouth?

Bay and Xavier Nady each have played there, but the choice would have been Bay.

Yet another sign that his long-ailing knees are healthy.

Countdown to Atlanta: 5 days.



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