Spring Synopsis: Pirates blasted by Reds

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The game: Neither a blister nor a six-run blasting -- his word -- gave Ian Snell much cause for concern yesterday after a 6-0 Pirates loss to mostly Cincinnati backups and minor leaguers before 5,768 at McKechnie Field. Snell, pitching for the first time since a World Baseball Classic start last Monday, gave up five earned runs in a second inning where Darnell McDonald and Paul Janish each had two-run doubles. He exited four batters into the fifth. "It's just a blister; it'll go away," Snell said. "The front of the mound was hard, like concrete. [The blister] just started coming out the second inning. I was afraid to push off and let the ball go. That's what spring training is for, getting your work in. I got blasted. But, hey, it happens." Snell's counterpart, Cincinnati's Aaron Harang, threw six no-hit innings and allowed only Freddy Sanchez to reach base on two walks.

Injury report: Utilityman Andy Phillips is scheduled to receive an injection today in hopes of curbing his ailing back, General manager Neal Huntington said. If Phillips' back reacts well to the medication followed by two to three days of rest, he might return to play minor league games at week's end or Pirates exhibitions soon after. However, an extended absence might mean a trip to Class AAA Indianapolis or the disabled list for Phillips, whom management wanted to see play more often this spring at second base and in the outfield. Also, reliever Evan Meek has been shut down for the next four to five days because of arm fatigue. But, Huntington said, it "doesn't take him out [of the running] at this point in time. We don't want to rush him."

Today: Zach Duke is scheduled to start against the Tampa Bay Rays' Jason Hammel at 1:05 p.m. in McKechnie Field. Denny Bautista and Chris Bootcheck are listed as the first relievers on call. The game will be webcast at www.PittsburghPirates.com.

Camp roster: 40, with 18 pitchers, 4 catchers, 10 infielders and 8 outfielders.

Competition: Huntington yesterday pronounced only three relievers as earning jobs thus far -- closer Matt Capps, Tyler Yates and John Grabow, still with the U.S. team in the WBC. "We need some guys to go out and show us why they should be on this major-league team," he said. He likened Nyjer Morgan's outfield candidacy to the bullpen, "Because we have options, we need to see some performance." Huntington mentioned four veterans who are still vying for positions: Craig Hansen, Bootcheck, Bautista and Sean Burnett, who relieved Snell with two on and struck out the two batters he faced. Jason Davis, who extended his string to 10 shutout spring innings, is mostly vying for a long-relief job. But if Davis doesn't make the Pirates, he will be sent to Class AAA Indianapolis to start. As for Morgan, Huntington prefaced his remarks by saying that it's difficult to lose a starting job in spring training, but, he added: "He's expanding the zone too much. He hasn't utilized the bunt enough. He does need to take some steps forward."

Fun under the sun: Brandon Moss returned to the field for the first time since March 7, going 0 for 3 with nary a putout in right field. No. 5 starter candidate Virgil Vasquez threw five innings in a Class A game at Pirate City.

Meet me in St. Louis: 15 days until the opener.


Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com .


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