Homers power offense in Pirates' exhibition opener against Tigers
March 1, 2016 5:30 PM
Pirates left hander Kyle Lobstein delivers a pitch against the Tigers this afternoon at Joker Merchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla.
The Pirates' Jordy Mercer beats the tag by Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos during today's Grapefruit League opener.
Francisco Cervelli hits a solo homer against the Tigers.
By Bill Brink / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
LAKELAND, Fla. — In Francisco Cervelli’s first at-bat of the first Grapefruit League game of the season, he hit Matt Boyd’s full-count offering near the top of the grassy hill past Joker Marchant Stadium’s left-field fence.
“I was lucky, man,” Cervelli said.
The Pirates began their spring training schedule Tuesday by beating the Detroit Tigers, 4-2. The hitters got their first chance to treat the exhibition games like they would in the regular season, a possible vaccine for another slow start. So far, it’s going well: Cervelli went 1 for 3 with the homer and Jordy Mercer went 2 for 3 with a homer.
“We’re going with full metal jacket from an offensive standpoint,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
But Cervelli cautioned against pinning the Pirates’ appearance in last season’s wild-card game, rather than winning the NL Central and guaranteeing themselves a five-game series, on a bad month of April. He pointed to series losses against Milwaukee and Cincinnati later in the season.
“People worry about the way we start, but we won 98 games,” he said. “In the middle of the season, we never think about that.”
The offense faced two young pitchers the Tigers acquired at last year’s trade deadline: Boyd, part of the David Price trade, and right-hander Michael Fulmer, who came to Detroit when Yoenis Cespedes was traded to the New York Mets. The Pirates got 10 hits, with players who will, or have a chance to, break camp with the major league club — Cervelli, Jordy Mercer, Jason Rogers, Matt Joyce and Cole Figueroa — combining for six of them.
“I think each guy’s got to do their job,” Cervelli said. “My job is get on base and hit my line drives. Everybody’s got to do their own thing. That’s how we can be successful. If we try to change who we are, it’s going to be a problem. The team is really good. The guys, they work hard and battle every game.”
Tuesday’s Grapefruit League opener also was Kyle Lobstein’s first start with the Pirates. He pitched against his former team; the Pirates acquired him from the Tigers in December.
“Definitely felt some adrenaline going out there, but honestly it was a lot of fun,” Lobstein said. “I felt like we were playing in the backyard as 10-year-olds.”
The Pirates have talented young pitchers in their Class AA and Class AAA rotations, but they don’t have the kind of major league-ready depth, guys who could make a couple starts in case of injury, they used to have. To fix that, they went out and got Lobstein and Juan Nicasio, who has started and relieved in his career.
“We’re not as comfortable that any of the guys moving from [Class AA] to [Class AAA], or a little bit of [Class AAA] experience last year, are going to be able to help us in April or May,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “Hopefully we’re wrong. It comes back to readiness compared to need. If we have a need early, that’s Nicasio or Lobstein or [Wilfredo] Boscan or some of the other guys that we’ve signed.”
Lobstein allowed one hit and two walks in two scoreless innings.
“He’s working the corners, south, north,” Cervelli said. “He’s not the kind of guy that’s going to give you 95, but he knows how to pitch.”
In 20 games in the major leagues the past two seasons, Lobstein started and relieved. He has started 167 of 172 games in his professional career, but acknowledged long relief was a possibility.
“I think at this point they’re letting me go out there and just kind of get settled in a little bit,” Lobstein said. “There hasn’t been a lot of talk with [pitching coach] Ray [Searage] or Clint. Really, I think just to get settled in, especially with the club, a new organization.”
Game: Pirates (1-0) 4, Tigers (0-1) 2
Starter: Kyle Lobstein, 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 1 K
Hitter: Jordy Mercer: 2 for 3, HR
Of note: Wilfredo Boscan pitched two scoreless innings. He allowed two hits and struck out two. “He’s been working so hard just to be in the big leagues,” catcher Francisco Cervelli said. “I think his opportunity’s going to come one day.”
News of the day: Lobstein faced what could be the opening-day Tigers lineup. Jose Iglesias, Justin Upton, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez all started.
“I thought it was good to get it out of the way the first spring training game,” Lobstein said. “You have no way of having any doubt in your mind that you faced a good lineup.”
Lobstein is not yet working off a scouting report. Instead, he is focused on pounding the zone.
“I felt like even the balls I was missing, I was attacking the zone more and not necessarily trying to be nit-picky and hit the corners,” he said. “I felt like I was throwing through it. And some of them just ended up off the plate.”
Buried treasure: Cervelli went 1 for 3 with a home run. … For the second day in a row, Gift Ngoepe made two excellent plays at shortstop. … Rob Scahill gave up two runs and two hits, including a home run to Victor Martinez, but was the winner. … Jeff Locke is scheduled to start today against the Tigers at McKechnie Field.
Bill Brink: email@example.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.
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