While evaluations would be premature, the two off-season acquisitions focus on technique
March 3, 2016 4:58 PM
Ryan Vogelsong delivers against the Blue Jays on Thursday at McKechnie Field in Bradenton Fla.
Jonathon Niese delivers against the Blue Jays on Thursday.
By Bill Brink / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. — It was a day for coming attractions today at McKechnie Field. The 40 percent of the Pirates’ rotation that joined the team during the offseason, righty Ryan Vogelsong and lefty Jon Niese, pitched the first four innings of the Pirates’ 10-8 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.
After the departures of A.J. Burnett and J.A. Happ, the Pirates signed Vogelsong and traded for Niese to restock their rotation. The team saw similar things in both: Pitchers who succeeded not long ago but struggled last season.
They are one outing into Grapefruit League play, hardly the time for evaluation.
“Just command the ball,” Vogelsong said of his early-spring goals. “Have it come out of your hand the way you want it to. Obviously you want to have good results, but try not to get too wrapped up in the results.”
Niese, who started, retired the side in order in the first. A couple well-placed grounders opened the door to a four-run second.
“I felt pretty good. I attacked the zone,” Niese said. “Two-seam, four-seam, changeup, cutter and curveball. Got the curveball over for strikes.”
With two outs, Darwin Barney grounded a single up the middle. Darrell Ceciliani singled to center. Matt Dominguez chopped a ground ball to Jason Rogers at third, and Rogers could not make the bare-handed play.
“It gets easier as the spring goes to fight through those innings,” Niese said. “When the innings get extended, you get fatigued. You start to leave balls up, and that’s when stuff snowballs.”
Humberto Quintero’s single drove in a run, and when Niese lost Ryan Goins on a close ball four, another run scored. Michael Saunders’ single provided the final two runs.
“I actually felt two pitches got called wrong, would have spun the whole inning for him,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
“The fact that he didn’t get outside himself when he didn’t get the calls, and I asked the catcher, and the catcher said, no, we had pitches we should have had.”
Niese had a 3.40 ERA in 30 starts with the New York Mets in 2014. Last season, he carried a .3.61 ERA through the All-Star break, then had a 5.00 ERA in his next 12 starts before the Mets moved him to the bullpen.
“[Pitching coach] Ray [Searage] and I have been working great,” Niese said. “Still getting to know the catchers, but that’s what spring is for. … We’re going to get there, we’re going to work at it and get to know each other a lot better.”
Vogelsong pitched two scoreless innings and struck out two batters.
“I’ll take it,” Vogelsong said. “It was a good way to start.”
Through 2011 and ’12, Vogelsong’s return to the San Francisco Giants and the major leagues, he had a 3.05 ERA in 369 1/3 innings. From 2013 to ’15, he compiled a 4.63 ERA in 423 1/3 innings. Vogelsong took the McKechnie Field mound in a Pirates uniform for the first time since 2006.
“I think it's really going to hit me when we get north and I walk into PNC and I go to the other clubhouse,” he said. “… It’ been pretty normal, business as usual.”
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG.
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