Spring training: A clear view to opening roster?
The Pirates' Charlie Morton had his sharpest outing of the spring Sunday, throwing four scoreless innings against the Yankees, with a hit, a walk and four strikeouts.
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates made their first cuts of the spring Sunday, reducing the roster from 66 to 60 with some eminently predictable moves: Outfielder Brandon Jones and shortstop Argenis Diaz were optioned to Class AAA Indianapolis. Outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and relievers Ronald Uviedo and Ramon Aguero were optioned to Class AA Altoona. And shortstop Brian Friday, who will start for Indianapolis, was reassigned to minor league camp.
The rest of the moves might end up nearly as predictable.
Breaking down the outlook for opening day, based on observations and discussions ...
Starting rotation: Ross Ohlendorf, Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton and Zach Duke are locks. And Kevin Hart, despite an erratic start to his spring, remains the default choice for the fifth spot.
Daniel McCutchen still is Hart's designated competition, but management is determined to give Hart a shot. One sign: McCutchen has yet to start a Grapefruit League game, his first start coming today in a minor league game.
Whichever of the two fails to make the rotation will start in Class AAA.
Game: Pirates vs. Philadelphia Phillies, 1:05 p.m., McKechnie Field, Bradenton, Fla. LHP Zach Duke vs. RHP Roy Halladay. Other pitchers: Chris Jakubauskas, Javier Lopez, Evan Meek.
TV, radio: None.
Camp roster: 60 players, including 34 pitchers, six catchers, 11 infielders, nine outfielders.
Injuries: RHP Octavio Dotel (oblique), RHP Joel Hanrahan (elbow).
Opener: 21 days until the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park.
Bullpen: Octavio Dotel, Brendan Donnelly and Evan Meek are locks. Javier Lopez and DJ Carrasco are close to that. Joel Hanrahan would be a lock, but his elbow injury is almost certain to have him open the season on the disabled list.
That leaves two openings, and the Pirates have been particularly pleased with right-hander Vinnie Chulk and left-hander Jack Taschner, as well as righty Brian Bass. Bass could gain an upper hand if the Pirates decide not to use Carrasco in a long role, an option they are considering.
Catcher: Ryan Doumit will start, obviously, but the team is giving serious thought to using minor league veteran Erik Kratz as the backup while Jason Jaramillo returns to Class AAA for regular duty in the early going.
Infield: Left to right, the starters will be Andy LaRoche, Ronny Cedeno, Akinori Iwamura and, in all likelihood, Jeff Clement at first base. As with Hart, management is determined to give Clement a chance, especially with top prospect Pedro Alvarez due to crowd the infield later this summer.
Clement, perhaps the most prominent question of the spring, has been adequate defensively, though seldom challenged. At the plate, he is 3 for 21.
Bobby Crosby, who went 3 for 3 and homered twice in the Pirates' 10-5 rout of the New York Yankees Sunday at McKechnie Field, will be one infield backup. Delwyn Young will be the other. If there had been any doubt about the latter, he now has homered in three consecutive games and, on Sunday, turned three fielding gems at second base.
Adding those two will require the trade or release of Ramon Vazquez. The latter would cost $2 million.
Outfield: Left to right, the starters will be Lastings Milledge, Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones. The only way that could change is if Clement is removed: Jones would go to first, and Ryan Church would take right field.
As it is, Church will be one outfield backup and Brandon Moss, despite his 0-for-16 start, probably will be the other. Moss is out of options, and his competition, Rule 5 draft pick John Raynor, has not impressed management commensurate with his .444 average here.
The Pirates will open the season with a 12-man pitching staff and five-man rotation, but those might change: Management is weighing going with an 11-man staff and four-man rotation later in April, during which the Pirates have three off-days in the first 15 days. A full staff will be needed at the outset because of the early six-game trip to Arizona and San Francisco.
Morton made his best start of the spring against New York, with four scoreless innings, a hit, a walk and four strikeouts.
Unlike his first two appearances, he pitched aggressively.
"I did what I was supposed to do: I pitched inside and controlled both sides of the plate," Morton said. "I think I went out there and put the emphasis on competing. Having a good lineup in the box, you just need to go after them."
It was not the Yankees' best lineup, but Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Nick Johnson and Nick Swisher were there, and they went a combined 0 for 7 with a walk against Morton.
Iwamura gave the Pirates a 1-0 lead in the fourth with the first of their five home runs, a solo shot off CC Sabathia that clanged off the scoreboard above left-center. That followed a 2-for-13 start for Iwamura.
"That felt good," Iwamura said.
The lead became 6-0 with a five-run fifth, highlighted by Crosby's RBI double off Jonathan Albaladejo, Andrew McCutchen's two-run double, Jones' sacrifice fly and Doumit's RBI single.
Crosby, Young and Steve Pearce hit solo home runs in the seventh, Crosby another in the eighth.
Cedeno's right hand was lacerated while stealing second base in the third inning, when Cano's shoe came down on it, and he will be out until Wednesday.
The injury, above the thumb and forefinger, forced him out of the game but required only a small bandage.
Just a cut," Cedeno said. "I got a little lucky."
• Sabathia, who exited in the fifth when LaRoche's comebacker nicked his glove, was charged with three runs in 4 1/3 innings. After Sabathia's previous start last week, when the Pirates hammered him for five runs in 2 1/3 innings, he told reporters: "I always say results don't matter until you give up eight runs in two innings to the Pirates." Sabathia was kinder to the opponent Sunday: "They've got some good young players over there, so we'll see what happens."
• The Pirates' B-game with the Baltimore Orioles ended in a 1-1 tie after 9 1/2 innings because of a time constraint. Brad Lincoln was charged with a run on two hits over three innings. He struck out four, walked one. Friday had the Pirates' only hit.
• Pirates Charities will open a computer lab today at the Bradenton Boys and Girls Club next to McKechnie Field with a ceremony attended by team owner Bob Nutting.
First Published March 15, 2010 12:00 am