Spring training: Pirates' Moss a mess at the plate
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Brandon Moss is in trouble, and he knows it.
As a result, he is squeezing his bat to sawdust this spring, with two singles in his first 29 at-bats, including a roller just out of the second baseman's reach Wednesday in his only at-bat of the Pirates' 6-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox at McKechnie Field.
That makes for an .069 average.
They say spring numbers don't matter, but ...
"When you're fighting to make the team, spring numbers matter," Moss said. "If I was 5 for 30, OK, I get it. But when you have one hit in your first 28 at-bats ... it stinks. This isn't the spring I envisioned."
Nor has any aspect of Moss' progression been how management envisioned it.
Moss, 26, was part of the Jason Bay trade, after which he batted .222 in 2008 and .236 last year, his first full season in Major League Baseball. And now, he is being out-performed this spring by Rule 5 draft pick John Raynor, his designated competition for the final outfield reserve spot.
Game: Pirates vs. Atlanta Braves, 1:05 p.m., McKechnie Field, Bradenton, Fla. RHP Charlie Morton vs. RHP Kenshin Kawakami. Other pitchers: Brian Bass, Evan Meek.
TV, radio: None.
Camp roster: 37 players, including 19 pitchers, four catchers, eight infielders, six outfielders.
Injuries: RHP Joel Hanrahan (elbow), RHP Jose Ascanio (shoulder).
Opener: 11 days until the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park.
Raynor started in center field Wednesday, and his average is at .313 -- 10 for 32 -- with a home run, two triples, a double and six RBIs. Sounds good on the surface, but he currently is in a 2-for-16 slide, including 0 for 4 Wednesday with two strikeouts, and his route-running in the outfield has required plenty of extra work.
For now, general manager Neal Huntington's stance is that Raynor is ahead.
"As we're sitting here today, John Raynor obviously has put himself in front of Brandon Moss," Huntington said Wednesday morning. "We still have time left in spring training. As we've said from the get-go, it's a competition that won't be based on pure statistics. But John's had a good camp to date, and Brandon's struggled."
Moss is out of options and must clear waivers to be demoted to the minors. One industry source said earlier in the week that Moss likely would be claimed in that scenario, and there remains genuine concern within the Pirates that Moss, once a top prospect in Boston's system, could emerge elsewhere.
Raynor, as per Rule 5, would have to be offered back to the Florida Marlins unless he stays on the 25-man roster all season.
Scouts from other teams who have seen Moss this spring describe him as pressing more with each passing day, though they share the Pirates' view that he is a far better hitter than he has shown this spring.
Moss acknowledged some pressing.
"I've been beating myself up a little. I'm on the bubble to make this team. I know I won't hit like this during the season, but when you're trying to make the team and look up for days and see 1-for-this or 1-for-that ... you're like, gol-ly, how did this happen? But I'll get over this. I'll be fine."
Kevin Hart described sensing a general "panic" associated with his wildness on the mound all spring.
"It's funny. I felt a lot of panic around," Hart said Wednesday at Pirate City, his first day in minor league camp after being optioned Tuesday. "Not myself personally. But I felt there were other people, like, panicking over three games in spring training. It's spring. The second word is 'training,' you know? I understood I was competing for a job and, by all means, Daniel McCutchen outpitched me. He deserves the chance he's going to get. But I don't plan on this being the end. I'll be back soon."
Hart walked 17 batters in eight innings, including four Class A batters Monday in an outing attended by manager John Russell, his coaching staff and several Huntington lieutenants.
Hart emphasized that he was not referring to management when describing the "panic."
Of management's reaction, he added: "It's natural. They want me to be right. Anytime you go out there and walk six guys ... obviously, they're not going to say, 'Shrug it off, it's OK.' "
Paul Maholm gave up a home run in each of the first three innings -- to Boston's Victor Martinez, Bill Hall and Mike Cameron -- and wound up with a poor line of five runs and five hits over five innings that raised his spring ERA to 4.80.
He also struck out seven, walked none and showed some of his best stuff, especially a swing-and-miss slider.
"Obviously, you don't want to give up three home runs," Maholm said. "But the rest of the game, I felt great. My mechanics were right where I needed them to be, I felt strong, and I was definitely able to challenge guys."
That included challenging Hall and Cameron, who have tormented Maholm for years: Hall is a lifetime .581 hitter vs. Maholm, Cameron .433, much of that while playing in Milwaukee.
"I'm glad those guys are in the other league now," Maholm said, smiling.
• Closer Octavio Dotel, making his first Grapefruit League appearance, pitched a scoreless but erratic ninth: He walked one, hit another and threw a wild pitch, with only 10 of 22 pitches going for strikes. But he expressed no concern about his strained oblique, his fastball achieved a close-to-peak 93 mph, and pitching coach Joe Kerrigan said of the command, "He was a little hyped up." All concerned reiterated that Dotel will be ready for the opener.
• The offense was mostly miserable again, striking out for a whopping 16 of its 27 outs, as the Pirates lost for the ninth time in 11 games in falling to 5-13-1. Records mean next to nothing in Grapefruit play, but the Pirates, by any measure, have not performed especially well in any facet.
• Delwyn Young hit his sixth home run, tied with the Tampa Bay Rays' Sean Rodriguez for the Grapefruit lead, with a two-run shot in the ninth.
• In an attempt to get Young more at-bats off the bench, the Pirates had him work with Andy LaRoche at third base Wednesday morning as part of infield drills. Young can be expected to see game action there this spring, adding to second base and right field as defensive options. "I just want to play, man," he said. "Whatever it takes, get me out there."
Post-Gazette staff writer Chuck Finder contributed to this report.
First Published March 25, 2010 12:00 am