Spring training: Pirates' rotation off to slow start
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It is early and, as everybody wearing a baseball cap will remind anyone within earshot, spring training numbers mean very, very little. Especially when it comes to pitching.
Still, here are two fairly indisputable points ...
1. The Pirates' starting pitchers, collectively, are off to a lousy start.
2. The Pirates will go nowhere in 2010, not even in the direction of modest progress, if their starting pitchers do not represent their strong suit. And that tends to at least start with a productive spring.
In 11 Grapefruit League games, including the one shortened by rain against the Atlanta Braves Friday at Champion Stadium, the five pitchers projected for the season-opening rotation have a combined 8.56 ERA and, in 20 innings, have given up 17 hits and 19 walks while striking out just 10.
Game: Pirates vs. Boston Red Sox, 1:05 p.m., City of Palms Park, Fort Myers, Fla. LHP Paul Maholm vs. RHP Clay Buchholz. Other pitchers: Chris Jakubauskas, Javier Lopez, Jeremy Powell, Jack Taschner.
Radio: FMNewsTalk 104.7.
Camp roster: 66 players, including 36 pitchers, six catchers, 13 infielders, 11 outfielders.
Injuries: RHP Octavio Dotel (oblique), RHP Joel Hanrahan (elbow).
Opener: 23 days until the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park.
There are no bright spots, either: Ross Ohlendorf, charged with two hits and a walk in 1 1/3 innings before the rain came Friday, has a 4.15 ERA. And that looks golden next to Paul Maholm's 6.00, Charlie Morton's 7.20, Zach Duke's 7.71 and Kevin Hart's 21.00.
Cause for even some concern?
"They're doing fine," manager John Russell said. "Everybody's starting to make progress. They're throwing strikes, keeping the ball down for the most part. That's good. All in all, I think everybody's doing a nice job."
"We'll be fine. I think we're going to have a really good rotation," Ohlendorf said. "The biggest difference between now and the season is that you're not used to being out there, having that adrenaline. Some years, it clicks right away. Other years, it takes a while. And this is a small sample size, too."
No one can dispute that, as the staff's 20 innings are the rough equivalent of three regular-season starts. Another factor: Little game-planning is done for opponents, given the emphasis on working on individual pitches. For example, a starter can set out to throw mostly changeups in a given outing, even if the changeup is not one of his best pitches, even if Alex Rodriguez loves to hit changeups.
"Sure, ideally, you'd rather have everything going great the whole way through," Ohlendorf said. "But what's important is how you finish up."
The Pirates' game with Atlanta -- stopped after three innings and the Pirates leading, 1-0, on Ronny Cedeno's RBI double -- was the only game anyone attempted to play in the Grapefruit League Friday, as storms blanketed most of Florida.
And the Braves' decision to give it a try was a curious one.
Twice early in the morning, the Pirates were told not to begin their two-hour bus ride to the middle of the state. Then, despite forecasts of consistent rain, they were cleared to leave Bradenton at 10 a.m., just three hours before the scheduled first pitch. Meanwhile, the rain never stopped. The start of the game was delayed by a half-hour and, after two more delays, the umpires finally called it.
Playing conditions were abysmal, with a wet mound, soaked infield and large puddles in the outfield. The grounds crew was pouring dozens of bags of quick-dry dirt across the infield, as if it were a playoff game.
Asked if he was surprised to play, Russell replied simply: "Yeah."
Asked if spring games should be played in such conditions: "That's not something I'm going to get into. It was just a rainy day."
Asked if he was worried about injury: "I think both sides were. Once they called it, they just realized it was going to be too wet."
Players in both clubhouses were upset about the conditions.
"Nobody wants to get hurt," center fielder Andrew McCutchen said.
Ohlendorf was struck squarely on the right calf by a Yunel Escobar line drive in the second inning, but he pronounced himself fine.
"Just got stung," he said.
That would be his last pitch, just before the second of the three delays.
Despite the three baserunners in a short period, Ohlendorf sounded encouraged: "I'm still not in midseason form, but I'm working toward it."
• The April 5 home opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers is nearly sold out. A few seats have been set aside for anyone buying season-ticket plans, but individual sales are being limited to standing-room.
• Brad Lincoln, who had been set to pitch in relief today against the Boston Red Sox, now will start the B-game Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles.
• The Pirates' first blood drive of 2010, in partnership with the Central Blood Bank, will be Monday, noon to 6 p.m., inside PNC Park's press entrance. All donors will receive two tickets to the April 18 game against the Cincinnati Reds.
First Published March 13, 2010 12:00 am