Spring Training: Russell will bat pitcher No. 8
Pirates second baseman Aki Iwamura, center, is greeted by shortstop Bobby Crosby, left, and pitcher Paul Maholm, who were on base for his three-run home run in the third inning Monday.
Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen is greeted by outfielder Garrett Jones after hitting a two-run home run off Astros pitcher Gustavo Chacin in the first inning.
Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm warms up in the first inning.
Pirates president Frank Coonelly attended yesterday's game.
Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen is forced out at second base as Astros shortstop Geoff Blum turns a double play in the fifth inning.
Pirates manager John Russell, left, talks with coach Bill Virdon before the game.
Pirates outfielders Garrett Jones, left, and Lastings Milledge warm up in the outfield.
Pirates outfielder Garrett Jones, right, and third baseman Andy LaRoche warm up in the outfield.
Astros outfielder Hunter Pence gets back to first ahead of the tag by Pirates first baseman Jeff Clement in the third inning.
Pirates second baseman Aki Iwamura is pulled off the bag by a throw from catcher Ryan Doumit as Astros third baseman Chris Johnson (23) steals second during the second inning.
Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen watches his single off Astros pitcher Brandon Lyon in the fifth inning.
Pirates second baseman Aki Iwamura singles off Astros pitcher Brandon Lyon in the fifth inning.
Pirates outfilenders Andrew McCutchen, left, and Lastings Milledge walk to the dugout before the game.
Pirates second baseman Aki Iwamura rounds the bases behind Astros pitcher Andy Van Hekken after hitting three-run homer in the third inning.
Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen slides into Astros third baseman Chris Johnson with a triple as he is hit by the throw from Astros center fielder Jason Michaels during the second inning.
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- On a day when the Pirates removed their 2009 opening-day right fielder, Brandon Moss, from their roster, they unveiled an unusual batting order that manager John Russell plans to use this coming season: the pitcher hitting up one spot, at No. 8.
The makeover worked for one day, anyway, as the Pirates pounded Houston, 13-1, Monday in their spring-training home finale at McKechnie Field. Aki Iwamura batted leadoff, Andrew McCutchen batted second, and the shortstop batted behind the pitcher at No. 9.
Get used to that order, too.
Game: Pirates vs. Twins, Lee County Sports Complex, Fort Myers, Fla., 1:05 p.m. RHP Charlie Morton vs. LHP Francisco Liriano.
Radio: WPGB-FM (104.7).
Camp roster: 37 players, including 20 pitchers, four catchers, eight infielders, five outfielders.
Injuries: SS Ronny Cedeno (back), RHP Joel Hanrahan (elbow), RHP Jose Ascanio (shoulder).
Opener: Six days until the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park.
"Whatever helps," said McCutchen, who tripled and homered as the top four batters combined on this wind-aided day to go 8 for 16 with 3 home runs, 6 extra-base hits and 8 RBIs. "If it helps us out to put me there, I'll go from there and work with it."
Russell, whose Pirates teams compiled records of 13-20 and 2-4 the previous two seasons employing such a juggled order, said he plans to occasionally return McCutchen to leadoff. But he sounds wedded to batting Ronny Cedeno ninth, Iwamura at leadoff and McCutchen in what amounts to No. 3 ... where many baseball people eventually project his line-drive power settling in a routine order.
"We tried it a couple of years ago, trying to get the right guys in the lineup," Russell said. "I think we have that now with Aki and Andrew and Ronny and Andy [LaRoche] hitting in front of the pitcher, a patient-type hitter. It sets us up to be able to score more runs and get a couple of hitters in front of Andrew. Help to set us up for the middle of the order. With the makeup of our lineup, it really seemed to make a lot more sense to get more guys in scoring position in front of Aki, Andrew, [Garrett] Jones and [Ryan] Doumit."
The middle of the order becomes interchangeable, Russell said. Monday against a Houston left-hander they bashed around, Jones clubbed a two-run homer at No. 3, Doumit struck two doubles at No. 4, Lastings Milledge went 2 for 4 at No. 5 and Jeff Clement went 3 for 5 with two RBIs at No. 6. LaRoche at No. 7 hit a three-run homer into the stiff, right-field wind, and even starting pitcher Paul Maholm indoctrinated the No. 8 spot with a single and a run scored.
"I already told [Russell] my patience is out the window this year -- I'm not taking anything, I'm hacking," LaRoche kidded. He added, more serious: "Wherever I'm at, I'll have to make the adjustment. But I wouldn't mind hitting ninth, behind the pitcher."
It's all about seeing better pitches, about matchups. Cedeno has a .280 career on-base percentage, which doesn't bode well for a secondary "leadoff" hitter as what some American League teams seek at No. 9. However, he did show some offense with 5 homers, 21 RBIs and a .258 average in 46 Pirates games last year. A second day of back tightness scratched him Monday, when Bobby Crosby went 0 for 4 in that spot.
Leadoff suits Iwamura, who owns a .275 average, .346 on-base percentage, 78 RBIs, 157 runs, 116 walks and 238 strikeouts in 257 games atop Tampa Bay's order in 2007-08.
"Right now, J.R. is thinking about me [batting] after a hitter, so that's special. J.R. made the lineup [to help to suit] me," Iwamura said via translator Toshi Nagahara. "I'm a little bit tired of losing, too, so I'd like to help the team win."
Iwamura, who plans to use his speed in the regular season after resting in spring his surgically repaired left knee on which he wears a brace, and McCutchen at the order's top are expected to provide baserunning and situational-hitting abilities. Still, the bats of Jones, Doumit and others behind them -- and down to No. 9 now -- are crucial if the Pirates want to avoid the same fates as last season, when they finished last in the majors in runs and second-to-last in batting average, on-base percentage and home runs.
Moss grabbed his equipment bag and walked off the field amid the game after being informed he had been designated for assignment. The transaction came in response to the Pirates' claiming right-handed pitcher Hayden Penn off waivers from Florida. The club has 10 days to trade, waive or release this outfielder -- batting .081 in spring and falling behind Rule 5 draftee John Raynor for a reserve spot -- acquired from Boston in the 2008 Jason Bay deal.
Expect more moves this week, too. Especially if such relievers on minor league contracts as D.J. Carrasco and Jack Taschner make the club and then must get placed on the 40-man roster.
Penn, 25, who gave up nine earned runs over his final two outings with Florida this spring, was a starter previously with Baltimore and went 1-0 with a 7.45 ERA in 15 relief appearances with the 2009 Marlins. He is 4-6 with an 8.89 ERA in 30 career major league games. He is guaranteed of nothing more than a busy few days, because Penn is out of minor league options.
"Hayden Penn is an arm that we've liked for a while, back all the way to his days in Baltimore in Double-A," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He's a strike-thrower. He gets ground balls. His struggle at the major league level? He's just 25. He's going to get every chance to show us -- hopefully two, maybe three outings -- what he can do. Does he influence that 12 and 13, 11 and 14 [roster composition of position players vs. pitchers]? He's going to get every shot in the world to make the club."
Asked if Moss' exit was a sign for Raynor, who must stay on the roster or return to Florida, Huntington added, it means "one less body in the competition. We still have some evaluation time left. We still have some moving pieces and parts."