FORT MYERS, Fla. — Juan Nicasio pitched well again Monday, throwing five scoreless innings and striking out eight against the Twins. He now has 15 scoreless innings this spring and has struck out 24 batters during that span.
And today, he had to: He put men in scoring position in three of his five innings. He struck out three in a row to end the first inning, two in a row to end the third.
“Today I tried,” he said. “Three times in this game I had a runner at third, second, one out, nobody out, I tried to strike out everybody.”
Don’t read too much into spring stats, but Nicasio’s K-heavy outings in the past two games have come against lineups featuring major league regulars. Today, Byron Buxton, Danny Santana, Kurt Suzuki and Brian Dozier were in the lineup. The Pirates won’t pick their fourth and fifth starters on stats alone, but Nicasio’s work behind the stats could make it difficult for them to leave him out of the rotation. Or not.
“It’s not difficult,” said bench coach Dave Jauss, who managed the split-squad roster that faced the Twins in Fort Myers. ”Decisions when people are doing good are really good decisions. When people are struggling, then they become difficult, because then you have to decide rather than them get to decide.”
Read more about Nicasio’s bid for the rotation on our Web site.
Neftali Feliz and Jim Fuller each pitched two scoreless innings. Starling Marte and Chris Stewart each had a hit, and Stewart scored on a throwing error. David Freese went 1 for 3 with a first-inning double off the chalk line in right field.
The Pirates are off Tuesday. Jeff Locke will start Wednesday against the Orioles in Sarasota. Mark Melancon and Cory Luebke are scheduled to pitch, and Gerrit Cole will pitch in a minor league game at Pirate City Wednesday.
LHP Francisco Liriano (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)
BRADENTON, Fla. — Let’s start with the big news of the day: Francisco Liriano blasted a solo homer to right off Atlanta Braves right-hander Jhoulys Chahin.
“Think I just got lucky on that one,” Liriano said later.
And there was little luck to be had the rest of the day. On a chilly afternoon at McKechnie Field, gave up seven hits and four earned runs in 3 2/3 innings. He walked one and struck out five.
“Didn’t have any fastball command today,” he said. “It kept sailing all over the place, up and down. That’s what we’re here for, to get better at things we need to work on. Hopefully next time will be a lot better.
“Think I was rushing with the fastball, trying to do too much, trying to overthrow. The weather didn’t bother me at all.
“One more start to get myself ready for opening day.”
Added manager Clint Hurdle: ”I just saw inconsistent stuff, whether it’s the fastball, slider or changeup. It was a battle out there for him today, to throw 80-plus pitches and not get through the fourth. ... Frankie’s not a guy you’re going to lose any sleep over. We’ll give him the ball again and see how he does.” Liriano will pitch next on March 26, another split-squad day.
Right-hander Daniel Bard, an intriguing minor leaguer we’ve seen in a few Grapefruit League games this spring, had it all come crashing down in the third inning. He relieved Liriano with two outs and nobody on, then this: single, balk, walk, single, wild pitch, single, walk. He gave up three runs, did not record an out, and was replaced by Jorge Rondon.
You might remember Bard as a guy who was really good for the Boston Red Sox a few years back. And you might have seen this ESPN article from a couple days ago.
Well, Monday was certainly a step backward in his comeback attempt.
“This was the first time we’ve seen some inconsistency from him,” Hurdle said. “It’s just like anybody else in spring training. Whether it was release point today, we’re going to look at some tape and try to get a feel for it. The velocity. This guy has taken major steps forward.
“Today is one of those days when I don’t think you overcook it for him. You just try to reassure him and tell him to keep pitching, because he’s made some nice adjustments and some nice improvements at this point in time.”
On a positive note, really nice outings for the other Pirates pitchers — Jorge Rondon, Eric O’Flaherty and Trey Haley. Rondon cleaned up what was left of Bard’s mess and went 2 1/3 scoreless innings with one hit, two walks and a strikeout. O’Flaherty gave up two hits and struck out four in two innings. Haley allowed one hit in a scoreless ninth.
”We’ve liked the man, and we know the history,” Hurdle said of Rondon. “He’s another guy with stuff that gets your attention. The command has been inconsistent at times, which has challenged him and has kind of kept him on the cusp.”
RF Gregory Polanco (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)
Game: Braves (5-11) at Pirates (5-12-1)
Time: 1:05 p.m.
Site: McKechnie Field
TV, Radio: KDKA-FM 93.7
Weather: 65 and windy
BRADENTON, Fla. — Here are the lineups for today’s game ...
1. Emilio Bonifacio CF
2. Erick Aybar SS
3. Adonis Garcia 3B
4. Nick Swisher 1B
5. Jeff Francoeur RF
6. Hector Olivera LF
7. Tyler Flowers C
8. Jace Peterson 2B
9. Jhoulys Chacin RHP
1. Gregory Polanco RF
2. Andrew McCutchen CF
3. Francisco Cervelli C
4. Michael Morse 1B
5. Matt Joyce LF
6. Josh Harrison 2B
7. Jason Rogers 3B
8. Jordy Mercer SS
9. Francisco Liriano LHP
Scheduled to pitch: RHP Trey Haley, RHP Jorge Rondon, LHP Eric O’Flaherty.
1B John Jaso (Peter Diana/Post-Gazette)
Game: Pirates (5-12-1) at Twins (9-8-1)
Time: 1:05 p.m.
Site: Hammond Stadium
TV, Radio: None
Weather: 65 and windy
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Here are the lineups for today’s game ...
1. John Jaso 1B
2. Cole Figueroa 2B
3. David Freese 3B
4. Starling Marte CF
5. Jake Goebbert LF
6. Sean Rodriguez SS
7. Danny Ortiz RF
8. Chris Stewart C
9. Juan Nicasio RHP
Scheduled to pitch: RHP Neftali Feliz, LHP Jim Fuller.
1. Byron Buxton DH
2. Danny Santana CF
3. Brian Dozier 2B
4. Carlos Quentin 1B
5. Oswaldo Arcia LF
6. Ryan Sweeney RF
7. Eduardo Escobar SS
8. Kurt Suzuki C
9. Eduardo Nunez 3B
Scheduled to pitch: RHP Kyle Gibson.
DUNEDIN, Fla. — So far, so good with the latest Andrew McCutchen experiment. The idea behind moving McCutchen to second in the order this spring is to get him more plate appearances overall, and fewer with no outs and bases empty.
His three trips to the plate Sunday vs. the Blue Jays went like this:
• First inning — One on, no outs: Opposite-field, two-run home run, his fourth homer in his past five games.
• Third inning — Leading off: Walk.
• Fourth inning — Three on, two outs: Hard groundout up the middle.
• Sixth inning — One on, no outs: Strikeout swining.
Credit to leadoff man John Jaso, the OBP king who walked three times in four plate appearances.
Arquimedes Caminero turned in two perfect innings in relief, and he’s a guy who needed a good day. He entered Sunday’s game with 11 hits and nine runs allowed in 4 1/3 innings this spring.
“We revisited some things with him after his last outing,” manager Clint Hurdle said. ”One of the things we're keeping in our clubhouse is hunger. There's more to get done. The day you have is the day you have to get something done. We're not going to be of the mindset that we're just getting work in. Not saying that happened to him, but I think the focus and intent today was what we've normally seen from him when he's been aggressive. When he's aggressive, when he finishes pitches and stays on line, his stuff plays big-time. It played well today."
Despite the rough start, I’ve still got Caminero on the opening-day roster.
Ryan Vogelsong threw 79 pitches in a minor-league camp game and allowed just one run in five innings. He threw to Francisco Cervelli and faced hitters Sean Rodriguez, Jung Ho Kang and Matt Joyce.
“I was commanding the ball, commanding all my pitches,” Vogelsong said. “I’m really, really happy with it.”
The lone blemish came when Joyce ripped a full-count pitch to right for a home run.
“During the season I’m not throwing a lefty in Pittsburgh a 3-2 cutter, with the big left field,” Vogelsong explained. “But in that situation I’m like, yeah, I want to work on it, so I’m going to throw it. He hits it over the fence and you go, well, it’s OK.
“[The pitch] did want I wanted it to do, but that’s not what I’m going to do during the season, nine times out of 10. It gives you a chance to do that and not have to answer to you guys [media] about it. It’s good. You get out here and you can have some guys on base and create some situations to work on stuff. Good day’s work, overall.”
Vogelsong said his arm has felt stronger as camp has progressed.
“Obviously, I do a lot in the offseason to get ready, arm maintenance and throwing,” he said. “You get to a little point in spring training where you start to feel the grind a little bit. You wait to come out the other side, and that was me. My arm — no pain, don’t take this wrong — the grind of throwing every day and throwing extra to bases and stuff like that, it’s part of spring training. Now I’m coming out the other side of that and my arm feels great. I’m really, really happy where I’m at right now.”
After bouncing around between the San Francisco Giants rotation and bullpen last year, he is eager to be pitching exclusively out of the rotation in Pittsburgh.
“It’ll definitely be a lot easier on me, especially physically,” he said. “It took its toll on me a little bit, maybe physically and mentally, going back and forth. It’s going to be good. I’m excited. I’m going to be looking forward to it. It’s going to be a good year, I think.”