PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Finish. One word which means so much to the Pittsburgh Pirates. After siting in first place on July 25th last season, and posting a 53-47 record, the Pirates fell hard out of the standings. Having lost to the Atlanta Braves in 19 innings on the 26th with a controversial call at the plate, Pittsburgh never saw first place again after being near the top for the first four months of the season.
The team wasn’t able to finish. And they ended the season 24 games out going 72-90.
Hanging in each locker during spring training at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., were gray t-shirts. On the front read: Grit Happens. And on the back: Finish. A reminder of what the team needs to do for the new season.
“I have faith in the men in there. I have faith in our organization,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. ” I’m humbled by the opportunity to manage this ball club, to be back for my second year. I have a much better feel for the organization, for the city, for the player development, for the media, for everything. I’m encouraged by all the work we’ve done.”
“They understand the finish part of it. Whether it’s an at-bat, an inning, a pitch, a rally, the inning, the game, and eventually the season. They are prepared. They’ve done their homework. They prepared well in the offseason. Now it’s just time to play. Play ball. Very appropriate when they say that for us tomorrow: play ball.”
The Pirates will open up their 2012 season today at 1:05 p.m. as they will face the Philadelphia Phillies for a three-game series.
“We’re extremely excited to be back. There’s no doubt,” Hurdle said. “Obviously the team put their time in. It’s time to play ball. They’re excited to be back home, excited for the home opener and to start this 2012 Pirates season. We’re very optimistic and very excited. We’re improved. We’re improved across the board. We’ve got more depth in our starting pitching. I think we’ve got a bullpen that’s going to be very efficient. It will be more efficient depending on the innings the starters give us. The starters can be efficient, and get us deeper in games, that’s going to make the bullpen that much stronger. Our position player pool is more stronger, more versatile, more athletic. We’re just a better club. We’ve got to prove on it on the field now.”
“It’s very important when you get off to [a fast start],” Hurdle said. ” But what happens when you don’t? You quit? You don’t play? You stop? No. It’s important. I’ve also had clubs get off to a fast start, then not be able to develop any momentum. I’ve had clubs that have gotten off to slow starts then picked up momentum. We’ve prepared. We’ve worked extremely hard. Now the games are going to start. Time will tell the kind of start we get off to. The challenge of the first 30 games are what they are. We’ve got to show up.”
Bedard Gets Opening Day Nod
Left-hander Erik Bedard will be the club’s starter on Opening Day. Bedard will face the Phillies righty Roy Holliday.
“I’m going to try and start off on the right track, and try to win the first one,” Bedard said. “You try to get the momentum on your side. You try to win a ballgame. Just start of on the right track.”
“He’s a craftsman out there,” Hurdle said. “He adds, he subtracts. He will pitch glove side. He’ll pitch in to right-handers. He’ll pitch in to left-handers. He’ll spin the ball. He’ll change speeds. He’ll change eye levels…He’s got a very slow heartbeat out there. He’s got some experience. He’s been everything that we anticipated him being so far. So now we’ll give him the ball and see what happens during the season, where he can take it.”
Bedard has come a long way from the last time he got an Opening Day start — back in 2008 with the Seattle Mariners. During ’08, Bedard was placed on the disabled list twice that season. Then there was 2009 where he was limited to just 15 starts due to season-ending surgery on his left shoulder. Bedard missed all of the 2010 season recovering from the surgery itself.
But now healthy, Bedard will get the nod for the Bucs to start the 2012 season. Bedard made 24 starts during the 2011 season combined with the Mariners and the Boston Red Sox. It was the first time since 2007 that he had made more than 15 starts (28) and posted a 3.62 ERA.
“They just put more emphasis on it, but after the first game, you got 161 left,” Bedard said on the difference of Opening Day to a regular start. “You got 33 starts in a year. One’s not going to be different from the other ones.”
Morton, Burnett Continue to Progress
Right-handers A.J. Burnett and Charlie Morton were placed on the disabled list on Wednesday. Burnett was placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 26 (eligible for reinstatement April 10), and Charlie Morton was placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 29 (eligible for reinstatement April 13).
“They’re both making good progress,” Hurdle said.
Morton is gaining up arm strength and innings after undergoing left hip surgery over the offseason. He threw a six inning minor league game on Wednesday, tossing 94 pitches.
“Velocity seems to be good,” Hurdle said. “Sink was good. Some fatigue in the fifth, then went out and threw the sixth again. Actually was a crisper sixth than the fifth.”
Hurdle said Morton is on track to start for Triple-A Indianapolis on April 9.
“I would say yes, because there was no red flags given to me when we did sit down and talk. I think he’s heading in that direction,” Hurdle said.
As for Burnett, he is scheduled to start for the Bradenton Marauders (High-A) on Friday. After his outing, the club will reevaluate his next step.
“A.J. is in a good place,” Hurdle said. “We’re just trying to hold the reins on A.J. He’s very excited about the way he’s feeling. Looking forward to the next time he’s on the mound.”
Moskos to Work on Consistency and Command
On Tuesday, the Pirates optioned left-hander Daniel Moskos to Triple-A Indianapolis. Moskos, 24, allowed one earned run on six hits over 9.0 innings during Grapefruit League action this spring. He walked five and struck out nine over nine appearances.
The club’s decision to option Moskos to Indy, made Tony Watson as the lone lefty in the bullpen to start the season. Moskos was sent down to Triple-A to work on a consistency and command.
“It was a tough situation, ” Hurdle said. “The competition was extremely high this year out of the bullpen…We said we were going to take the best seven from the from day we talked about it. What we felt was our best seven…We told them there was going to be a level of competition that was going to be real this year.”
“We want to factor in things that people had done in the past, but we also need people ready to start the season because the importance of getting off to that good start. Danny was very competitive. Danny I think was able to keep the ball down better than he maybe had in the past. Danny, when he’s spinning the ball with his slider and the fastball are in the zone consistency, he’s been able to get outs. The command has always been the one fleeting issue for him, and the consistency part of it. So basically it’s just him staying sharp, getting down there and pitching. He was in camp that late for a reason.”