BRADENTON, Fl. – At the end of today’s media session, Clint Hurdle announced that Francisco Liriano will be the Pirates’ Opening Day starter on April 3rd against the Cardinals. From the sound of things, the Pirates would have gone with Gerrit Cole, had it not been for his setback.
“We felt at this time mapping Cole out and working with Gerrit that it would be a push,” Hurdle said. “It wouldn’t be fair to him to try and push that deadline date on him. He’s not going to get out to six and a hundred until actually that day. We’ve never started a pitcher at the Major Leagues since I’ve been here that hasn’t started six innings and 100 pitches at some point in time in Spring Training.”
Cole missed time at the start of Spring Training with right rib inflammation, which set him back a few weeks. He will make his first start on Sunday, and will pitch two innings. By comparison, all of the other starters are just wrapping up their three inning starts, and Jeff Locke will likely go four innings tomorrow. Fortunately, the Pirates have another top of the rotation guy who has made a few Opening Day starts.
“Frankie has done it,” Hurdle said, noting this would be the third year in a row for him. “Gerrit understands completely. He was all in on it. It goes back to making sure that you take care of what you want most, versus what you might want right now in the moment, and we’re good where we are. We’ll figure out what’s next for him, but we’re looking forward to seeing him getting out and pitching Sunday, where he can take that, and where he will fit in after Opening Day.”
If Cole pitches every five days after Sunday, and adds an inning each start, then he’d be in line to throw six innings on April 2nd, which is the date of the exhibition game against Indianapolis. That type of schedule would put him in line to make his season debut on April 8th at the Reds, during the fourth game of the season. There is no official timeline yet though, as Hurdle noted that will be determined after he starts getting into games.
Overall, the injury prevented Cole from starting on Opening Day, but probably won’t have any impact on his ability to start the year on the Opening Day roster.
Nicasio Throws Three Shutout Innings
I wrote yesterday that the Pirates are hoping Juan Nicasio can carry his reliever mentality from 2015 over to the rotation this year. The Pirates are using Nicasio as a starting depth option, and there’s a pretty good chance he’ll make at least one start for them during the season. He threw three shutout innings today, and Hurdle said that he saw a bit of the reliever mentality carry over to the start.
“[He] worked really well down in the zone,” Hurdle said. “Used all his pitches well today. Was very aggressive. Showed good awareness… It was sharp, he was on his game today. It was a good outing.”
Nicasio said that he was using his changeup more today than his last time out, and was also working on his slider.
“I’m working with my breaking ball,” Nicasio said. “I thought I’d be better with my slider, both sides of the plate, and with my changeup too.”
He had a rough first inning, giving up a hit and a walk with two outs, but escaping with no damage. The second inning saw two hits, but the damage was avoided with a double play. He worked much better in the third, retiring the side in order, with two strikeouts.
“I’m feeling strong,” Nicasio said. “I [was] feeling better in the third. I’m feeling better with my breaking ball. I’m feeling really good.”
As for the Pirates’ focus, Nicasio seems optimistic that he can carry his reliever mentality back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen.
“I’ve been a starter in the past. It’s only one year, pitching last year in the bullpen. I think I can switch very quick.”
**It was suggested that Jason Rogers is looking more comfortable at third base, to which Hurdle agreed.
“The comfort is picking up, because it’s probably the most reps he’s gotten at third base in a long time, and that adds to the comfort. We’ve told him, we want to see him over there. We’ve seen him some at first, we’re going to continue to get him back over there, but we want to see what we might have at third base to add to his versatility, to add to the composition of the ball club. Even in the drills, I think there’s a comfort that’s building up some way, and we’ll see where we can take it.”
Rogers is questionable playing at third base, due to his size and lack of range. So it becomes even more interesting when he moves over to shortstop during the shift. That said, he seems to be enjoying that experience when it comes up.
“You see that big smile when he gets over in that six position, and even during the day when we hit ground balls, we run him over there to the shortstops to take a few balls,” Hurdle said. “Having fun is part of it.”
**Adam Frazier played center field in the second half of today’s game, which is a position he started playing last year in Altoona. Frazier ran a good route to catch a low line drive, and had another play where he tried a similar play, didn’t make the catch, but did keep the ball in front of him, preventing any runners from advancing. Hurdle said that he didn’t have a lot of experience watching Frazier, but liked what he saw so far.
“It’s a backyard ballplayer. He’s got a wonderful internal clock. He’s got great eyes and awareness for the game. His hands and feet work well together in the infield. He’s got a coolness to him, and a steady heartbeat to go out and play the outfield, whether the ball is over his head, ball is in front of him… I can see why a lot of people like him. He’s that kind of guy that finds a way to beat you. He just out baseballs you.”
**Here is the lineup tomorrow at the Tigers: