BRADENTON, Fl. – Over the offseason, Pirate fans have been quite concerned over two essential areas in the lineup: starting pitching and first base. Wednesday afternoon’s Spring Training game at McKechnie Field didn’t do much to calm those fears, as both Jeff Locke and John Jaso struggled at each of their positions.
Locke, who has been working on a simplified delivery, found himself in trouble from the get-go, allowing the first four batters to reach — single, double, single, and HBP. Locke gave up six hard hit balls total in the first, with two doubles and two singles. The wind was blowing pretty hard out to right field; however, he gave up some very hard hit balls.
Locke was able to get out of the second by only allowing a walk in the inning.
When asked about his performance with regards to the new delivery, Jeff Locke did not hesitate to remind everyone that it is only Spring Training and the first time with the new approach.
“I love it,” Locke said of his delivery. “I know that the results say a different thing, but I feel so much better on the mound. I feel like I can throw the ball on both sides of the plate. We had some pitches that were left up today, but that’s going to happen.”
Locke worked primarily with his fastball today, adding in a few change ups and a curveball in the dirt.
“Everything felt really good,” Locke added. “I really do like the delivery, but it’s one of those things that you have to look past the results. You have to look past all of that stuff.”
Manager Clint Hurdle was encouraged by Locke’s demeanor on the mound, even when things didn’t seem to be going his way.
“I just like the way he kept making pitches,” Hurdle said. “You didn’t see any negative body language. That’s one of the things we talk about as a group. The one thing you can always dominate are your emotions and just make the pitch. If you don’t make the pitch, you don’t make it. What’s your next opportunity and your next pitch to make? He was more up than down in the zone in the first inning, and he was better in the second inning. I liked the way he kept his focus, though, in the first.”
In John Jaso’s case, his troubles came in the field. In the first, Locke chose correctly on a pickoff attempt and caught the runner stealing, only for Jaso’s throw to second to end up in left field after short hopping the bag. Jaso also made an unassisted play to the bag interesting by hesitating with his choice to toss to Locke covering or take it himself. Jaso ended up beating the runner to the bag by half a step.
In the top of the second, Locke induced a double play ball to second, only to have Pedro Florimon’s throw from the bag go underneath Jaso’s glove at first. The ball didn’t appear to be in the dirt; rather, it just looked like Jaso misjudged the throw.
These two innings definitely show that Jaso has a lot of work to do this spring to get ready for Opening Day on April 3rd. You can chalk up some of these mistakes as nerves and newness, as long as they don’t continue as March rolls along. As I watched his footwork around the bag on throws to first, he looked comfortable as long as the ball was well in the air.
“It’s good to be out there,” Jaso said after the game. “I had a few mishaps, but the confidence is still there. It was the first Spring Training game, and we’ve got a lot more to go through before the season starts. It’s just a few new things to see out there when the game is actually happening, and you actually have runners moving around the bases. It’s great to play defense again.”
Jaso says that the more repetition he can get at first, the better off he will be.
“You gotta do your reps and everything,” Jaso said. “Seeing how things work with runners going, processing the play out on the field as it’s happening like backing up people, it’s processing all of that stuff. If you play a few games, then everything just begins to happen. Catching was just nice and easy for me, because I’ve been doing it for a long time. I just need reps [at first base]. I’m just going to work hard and have fun.”
PIRATES AGGRESSIVE ON THE BASES; LED BY ANDREW MCCUTCHEN
Going into this Spring Training, Clint Hurdle and the Pirates made it well-known that they wanted to prepare better in March for games in April. In 2014, their record was 9-16 in April, and in 2015, they were 12-10 in April but were 18-22 on May 20th.
This spring, they wanted to try to ramp things up as early as possible to hopefully avoid those hiccups that they have become accustomed to early in the season. One very evident way that they are doing that is by being more aggressive on the base paths in these early spring games. Typically, you wouldn’t see MLB starters, let alone All-Stars, trying to steal a base early in Spring Training. That was not the case for Andrew McCutchen in the first inning of their game this afternoon, as he attempted and was caught stealing on an attempt at second.
McCutchen was joined by Josh Bell (stolen base) and Alen Hanson (caught stealing on a ball-in-the-dirt delayed attempt) as players who took off before the lineup rolled over once.
When asked if the team is making an effort to utilize the running game early in the spring, Clint Hurdle agreed that they want to get out and running early.
“When we have the opportunity and the personnel out there, as well as some situations with different counts and some other guys like Josh Bell today, we’re looking for some action,” said Hurdle after the game.
Andrew McCutchen, in particular, is one of those players that they are trying to get more action with on the bases.
“The only way you’re going to learn is by going,” said McCutchen. “You can’t go into Spring Training and never go, then once the season starts, you just turn it on. I’m going to work on my jumps, and when I get the opportunity this spring, that’s what I’m going to do. That’s what I’m trying to do. Just get my work in. Get a little more comfortable out there. I know my numbers have been down over the past couple of years due to a lot of things, but that’s the game plan.”
Situations such as batting order and injuries have slowed down McCutchen’s running game over the past couple of years (more than 30 attempts every year before 2014, 21 attempts in 2014, then only 16 attempts in 2015), but he feels like he is finally healthy and ready to attempt more stolen bases this year.
“I began my career hitting in the one hole, so of course that changes the situation,” said McCutchen. “I get in the three hole, and opportunities are a little different. A lot of situations change and dictate whether you go or not. There were a few things that held me back. One year I was doing well then shut down by the rib injury. There’s a lot of different things that happened, but I’m back, feeling pretty good, and I’ve just got to go out there and do it. The only way I’m going to get better is to keep doing it.”
Clint Hurdle said that he “was very encouraged that he got up and running right away today.”
“He’s another guy we can look to for more action on the bases.”
By Tim Williams
**I was over at Pirate City this morning for the second day of workouts. I don’t have as much as yesterday in terms of notes and photos, since most of my day was spent getting interviews (Ke’Bryan Hayes, Connor Joe), taking video for articles we have coming out this week, and not having access to the bullpen sessions. For the latter situation, they had a lot of guys throwing today, and none of them were in the front bullpen (the back bullpen doesn’t have media access). So it was more of a work day. I did get this video of 2015 second round pick Kevin Kramer in the cages.
I also got a few photos for the site, including this photo of Kramer and 2015 first round pick Kevin Newman practicing turning a double play.
There is one note of relevance, and that’s an update on Cole Tucker. He’s still not making throws to first base, but seems to be hitting well in the cages, even from the left side, and continues taking grounders. Here was a nice shot from today:
I’ll have the rest of today’s content throughout the week when we release articles, and hopefully there will be more notes from tomorrow’s practice.
**Here is the lineup for tomorrow’s game against the Blue Jays. Doc Emrick will be on the radio broadcast tomorrow.
**Daniel Bard was one of the extra pitchers who came over from minor league camp today, and was used for the final out in the ninth inning, getting a pop out to second base. Bard has no shot to make the club, since he didn’t receive an invite to big league camp. However, he might be an interesting guy to follow throughout the season, especially if the Pirates can get him back to being anything close to what he was several years ago.
“He’s a guy we were able to do some work with at mini-camp, and he’s continued to work on things to work his way back,” Clint Hurdle said after the game. “For those of us who have seen him pitch five or six years ago, the game was short for the Red Sox back then when he was on his game. He’s got some challenges in front of him. He’s in a very good place mentally. We’ve had him up earlier in the game, so we’ll continue to look for some opportunities to get him in and create some traction. That might be one of the nice wins we walked away with at the end of the day today – getting him in, getting an out, and moving him forward.”
This was the second day in a row that Bard was called over to big league camp. That’s not a good sign for most guys, as it means they’re not getting regular work at minor league camp. In this case, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bard continues to get more work when he’s called over to McKechnie from Pirate City.