Pirates Notes: Minor Injuries to the Dream Outfield, Liriano Struggles With Location

BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates have suffered minor injuries to all three members of the Dream Outfield™ in the last two days, leading to Andrew McCutchen missing yesterday’s game, Gregory Polanco missing tonight’s game, and Starling Marte being removed in the third inning tonight. Fortunately, in all three cases, the Pirates were just being cautious.

“You’ve got to get guys ready for the season,” Clint Hurdle said after tonight’s game. “I don’t anticipate anybody that we’ve unplugged is going to be unplugged for a significant amount of time, just based on the information I’ve gotten tonight.”

McCutchen was back in the lineup one day after being scratched. Polanco was scratched tonight, although after the game he said that he was just a little sore, re-aggravating an injury he suffered in Bradenton a few years ago. The same thing happened once last year, and Polanco didn’t miss any time. He said that he would be playing if it was the regular season.

“If I had to play, I’d play,” Polanco said. “They said just take care of this today, and tomorrow you’ll play.”

Polanco is currently in the lineup tomorrow, although as we’ve seen the last two days, that can always change.

Marte was removed tonight in the third inning due to right quad tightness. He will be evaluated and treated, and is currently day-to-day. Hurdle said that the injury was related to a situation in the first inning when Marte got his cleats caught in the dirt running out of the batter’s box.

“He lost his footing coming out of the box, and then his leg tightened up on him,” Hurdle said. “Along the lines of Polanco or McCutchen or anybody, if there’s any area of concern, we’ll get him out, see what he can do tomorrow, and see where we go from there.”

Liriano Struggles With Fastball Location

Francisco Liriano made his final start of the spring tonight, and it wasn’t the best outing. He was scheduled for six innings and 100 pitches, but ended up throwing 100 pitches over 4.2 innings. Liriano didn’t issue any walks, but struggled with his fastball location, which is something he said he’s struggled with in his last few starts. He did say his breaking ball and changeup are fine, so the fastball is the final thing he needs to get down before his Opening Day start.

There are no more starts for him this spring, but Liriano will have two bullpen sessions where he can work on some things.

“I’m just going to be working on my fastball, and making my delivery better,” Liriano said of the work he’ll do this week.

Hurdle thinks that Liriano will be “fresh and ready” by Opening Day, and both he and Liriano said that this is a normal stage for him to be in at the end of camp, based on his history.

“We’ve seen it from time to time,” Hurdle said. “He needs to auto-correct. There will be two opportunities to throw on the side. This is a guy with experience. He demands more of himself. He’ll figure this out.”

Other Notes

**As I wrote last night, the Pirates have an interesting decision to make this week with Cory Luebke, who can opt-out of his deal on Tuesday if they don’t add him to the roster. The lefty has been hitting 94 MPH with his fastball, and 87 MPH with his slider, showing that his old stuff is back after three years of injuries. Today, he threw a shutout inning against the Twins, rebounding well from his last outing, where he gave up two runs in 1.2 innings.

“The last game was more mental mistakes than anything,” Luebke said. “The stuff was fine, but I threw two pitches at the wrong time. That’s part of Spring Training as well. It’s just as much to get back my mind into baseball shape as it is to get my body back.”

Luebke let the leadoff guy get on base, then made some pitches to get out of the inning. He said that the key to today’s outing was having good location on his fastball.

If the Pirates do add Luebke to their roster, he will be a reliever, either in Indianapolis or Pittsburgh. That’s to limit the innings this year, with the chance that his role could expand later in the season.

“What we’ve talked about is just start in the bullpen, and just see how the arm and everything reacts fine,” Luebke said. “There’s no set blueprint for missing three years, and coming back and what needs to be done after what I’ve dealt with. Ideally, I’d like to start in the pen, and if there is a chance later in the year and things are going well, that I could help out in the rotation.”

As for the decision this week, Luebke isn’t focused on it, and isn’t sure what way the Pirates might be leaning.

“I haven’t heard anything either way,” Luebke said. “With this all coming out the last few days, they’ve had 3-4 outings to eval me, and I’ve got one or two more before then. We’ll see what happens.”

**David Freese hit his first home run of the spring tonight, getting the only run against Jake Odorizzi. He will go to Pirate City tomorrow, getting 6-7 at-bats in the minor league games. Juan Nicasio will now make his start at Pirate City, going six innings and 100 pitches. Trevor Williams will get the start in the major league game tomorrow night against the Orioles. Basically, Nicasio and Williams are switching locations for their start.

The reason for this? If Nicasio struggles in an inning at Pirate City, the inning can be ended and he can return for the next inning. If he struggles in a normal Spring Training game, he might not get all of his work in. The fact that the Pirates are guaranteeing him six innings of work tomorrow is a good sign that he’s still in the mix for a rotation spot.

**The Pirates had a lot of nice fielding plays tonight from their Opening Day infield. Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer turned a nice 4-6-3 double play. David Freese made a charging play to get a runner at first. Harrison also ranged far to his left, making a play on a ball that looked like it was going to sneak through the hole past John Jaso. He then made the throw to first base, with his momentum still taking him to right field, and Liriano was there to get the throw and step on the bag. The entire play was difficult for all parties, but Harrison and Liriano made it look easy. Hurdle chalked that up to practicing those types of plays.

“We put a lot of effort in those plays, so it’s kind of rewarding when we see it in a game,” Hurdle said.

  • I meant intentionally effectively wild, or, Effectively intentionally wild. Either way it was intentional.

  • Did any of you see the live interview with the Pirates stats geek(Fox) last night during the game. So for all this intense work on shifts, proprietary analysis, etc. all designed to win two or three games a year…how is it they play the jv’s second game of a double header or in key games with the Cards and Cubs. How is that state of the art?

    • “stats geek”

      If you want to know where you willingly lost credibility with any point (valid or not) you wanted to make in this post, it was right there. Usually not a great sign to throw out hot take language if you care about discussing it honestly.

      Because a discussion of the rest program and what lineups might look like is valid, but not with “nerds and geeks” and really narrow examples that happened about twice a year.

      • Luke..I’ve noticed you’ve really been bitchy the last couple days….prone to just attack people and then go back to your blind faith defense of anything related to the front office. As usual, you struggle with grammar when you get excited. I didn’t realize the term(used jokingly) would cause such personal anguish for you. Take a deep breadth.

        • Calm as can be and not defending the FO, but you absolutely didnt use it term jokingly. The entire post was about calling the FO dumb. You went from the quick line rather than just having the discussion. The post was just as blindly “this FO isnt as smart as others think” as mine was “they know what they are doing.”

          Ironically i already said its a good discussion and id likely agree with you that the off days (rest program) for key guys does alter things in a non trivial way. So not blindly doing anything, but i do hate DK level comments. Cant just bring up the topic without a zinger line and then step back and go “come on now, dont be so touchy”.

          You can call me all the names you want and get personal about things not related to the comments/discussion, doesnt bother me in the slightest.

          • You might be more effective if you could break yourself from the habit of twisting or mischaracterizing the comments of others and then improperly placing quotation marks around your creations. You did it three times in the short post above. A quick bit of research will confirm for you that quotation marks are only appropriate when incorporating another person’s exact words. What you do is not accurate and frankly out of line. The DK slurs are on the same level.

  • IF we keep Luebke, how long do we control him? Just one year or more?


  • Who stays, who goes? Cervelli, Freese, Mercer, Harrison, Jaso, Marte, ‘Cutch, Polanco. The 5 reserves are pretty apparent in my estimation starting with Stewart, and Joyce as the 4th OF, our RH 1B could be Morse, but I favor Rogers who could also back-up at 3B, and has also played some OF. Is NH working on a Morse trade? After that, is there any value to keeping SRod or Flo as a utility IF? Probably our best would be Alen Hanson, but that is not going to happen. Therefore I favor Fig’s who played a lot of SS at AAA last year, hit well, and knows how to work a walk. That leaves the 5th guy as Morse or Rogers, because we need a power RH bat on the bench.

    I like Mercer, but he truly needs to pick it up – a sub .300 OB is not going to impress anyone, and 0 walks/8 K’s in ST? Polanco should note that also – 1W/8K’s in ST, and a few mental errors on defense and baserunning? Time to fish or cut bait for both of them.

    We were hoping for better situational hitting – maybe we better just dial that back to any kind of hitting would be acceptable. Freese will help us a lot, but we need a lot more out some of these guys, or it will be a long April.

    • Time to cut bait on Polanco.


    • Polanco is still young. This year is when you should see a move up.

      • I agree with you, but he seems to be in a daze so far in 2016. He struggled in the first half in 2015, but really turned it up in the second half, especially in July and August. A comparison of he and Jason Heyward for the 2nd half of 2015

        AB 2B 3B HR RBI SB W/K Avg
        JH 239 16 4 4 29 12 32/33 .318
        GP 294 20 3 6 29 10 21/58 .276

        In his first year of service in MLB compared with one of the best RF’s in the game today who was in his 6th year of MLB service. He has the capability and the Pirates need it right now. That is another one of the reasons I do not want to see ‘Cutch batting 2nd – it takes Polanco out of that leadoff or No. 2 slot in the order, and I think the Pirates are a much better team with ‘Cutch as the bell cow for the middle of the order – No.’s 3, 4, 5, and 6.

        Gregory Polanco has got to assert himself and become a leader on this team if the Pirates are going to contend in 2016.

        • “become a leader on this team”.

          Overplayed narrative. He’s got to play well. He doesnt have to do more than that, with Cutch and Cole and Cervelli and Marte on this team. Gregory Polanco just needs to play like he did half of last year and we are fine. Be himself.

        • For what it’s worth, I was at last Wednesday’s game against the Orioles and GP hit the ball very hard three different times. A line drive homer to right center followed by a drive down the left field line that the left fielder got a glove on but couldn’t hold onto, resulting in a double. Then the last time up he hit what might’ve been the hardest hit ball of the three of them, a very hard liner that the left fielder made a diving catch of.

    • When your using the phrase “cut bait” in a conversation about a player as young and as talented as Gregory Polanco you lose any thread of credibility you have.

  • The Liriano start doesn’t bother me and glad he got to a 100 pitches as I enjoy that lengthening in him (phrasing) I’m cautiously optimistic we can count on him to be ‘right’ for day 1 or 5 days after that :)… I did like reading about the defence from Freese, JHay, and Mercer….Not the infield we predicted for 2016, before the Cub guy slide and the Walker trade, but seemingly in good shape to weather the storm until Kang returns… Fun stuff…. 🙂

  • Ok, anyone getting ready to panic that we are headed for another
    terrible April like last year? We did not lose the division in September
    last year, we lost it in April and May.

    • Looking at the April/May schedule the Bucs have two series each, home and away, against Cards and Cubs and three series against Cincy, 7 games with Colorado and a 4 game set with Atlanta. Last season Bucs didn’t take advantage against weaker competition, namely Cincy and Milwaukee, and if they can solve that issue they can jump out of the gate just fine.

    • I don’t know. I’ve listened to every exhibition game this spring and I must say the Pirates haven’t played a truly good game yet.

      I don’t put a lot of stock in spring games, and Hurdle has not played them seemingly to win, but moreso just to evaluate and get the guys in playing shape. So I won’t get too nervous yet.

      I listened to every spring game last year, and I am certain that last spring he did not play his regular players consistently enough. That definitely was a mistake, and I feel was a big part of why they sucked so bad hitting-wise in April 2015. I had a bad feeling going into the opener last year that that was going to bite them in the ass and it did…. It seems like he’s trying to play them more this year though. Huntington even made some comments about it this winter……I don’t know, we’ll see.

    • The lovely logic that the team was a true talent 105 win team and they just failed to live up to it themselves.

      No one likes a slow start, and it is something they need to get better at. But that doesnt, in any way, mean the rest of the reason then goes the exact same and they challenge for best record in nearly a decade.

  • Tim, what’s your impression of Jaso’s defense at this point? I was right behind first on Wed and I’d say he looked pretty good.

    • Good question. I can’t wait to hear the answer.

    • Although I’m interested in Tims answer what would be the difference if it wasn’t great? I mean he’s here for the bat and if there’s a question so far this spring that’s important to know its if Jasos bat is what we’d hope it could and should be.
      I don’t know if I’ve seen the Jaso at .360 OBP yet have we?

      • I’m willing to be more patient with the bat since he has a track record there, where his defense is more of a question mark.

  • Good to see that power from Freese show up, no repeats of former players who can’t contribute.

    • Love it too. I believe Freese will make up for any of the offense lost from Neil Walker’s bat. I like Freese, he’s a winner.

      • Wow let’s not get carried away with the offensive juggernaut of David Freeze.

        • I believe James is correct in this context. Freese at 3B while Kang finishes his rehab, allows Harrison to man 2B. Thus the offense Harrison provides at 2B in April vs a month of everyday play from SRod will make up for the lost offensive production of Walker.

          Makes sense?

          • Wait wait wait…if Harrison is a lesser offensive player than Walker then comparing Harrison to SROD is irrelevant. The comparison is still between Walker and Harrison and Harrison is the lesser offensive player…so, no, I don’t see.

            • Scott Kliesen
              March 28, 2016 5:27 am

              If Pirates hadn’t acquired Freese, they would be stuck w Harrison at 3B and SRod at 2B until Kang returns. One must factor the upgrade of Harrison over SRod into the equation.

              Does Freese acquisition make up for losing Walker’s offense? No, but it certainly could for the month of April.

  • Liking the app!

  • Presently the rotation is, at least, a little concerning. Locke and niese have been awful and so has frankie…Cole isn’t ready to go yet it seems…at least we have Nicasio?!

  • I always worry about papa Francisco. It seems like his command is always close to abandoning him. But In Ray We Trust.

    • Liriano’s control use to bug me too but he gets enough strikeouts to limit the damage to some extent of his walks and ive seen before (can’t remember where) that he is typically a top 15 pitcher in terms of getting swinging strikes on pitches out of the strike zone which in a weird way makes his control issues beneficial.