PITTSBURGH — The Pirates are hosting the Seattle Mariners for a two-game mid-week series. The Mariners, members of the American League since their inception in 1977, aren’t exactly a familiar foe. They’ve been to Pittsburgh just twice: a two-game set in 2013 and three games in 2004.
“I think it keeps things fresh from my perspective,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
But while the Pirates aren’t particularly familiar with the Mariners as a whole, they’ve seen enough of ace Felix Hernandez, Tuesday night’s starter.
“We’re going to fave their two best in Felix and [Wednesday’s starter James Paxton],” Hurdle said.
“He’s really good,” shortstop Jordy Mercer said of Hernandez, who Mercer is 1 for 3 against in his career. “He’s been good for a long time. He mixes pitches well. He keeps you off-balance and can throw any pitch in any count. He’s a competitor. He gives his team a chance to win. We have to play our game and put pressure on him on the bases, and hopefully we can scratch a few runs against him.”
Mercer added that the chance to play one of the top pitchers in the game that the Pirates don’t see that often is an exciting one.
“It’s just different because you don’t face him a bunch. The guys in the division, the aces that we’ve faced in the past month or so, we’ve faced them a few times, so we kind of know what they have and what their approach is. When you face a guy on the other side — the American League — one of their top guys, you just have to watch film and study. You can bring up some of your previous at-bats against him and kind of go from there.”
That lack of familiarity has meant a bit of added homework for the Pirates.
“Yeah, gust watching a little bit more film on their pitchers,” Mercer said. “Especially their bullpen, I think their bullpen has a few guys we’re not as familiar with and Paxton, I don’t know if anyone has faced him.”
That rings true for the pitching staff as well, who take a similar, video-heavy approach, and Jared Hughes was quick to credit the work of the team’s advance scouts.
“We may never see them, but our advance scouts see them a lot,” Hughes said. “We have scouting reports on the Mariners. When we went to play them in Seattle last month, we knew their team extremely well because of our advance scouting reports. We’ll go over them today and that’s what we’ll rely on.”
For Hughes, who has an unusually long track record as a reliever with one club, the chance to pitch against some batters that don’t have much experience against him is a unique one.
“Against the Mariners, I don’t have much experience,” he said. “I have to go look at what other pitchers like me have done. If they’re not doing their homework on us, they won’t be as prepared, but this is the major leagues. You have to assume everyone is doing their homework.”
RINGING FOR BELL
Hurdle was asked about what Josh Bell would need to do in Triple-A to force management’s hand about a call-up. He said it comes down to Bell versus John Jaso on defense, and on that front, Hurdle would need to see “a very good report from our guys that are watching him every day in Triple-A.”
“Gary Green is a rover and he spends time watching us here defensively, he watches our men defensively in the minor leagues, so he has a comparative lens that he can use,” Hurdle added. “[Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor] did so much work with Jaso on the back fields in Spring Training. He’s well aware of the progress that was made there. That same kind of program is in place with Josh. With the continued improvement along those lines, I think he’s headed in the right direction, but I can’t put a timeline on it.”
But the bottom line, is that right now, Hurdle isn’t hearing those things from his men in Indy.
“That he’s a better defender than Jaso? No, he’s not right now.”
The Pirates will need a spot starter for Friday against the Milwaukee Brewers. Jameson Taillon and Francisco Liriano will pitch the second and third games of that series. Jeff Locke is apparently not an option for that start, as Hurdle announced that he will stay in the bullpen at least through the weekend.
Wilfredo Boscan is the scheduled starter for Triple-A Indianapolis on Friday. Steven Brault was scheduled to pitch Wednesday, but he will be bumped by Ryan Vogelsong, who will make a seven-inning or 95-pitch rehab start instead. Frank Duncan is expected to pitch Thursday. Brault and Boscan have each started one game in Pittsburgh this season.
UP TO SPEED
Catcher Chris Stewart worked out on the field before the game, getting into his equipment and taking a few throws while also doing so aggressive running. Stewart joked that he’s just as slow as he was pre-injury and that the big test will be catching a full game. No time frame for that to happen has been established yet.