BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates played to an 11-11 tie with the Blue Jays today at LECOM, with the most encouraging thing being Gerrit Cole’s five inning start. Cole gave up just one run on five hits, with no walks and five strikeouts. He was using an approach that was similar to what you’d see during a game in the regular season, and any sign of success with that approach is good to see after the year he had last year.
“I think he moved into that form today,” Pirates’ Manager Clint Hurdle said about Cole’s approach. “Once you know you’re going to try and get stretched out to five innings, you’re going to throw all of your pitches, you’re going to compete. I liked the right-on-right changeups. He did some things today that were just fun to watch. The velocity, the finish, the execution, balls in, balls away, balls up. It was good.”
**There were some other good signs today, with one highlight being Alen Hanson’s play in left field. Hanson threw out two runners at the plate, showing off his ability to play the outfield. He’s not a polished guy by any means, but he’s good enough to have the Pirates looking at him as a super utility option.
“I think there’s work to be done,” Hurdle said. “Because there were plays out there that were complicated for him. And there were two throws to home to throw people out. So it’s gaining experience. There’s going to be plays he hasn’t had out there. We like the versatility.”
Hanson also went 3-for-6 at the plate with two doubles and a stolen base. The versatility and the speed will provide an asset to the Pirates this year, and he’s a lock to make the team due to being out of options. But Hanson is looking to open some eyes and is ready to finally establish himself as a major leaguer.
“If they give me the opportunity, I’m ready,” Hanson said after the game.
**Jared Hughes has struggled this spring, but had a perfect inning today with two strikeouts.
“It was real good to see him bounce back,” Hurdle said. “The sink looked real today. It was late. Good movement down. That was definitely a positive.”
**Tony Watson has also struggled this spring, and had one of his worst outings. He gave up five runs on three hits and two walks, while getting only two outs in the inning.
“The overall execution — there were two walks in the inning, and balls were elevated,” Hurdle said about what didn’t work for Watson today. “Without having the consistency to keep the ball down, it was a challenge for him today.”
That’s a concern for Watson, who also saw his velocity down in the 88-90 MPH range on Thursday at Pirate City. The combination of execution issues and lowered velocity doesn’t pair well with his poor season last year, which also saw a drop in velocity and lowered execution.
Pirate City Notes
**Juan Nicasio pitched three innings at Pirate City this afternoon against the Phillies. A year ago, Nicasio was over at Pirate City, getting stretched out as a rotation option. That’s not the case this year, as he’s only being planned to be used as a reliever. The extended outing today was about getting him work in multiple innings, so that he could be an option as a long man during the season if the situation arises.
“You need to get guys to throw three innings if you’re going to look in the season to have them get three ups,” Hurdle said. “It could be two and a third inning, but that means they need to get three ups. There’s a handful of guys that we’ve done this with, that we’re getting up to getting three innings. He’s one of the guys that we’re getting in position to be able to do that now, and not be the first time that he’s done it come season time.”
**Yeudy Garcia threw 1.1 innings today, dealing with control issues that were very similar to the issues he saw last year. He struck out three, but walked two, and needed 39 pitches to get through the outing. He was also only sitting 90-93 MPH with his fastball, which is a far cry from where he was during his breakout season in 2015. He dealt with shoulder soreness all last year.
**Cody Dickson went three innings today. He didn’t walk anyone, but was effectively wild, sitting around 90-91 and touching as high as 93 with his fastball. Dickson looked good early in the outing, getting some ground balls and easy outs. His command slipped later, but it didn’t cost him much. He’s going to have a difficult time making it as a starter in the Pirates’ system with all of the options they have, and his best route might be a reliever, where it’s possible his fastball could play up in shorter outings, and the effectively wild bouts might work better for him.
Pirates Sign Cuban Pitcher
By John Dreker
The Pirates signed 25-year-old Cuban right-handed pitcher Dany Hernandez on Thursday. He had been training in the Dominican Republic before signing with the Pirates. Hernandez played three years in the Cuban National Series, which is the Major Leagues in Cuba. He posted a 3.88 ERA in 67.1 innings during the 2013 season, which was about league average. Hernandez had a 3.18 ERA in 22.2 innings the previous season. He is listed at 6′ 5″, 215 pounds, and his bonus was $30,000. Under the international bonus rules, 25-year-old players are exempt from the bonus pool if they have five years of pro experience (it goes up to six years on July 2nd under the new CBA). Hernandez has the age, but not the experience, so his bonus counts against the Pirates 2016-17 international bonus pool. He’s the 22nd international player they have signed since July 2nd.
The Pirates have not had much success in Cuba, with Hernandez now being the lone player in the system from the country. They signed Yoslan Herrera for three years back in 2006 and he briefly made the majors with them in 2008 for five starts, though the expectations were much higher. He was followed by Cesar Lopez and Carlos Mesa, who received a combined $1,090,000 to sign and neither made it out of A-ball. There was also a $125,000 signing of a pitcher named Serguey Linares, who signed in 2007 at the age of 24, and was released the following season. He was sitting 92-94 MPH with a plus curve when the Pirates got him, but his performance did not match the arsenal. Linares had some issues after pro ball and his life ended tragically in 2015. Hernandez doesn’t compare to any of those players as far as the bonus total, but he is a big pitcher with pro experience in Cuba, so it doesn’t hurt to give him a chance.
As for a possible placement for Hernandez, we won’t know that until he is in the system and starts throwing down at Pirate City. He will likely start lower than his current talent level, meaning that if they plan to send him to Altoona, then he will make a brief stop in Bradenton first to get some games in at an easier level. Since he is older than your average international signing and has three years of experience in the Cuban league, he should start higher than rookie league. There is no rush to get him through the system though, since getting signed as a minor league free agent means they have him for this year and the next six seasons.
UPDATE: According to a Cuban newspaper, Hernandez hits 95-96 MPH with his fastball and has a slider, curve and changeup for his off-speed pitches. He was topping out at 91 MPH when he pitched in Cuba. I’ve seen his first name as Danny and Dany, but it appears he uses the latter, so that’s what we will use. I changed it up top.