BRADENTON, Fla. — Pirates spring training is in full swing as the pitchers and catchers went through their second day of workouts on Tuesday and several notable position players have arrived, as well.

But the focus remains on the pitchers and catchers, and in at least one department, the Pirates don’t have a lot work to do to figure out the opening day roster.

Manager Clint Hurdle said Thursday that he anticipates Joe Musgrove, who was acquired from the Houston Astros in the Gerrit Cole trade, to assume a starter’s role and that his rotation is largely set, with Musgrove joining holdovers Chad Kuhl, Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams.

Musgrove, 25, split time between starting and relieving with the Astros in 2017, and he had better outcomes out of the bullpen. In 15 starts, he had an .882 OPS against. In 23 relief appearances, he had a .565 OPS against.

“We need to get him out there and see how it plays,” Hurdle said. “He’s going to have every opportunity to get into the rotation and pitch.”

POWER OUTAGE

The Pirates finished 14th in the National League in home runs in 2017 with 151 as a team. Their ISO was .142, again 14th in the league, as was their slugging percentage at .386. Since then, Andrew McCutchen, who is the Pirates player that had the most home runs (28), was first in slugging (.486), and second in ISO (.211) has been traded. That’s left a hole in the power department that won’t be easy to fix.

“We’ve never been a team since I’ve been here that’s been in the top five in the National League in power,” Hurdle said. “We’ve been seven, eight, around there, but we’ve done enough other things well. We’re looking to add more power. We’re looking to find more power in people and get them on the field more often again.”

Hurdle said the biggest source of improvement may the internal, as the Pirates hope for full seasons out of Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, in addition to the acquisition of third baseman Colin Moran.

“We missed Marte for 80 (games), Polanco three times on the DL, Cervelli on the DL.,” Hurdle said. “Are they home run guys? Two of them are. It’s about power and it’s about OPS, to be quite frank. In Marte and Polanco, there’s more there. The emergence of Moran, we’ll see how that plays out.

“Josh Bell, two years ago, I’m having conversations about ‘he’s got no power’ and ‘when is his power going to come?’ There’s power that will show up this year that we might not even have on the chart. I’m confident in the fact that we’re going to find guys that have more power, power that’s necessary and power that’s needed.”

STAYING ON THE FIELD

The Pirates had a rough season in 2017 when it came to keeping players on the field. From Jung Ho Kang and Marte’s off-the-field issues, to multiple injuries for Cervelli and Polanco, and then Jameson Taillon’s cancer diagnosis. One of the changes the Pirates have made this offseason is a revamped training department, with head athletic trainer promoted to director of sports medicine and placed in charge of a larger department.

“That was a challenge,” Hurdle said. “We believe we’ve taken steps with the personnel, the new programs, a lot of new programs went into work this winter with case-specific guys. We’re seeing some of the benefits from an eye test. We’ll have more testing done.

“If you win 75 games, you need to peel back the layers. You need to turn over some things and ask some honest questions of yourself and everybody.”

NEW APPROACH?

McCutchen will not just vacate center field, but will also leave the No. 3 spot in the batting order, which he held down for most of his Pirates tenure. But Hurdle seems to have had a change of heart about penciling in his best hitter in that spot going forward.

“There’s a model that’s out there that your best two hitters hit second and fourth and then you look for your on-base guys to fill in one and three,” he said. “The biggest misnomer in the game, and I was one of the guys that overlooked that, was putting your best hitter third. You look at the guys and look at how many times they came to the plate with two outs and nobody on. It’s alarming. So, can you rearrange the furniture?”

SPEEDING UP THE GAME

The Pirates have had internal conversations amongst the coaching staff about what to do if Major League Baseball does implement a proposal to have a pitch clock or some other way to speed up the game between pitches, but Hurdle is in favor of his pitchers keeping things timely whether it’s league-mandated or not.

“We’ve always been an organization that wants our guys to be efficient with their time on the mound,” he said. “We keep clocks on guys as far as when they catch the ball and when they release the ball. … We actually did a drill last year where we showed our entire team the average time of the game was 2:58, or whatever it was for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The actual playing time was like 17 minutes. So how can we just be more efficient with it? So, we’ve talked and we’ll continue with it.”

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31 COMMENTS

    • It’s good to be back in the saddle. Just down here for a couple days and then I’m back to basketball for the stretch run.

  1. Is it just me or does some of the quotes we are hearing from Alan and Tim sound a bit refreshing. No one is going to completely show their hand but they strike me a bit more open minded anc introspective than years past.

    • Two parts to this.

      1. They were open minded prior to the last run. They met up and decided how they could do things different in order to get an edge and try to be competitive.

      2. Following up on #1, they were early adopters for a lot of the stuff back in 2013 and beyond. They’re about a year or two late for some of the trends they’re talking about now. Better late than never.

  2. I may be in the minority, but I am optimistic about our starting rotation. I love Taillon (especially if he is healthy), Nova will give us about 200 innings with a 4.00 ERA (innings are valuable), Kuhl has a ton of upside with the new curveball, Musgrove was a top 100 prospect a few years ago, and many teams would be fortunate to have Trevor as their 5th starter. Need to find some consistent offense.

    • It’s a nice collection of pieces. There doesn’t appear to be a really high-level guy in there, but if Musgrove can be solid, it should be good 1-5.

    • I agree. Decent rotation to hold the fort pending the arrival of Keller and others. If Glasnow ever figures it out, so much the better. A rotation in 2019 headlined by Keller, Taillon and Glasnow would be pretty formidable. Hey, one can dream.

  3. I’ve always been a fan of the Earl Weaver theory of winning baseball. Pitching and three-run homers. And the Ray Miller theory of pitching. Work fast, change speeds, throw strikes.

  4. “One of the changes the Pirates have made this offseason is a revamped training department, with head athletic trainer promoted to director of sports medicine and place in charge of a larger department.”

    I…I don’t that’s how you do it…

    • I thought the same at first, but then our pitchers were very very healthy for the entire year… (unless head athletic trainer only takes care of position players)

      • I think the top-line takeaway there is adding a full-time staff member to the major-league training staff. Lets there be more one-on-one time with injured players.

    • I disagree. I think he will be a 3/4 for a few years. Not much difference from Cole’s performance the last couple years.

    • It’s a bit earlier to judge him as a SP. He was great as a SP coming up through the minors and did pretty well as a SP for Houston in 2016 at the age of 23. I especially liked his performance in 2015 at the age of 22, pitching Hi A and AA. That year he struck out 99 batters and walked 8 in 100 innings. Had 0.92 WHIP. and 1.88 ERA, mostly as a SP. He is young, so I don’t think I would make any final judgement yet as to his best role.

    • There is a big difference, Nicasio had 2 pitches, Musgrove has at least 4. That doesn’t mean Musgrove won’t struggle, but it would be for a different reason than the reason Nicasio struggled.

  5. Hurdle’s description of batting your best hitter third as a “misnomer” was itself a misnomer, and that amuses me.

    Additionally, hit dingers, boys.

  6. I kinda like the theory behind lineup. Wonder if there will be a theory supporting piggyback pitching. So many back of rotation guys who could do better if limited to 4 innings every 4th day

  7. Thanks Alan. I’m glad Hurdle is being upfront about the rotation–no sense talking about a competition if they know what they want to do. And it allows the pitchers to prepare for their roles. (Of course there’s still a high likelihood that at least one of the listed starters doesn’t end up being ready for the start of the season.)

    • Yeah, stuff always happens and I think that’s one of the reasons they’re usually hesitant to talk about things too far in the future, but it was refreshing to get this out of the way early in the game.

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