BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates played their final Grapefruit League game at LECOM Park on Monday, with Trevor Williams starting in a 6-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.
Spring Training, for the most part, can generally be perceived as a period of optimism for baseball teams and fans, and there was plenty of that on display on Monday.
Pirates reliever Bo Schultz pitched in his first spring training game of 2018 and his first game of competitive baseball since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. Schultz won’t make the team — he was sent down after the game — but it’s still pretty incredible that the 32-year-old Schultz recovered quickly enough to involve himself in competitive games this spring.
“I’m as happy as I can be to have an opportunity to be on the field,” Schultz said. “Not to say that I’m one of the older guys to do it, but I’m definitely one of the older guys to do it.”
Schultz looked good on the radar gun, throwing in the upper 90s — and caught some sarcasm from bullpen-mate George Kontos about not hitting 100 his first time out.
“The delivery was collected and connected and the ball came out of his hand,” Hurdle said. “The velocity was there. He threw a couple sliders. He came off the mound with a big smile. That’s the biggest step in the right direction for him.”
The Pirates didn’t make much of a splash in the game, but the team’s minor-leaguers over from Pirates City made an impression. Brett Pope made a few nice plays at second base, Mikell Granberry had an RBI to score debuting shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae, and most excitingly, outfielder Lolo Sanchez straight stole home.
Run Lolo Run!
18-year-old #Pirates prospect Lolo Sanchez with a straight steal of home … off a pitcher throwing from the stretch! No. 10 on the @Pirates' Top 30 list: https://t.co/ApnAp224p8 pic.twitter.com/1Vpb4Iwvw6
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 26, 2018
“In games like this, we wanted to put in a delay steal,” Hurdle said. “We’re still going to steal. We’ve got to find some way to do something good, something positive. Joey (Cora) found an opportunity with a kid that can run and took advantage of it.
“You know the funny thing is, (Josh) Smoker was coming in and I had four minor-leaguers out there with me. They said, ‘What kind of pitcher is he?’ I said, ‘Normally, he’s a fly ball/strikeout pitcher, but today we just stole home, so anything can happen. Be ready for a ground ball.’ He strikes out a guy and then gets a ground ball.”
Bae came out to a nice applause from the crowd when introduced as a pinch runner. He scored from second on Granberry’s single and lined out in his only at-bat.
“You see his name coming over, you’re like, ‘Wow. This is really cool,’” Hurdle said. “To watch him and watch his mannerisms at that age out on the field in a major-league game. The game gives you great opportunities to appreciate it. Today, there was a few of those even in a game you lose 6-3.”
The Pirates’ decision to roll with an eight-man bullpen mean that Clint Hurdle will have just four pinch hitters to work with. That won’t matter much in the first series at Detroit, but when the Pirates return to National League play, if they don’t re-balance the roster.
One of the options there if the Pirates run out of pinch hitters would be to use backup catcher Elias Diaz, something that Hurdle has typically been unwilling to do in the past. Diaz traveled to Dunedin with the team on Sunday with the express purpose of being used as a pinch hitter. He’s only had 17 career plate appearances as a pinch hitter at the major-league level and has hit .133/.235/.133 in that role.
“We very well could (pinch hit Diaz), depending on how the game plays out,” Hurdle said. “This will be the most versatile bench that I’ve had of the four men that are out there. All three of those other guys can play multiple positions.”
• Daniel Nava will remain in minor league camp at Pirates City in order to continue to rehab from his back surgery. Nava is expected to be out until at least late May.
• Schultz will also report to minor league camp and he said that when games get started, the plan is for him to pitch with High-A Bradenton in order for the team to closely monitor his progress from Tommy John surgery.