By Chris Mack

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BRADENTON, Florida (93-7 THE FAN) – Day 2 of Pitchers & Catchers provided the first real “Groundhog Day” effect of the spring, as the players filtered out of the clubhouse around 9-9:30 a.m. Early reporting position players took infield around 10:30 a.m., and pitchers started throwing in the bullpen around 11 a.m. All on the same schedule as the previous day.

As for those early reporting position players though, one key difference between Day 1 and Day 2 was provided: The new Best Player on the Team since the trade of Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, arrived and spoke with the media via translator Mike Gonzalez after working out.

-Marte expressed sadness at the loss of McCutchen, particularly as a mentor, “Not only was he a great teammate, but he helped me out a lot. He helped me grow. He helped me enjoy the game at another level. So I was sad. I’m going to miss my friend. ”

-Marte insisted he and Gregory Polanco won’t feel any added pressure however, whether due to McCutchen’s departure nor due to the lack of performance by each last year. “We recognize that we have a role, the same way we’ve always recognized it when [McCutchen] was on the team or not. And we’re going to help each other out as much as we can. We’re also going to make sure we’re helping [the 3rd outfielder] grow. Our mentality is to not put more pressure on ourselves then maybe other people are trying to place on [us.] We’re just going to go out there and be the athletes that we are. ”

-Clint Hurdle began to give some early clues on how he’ll consider lineup construction this season, and it’s different from what he’s been used to over the years. “The biggest misnomer in the game, and I was one of the guys that overlooked it: You hit your best hitter 3rd. And you look at the guys and how many times they come to the plate with two outs and nobody on, and the numbers are alarming.”

“There’s a model out there where your best two hitters hit 2nd and 4th. Then you look for your on base guys to fill in 1 and fill in 3.”

Going by that formula, you’d presume the Pirates would lineup with Adam Frazier at the top of the order on days he starts, with Marte, Josh Bell, and Polanco sitting 2-3-4. The question will be how Francisco Cervelli and David Freese – when he’s in the starting lineup – fit in to the equation. Freese led the team in On Base Percentage in 2017, and Cervelli has been one of the team’s Top 4 in OBP since arriving from New York in 2015.

-When it was pointed out that Colin Moran had a particularly nice day with the long ball in batting practice, Hurdle pumped the brakes, inadvertently channeling Allen Iverson. “Yeah man, it’s batting practice. It’s practice.”  He also resisted the notion that he’s worried about the power of a ball club that’s dropped from 6th in MLB in home runs in 2014 to 29th in 2017.

“It’s about OPS, to be quite frank. And Marte and Polanco, there’s more there. The emergence of Moran, we’ll see how that plays out.”

For what it’s worth, the Pirates currently project to be one of just five teams in the National League to have no more than one player with an .800 OPS or higher. The other four teams? The Braves, Marlins, Reds, and Padres. Those four teams are projected to win 71 games on average, and no more than 74.

-The alignment for infield practice was similar to yesterday, with Moran and Jose Osuna at third base, and Bell and Daniel Nava at first base. The middle infield was a bit different as Jordy mercer took the day off while Cole Tucker, Sean Rodriguez, and Kevin Newman fielded at shortstop and Max Moroff, Chris Bostick, and Kevin Kramer worked at second base.

-Todd Cunningham, a minor league free agent, worked in the outfield with Marte. 29 years old in March, Cunningham was a 2nd Round pick of the Braves eight years ago out of Jacksonville State but has bounced around, hitting .207 in 130 MLB plate appearances going back through 2013.

-All 16 pitchers scheduled to throw did so. The first group contained four arms with some level of Major League experience as Edgar Santana & Dovydas Neverauskas joined Chad Kuhl & Trevor Williams. Cervelli caught Williams and seemed pleased with the outing, giving him some location tips after the session. Yeudy Garcia, Brett McKinney, & Alex McRae – all non-roster invitees – joined Tyler Eppler, who was also caught by Cervelli, with increasing levels of positive reinforcement throughout the session, ranging from “Beautiful!” to “Yes!” to “That’s gorgeous.” The final two groups had John Stilson, Luis Escobar, Richard Rodriguez, Damien Magnifico, lefty Jack Leathersich, 2017 Florida State League All-Star Dario Agrazal, Clay Holmes, and Nick Kingham, who worked with Jacob Stallings on fastball location and movement.

Bullpens will continue Friday, with all of the same arms who were on the mound Wednesday getting back to work. We’ll see if Daniel Hudson will test his sprained right ankle, and also continue to await the reporting of Gregory Polanco, Josh Harrison, David Freese, Jordan Luplow, Austin Meadows, and minor leaguers Erich Weiss, Eric Wood, as well as Bryan Reynolds & Jason Martin, who were acquired in the McCutchen and Gerrit Cole deals, respectively. Elias Diaz also continues to spend time with family in Venezuela after the safe return of his mother from a kidnapping ordeal last week.

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