BRADENTON, Florida (93-7 THE FAN) – Valentine’s Day was celebrated with the first full day of workouts for pitchers and catchers, three more veteran position players arriving, and Clint Hurdle’s first media availability of the new year going over 20 minutes.
-Elias Diaz remains in Venezuela with his family, and Daniel Hudson did not pitch with his group. Jordy mercer, Sean Rodriguez, and Jose Osuna all arrived and worked out. The only position players of note still not in camp are David Freese, Josh Harrison, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Adam Frazier, Jordan Luplow, Austin Meadows, young offseason acquisition’s Jason Martin and Bryan Reynolds.
-Daniel Hudson sprained his right ankle while jogging, and left Pirate City in a walking boot. Director of Sports Medicine Todd Tomczyk said the injury is still being evaluated.
-Infield work took place on Fields 1 & 2, with Josh Bell & Daniel Nava working at first base, Sean Rodriguez, Chris Bostick, & Kevin Kramer at second, Jordy Mercer, Max Moroff, Cole Tucker, & Kevin Newman at shortstop, and Colin Moran & Jose Osuna at third base.
-At the time, Frazier, Rodriguez, and Luplow are the three players in the mix for left field. The switch-hitting Nava, who’s spent 80% of his time in the game as a corner outfielder, has a legitimate chance to make the Opening Day roster, but it will be as a 4th outfielder, not a starter. As for Osuna, who struggled to cover ground in the outfield last year and spent most of his winter focusing on third base, he’s down Hurdle’s list of options when he looks at corner outfielders. “You’re still talking about a big outfield. That’s not Jose’s strength. The third base thing is probably more attractive than left field.”
-When it comes to third base, Hurdle looks at Colin Moran as the penciled-in starter. “We want to give him that opportunity to come in and take hold of it. We’ve talked to David [Freese] through the process. He understands.” Freese, said Hurdle, has embraced the idea of being a veteran leader doing most of his work off the bench.
-Ivan Nova, George Kontos, Tyler Glasnow, and Felipe Rivero were the first group to work in the bullpen, and all but Glasnow seemed to work quickly and efficiently.
-The second group included Michael Feliz, whose fastball is no shrinking violet either, as well as the recently acquired lefty Josh Smoker, and Bo Schultz – a former Blue Jays’ reliever who pitched well at the back end of their ‘pen in 2015 but struggled in ’16 and is coming off March 2017 Tommy John surgery.
-Francisco Cervelli jumped in for the last two groups, catching a pair of offseason additions in Joe Musgrove and Kyle Crick.
-Musgrove, the former Astros starter, is a “big donkey,” or “grande burro,” as Pitching Coach Ray Searage puts it: A large human who can throw exceedingly hard. Out of the bullpen for the World Series champs last season, Musgrove’s heater averaged 95-96 mph. In the rotation, it backs off to a low-to-mid 90s fastball. The biggest question for him may be his slider though, which he was able to use to get outs in relief, but which was getting teed up midseason when the Astros yanked him from their rotation. Hurdle seemed to make it clear that Musgrove will join his four returning starting pitchers from last year’s rotation unless something dramatic happens. “We’d like to plug him in the rotation and let him run with it. We envision him being in that rotation moving in to the season.”
-As for what means for Tyler Glasnow, it sounds as if he’ll be ticketed for the bullpen rather than Indianapolis if there aren’t any major issues with the starting five. “It’s going to be an opportunity where he’s still going to get to pitch. Whether it’s finding a way in the rotation somehow, some way, or whether it’s an opportunity to be a multiple inning reliever in the bullpen.”
-Joining Musgrove’s group were Steven Brault, A.J. Schugel, and Jameson Taillon. The peak of Taillon’s day may have been that he didn’t spend 15 minutes looking for his car keys before leaving, as he did Tuesday when it took him a while to remember they were in his golf bag … in his car.
-Crick throws a mid-to-upper 90s fastball as well, and it’s his bread and butter, as he throws it nearly 75% of the time. Rightfully so, as he’s capable of being dominant with it, especially when his slider is also on. Both pitches generated Batting Averages Against under .200 last season. Asked if, with all of the bullpen arms at his disposal, he’d consider going to eight relievers instead of seven, Hurdle didn’t rule it out, but insisted it would require some versatile bench pieces. “And then early in the season, we’ve got a bunch of off days. So how much sense does it make early in the season to be adding arms, when you’re going to be creative to get five starters in play, and then to still pitch some innings?”
-The rest of Crick’s group included Tyler Jones, Casey Sadler, and Jordan Milbrath. Milbrath is a Rule 5 Draft pick from the Cleveland Indians’ system who also spent late January/early February working for the National Football League running fiber optic cable at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis ahead of Super Bowl LII. After two years in the independent Frontier League and difficult 2016 in which his ERA was up above 5.00, the Indians dropped Milbrath’s arm slot and turned him into a sidearmer. He’s never pitched above AA though, so it’s hard to believe the Pirates will find a spot for him on their Major League roster all season.
-Asked why he decided to stay in Pittsburgh when it became evident last year that a retooling of the roster was forthcoming, Hurdle said he placed a premium on the fact that he’s wanted here in Pittsburgh, and that he didn’t have an interest in other destinations when people insisted he’d be able to move on. “If you’re valued where you are, and you have a purpose… I love my job. To stay and to be able to be a small part of this thing, which I believe is going to move forward, and we’re going to push through it. And we’re going to win. And we’re going to win further than we have in the past. Because a World Championship is why you tee this thing up every spring. The belief in that clubhouse also excites me. And the belief in the conversations I had over the winter excites me. That’s why I chose to stay.”
Bullpens will continue on Thursday, with Tyler Eppler, Yeudy Garcia, Chad Kuhl, Brett McKinney, Alex McRae, Dovydas Neverauskas, Edgar Santana, & Trevor Williams –social media-less for Lent– throwing at 11am. At 11:20 it will be Dario Agrazal, Luis Escobar, Clay Holmes, Nick Kingham, Jack Leathersich, Damien Magnifico, Richard Rodriguez, & John Stilson.