The windup: Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Some random thoughts as you await first pitch tonight in Cincinnati:

There must have been one other, unannounced nonroster invite in the Pirates’ camp: a dramatic muse.

Announcing Josh Harrison’s long-term, long-deserved deal in his Cincinnati cradle? How perfect. …

So, what was I doing 41 years ago today? Getting ready to go to Atlanta Stadium and cover Hank Aaron going yard against Al Downing for the seminal 715th homer of his career, that’s all. …

A year ago, the Pirates made history by opening the season with three Dominican natives in their starting rotation: Francisco Liriano, Wandy Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez.

Only Liriano remains, but the Pirates can still claim the biggest slice of one demographic pie: Their Opening Day roster included the most players born in one nation outside of the United State, the seven from the Dominican Republic (Antonio Bastardo, Arquimedes Caminero, Radhames Liz, Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Liriano). …

I hadn’t paid a whole lot of attention to this, but am surprised Chris Davis was allowed to have a full-participation Spring Training with the Orioles even while his 25-game suspension still had a couple of games to go. Davis was activated for the O’s second game, Tuesday night. He’d played in 20 Grapefruit League games before that. …

Speaking of the Orioles … how weird it must’ve been for them to open the season in Tampa Bay against the Rays, after having already spent six weeks in the area (their Sarasota camp is about 40 miles from St. Petersburg) and seen the Rays five times in exhibition play? How do you talk yourself into feeling those Opening Day vibes? …

Listening to some people, you’d think the Phillies should be allowed to park their team bus in a handicap zone. There is this perception that they are ancient. During a brief flareup with the Bucs in McKechnie Field, for example, some wondered via Twitter whether the Phillies stormed the field with the help of their “golden walking sticks.”

Wrong. Not even close: According to the usual Opening Day analysis, the Giants are the oldest MLB team — the only one whose roster averages more than 31 years — and the Phillies aren’t even in the Top 5.

You can still be nice to them. But has nothing to do with being nice to the elderly. …

Sorry, Charlie, we could see this – and Worley – coming

When everyone — the manager, the GM, the pitchers themselves — said that Jeff Locke and Vance Worley would “both make important starts before the season is over” for the Pirates, they weren’t kidding.

How about before the first weekend of the season is over?

No one can be surprised that Charlie Morton winds up on the DL and Worley will wind up against the Brewers in Milwaukee on Saturday. The only surprise is that Charlie had to return to Florida, from his embarrassing Saturday start in Philadelphia, rather than just stay behind when the Bucs broke camp.

Morton clearly wasn’t yet right, struggling to get comfortable in his delivery post-labrum surgery. Clint Hurdle and Neal Huntington both wanted to believe he could get it in time, but weren’t three strikeouts in 15 1/3 Grapefruit League innings a big enough hint? … 

When he was “sent” to the bullpen, career starter Worley’s one request was to be given “enough time to warm up” if the Pirates needed him. Six days should be long enough. …

I love Andrew Lambo, the guy and the player. Still has a great future, But right now, I’m not sure Pedro Florimon — fantastic leather, speed, switch-hitter — would not have been a better fit on this team. …

Is this going to be a Pirates specialty, surrendering home runs to lightweights?

The last two homers the Bucs allowed in exhibition play were by Baltimore’s Everth Cabrera — 12 career homers in 1,733 at-bats — and by Philadelphia’s Ben Revere — 2 in 1,905 ABs. …

If I were to run down the differences between Barry Zito, who is accepting a Minor League ticket from the A’s simply because he loves playing the game, and guys like Jermaine Dye, who quit it in his prime because he wasn’t being shown enough money, I’d be blue in the face before I was done. … 

Bucs just need to stay step ahead of pick pack

The way I see it, all the Pirates have to do to cop the NL Central title is stay a step ahead of the “experts.” In both 2013 and 2014, the legions of preseason prognosticators picked them to finish middle-down in the division. This time, forecasters seem unanimous in their belief that the Pirates are a second-place team, to the Cardinals.

Go one better than expected, again, and go straight to the Division Series (no “play-in” game, as Clint Hurdle steadfastly refers to the Wild Card Game). … 

Is there a theseaurus in which “Pittsburgh” is listed as a synonym for “regression”?

A year ago, it was the Pirates as a whole. This time around, the individual leader of the regression squad appears to be Josh Harrison. Everybody is trying to run him down. That’s cool … we know how Harrison handles rundowns. … 

Only two Major Leaguers will be starting 2015 carrying over hitting streaks of 10-plus games from 2014.

One is a current Pirate, Starling Marte, who has a 13-game streak.

The other is a former Pirate — Rob Grossman, who has a 10-gamer with the Astros. Grossman was one of three prospects packaged for Wandy Rodriguez in July 2012. …

You always hear about catchers making the best managers. Among those who believe that are the GMs who make the hires: 15 ex-receivers, or half of all managers, are calling the shots this season. … 

Cutch: Hair today, gone tomorrow; a lock long ago

Might be time for The Cutch to lose the squint. The one through which he seems to have looked at me ever since our first encounter.

On Feb. 3, 2012, Jose Reyes donated his signature dreadlocks to South Florida’s Make-A-Wish Foundation.

A week later, I hit Pirate City for my first official day of covering the Bucs for MLB.com. Entering the players’  clubhouse, I made a beeline for the team’s top player, introduced myself to Andrew McCutchen and, while shaking hands, posed my first of hundreds of questions to the man:

“How much do you think you could get for your dreadlocks?”

McCutchen quickly let go off my hand, squinted at me as if I had three eyes, and recoiled.

“What? What’re you talking about? Nobody’s getting a hand on these,” he said.

I quickly regrouped, explained the fresh Reyes precedent, but some ground rules had been established: This new guy is going to be weird, and his questions will keep coming off the wall.

So we flash forward to March 25, 2015 .. and there go McCutchen’s signature locks, for the benefit of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and we will soon have an answer to that three-year-old question of how much they will bring.

Bravo, Cutch.

In addition to a big help for truly deserving kids, the Cutch Cut will also assist reporters, believe it or not.

The famous dreadlocks required a lot of post-game care, particularly if they had taken a pie in recognition of a walk-off hit. The required grooming would keep the media seeking post-game interviews on hold.

Both the hair and the vigil by McCutchen’s locker have become shorter. 

Hey, Ferrell: Donut steal Worley’s nickname

Hey, Will Ferrell: Vance Worley wants his nickname back.

Ferrell, as you may have heard, earned a page on BaseballReference.com with his one-day barnstorming tour of the Cactus League. On it, his nickname is given as Manimal.

Worley, the Bucs’ Vanimal, should join Kenneth Bernard Faried in a class-action suit against the comic. Faried, of the NBA’s Nuggets, actually is nicknamed Manimal. …

Pace of play? Forget that. How about pace of everything-around-the-play? The Pirates and Orioles today played a seven-inning “B” game — no broadcast commercial breaks, no in-stadium entertainment follies — in under two hours … 

It’s pretty confusing somedays in Spring Training around the Bucs, who shout “Lambo!” to give encouragement to Andrew Lambo, and “Lomba!” to exhort Steve Lombardozzi. … 

In the “B” game, nonroster lefties Jeremy Bleich and Charlie Leesman each pitched a shutout inning in front of about a dozen scouts. Not saying that they were being showcased, but the Bucs really have no room in their own bullpen and several teams — most notably the Mets, who just lost Josh Edgin to Tommy John surgery — are actively shopping for southpaw relief.

“B” game performances don’t show up in official stat lines, but Bleich and Leesman also have a pair of scoreless appearances each in Grapefruit League play. … 

Cool thing about Francisco Cervelli: Only throwback among Pirates batters; he doesn’t wear batting gloves. … 

In case you were wondering, yes, Worley downed his usual two donuts before going out and dunking the Orioles for four innings today: Raspberry and Boston Cream. ..

The time is Glasnow, Richard is pickoff & running

The Bucs used seven pitchers in today’s exhibition against the Yankees. And who was the only one with a perfect outing?

Tyler Glasnow, the No. 1 bound-for-Altoona prospect whose three-up-and-three-down sixth included two punchouts.

Clint Hurdle was so blown away, he got downright giggly in giving his impression:

“Nice outing for him, to start things off in big league camp. Threw with some nice downhill angle. He showed some composure, worked with good rhythm and pace.” … 

Ever wonder what goes through the minds of these guys as they watch today’s young guns go through pre-game?

Maz and the Quail … Bill Mazeroski and Bill Virdon … the memories … 

Garrett Jones is wearing No. 33 with the Yankees, but that could not be his number in Pittsburgh. That number belonged to Honus Wagner, and was retired by the Bucs long ago. …

Someone in the Pirates locker room shrugged off reports that Adam Wainwright, who last week had to leave Cards camp to have some abdominal pain diagnosed, had an encouraging bullpen session.

“You don’t have to worry about Adam,” said the anonymous Bucco. “He could have two broken legs, and he’d go out and pitch two shutout innings.” … 

Hurdle credits Clayton Richard with “the best pickoff move we’ve had from a left-hander since I’ve been here.”

Richard, in camp as a non-roster invitee, showed off the move by nailing the Yankees’ Ramon Flores in the seventh inning today … 

Corey Hart can laugh at the laundry list of injuries that have pestered him throughout his career. He is down a spell with a slight cut on the outside of his left foot. It’s a very minor injury, but Hart says with a straight face, “I think I’ll be okay before the season ends.” … 

Sleepless in Seoul: Thanks, Jung Ho

A lot of people in South Korea awoke to this headline Wednesday morning: “Kang Homers in Debut!” In the third inning of his spring debut Tuesday afternoon, Jung Ho Kang homered — at 4 a.m. Seoul time.

The clout was big news in his homeland. Not quite Neil-Armstrong-takes-first-step-on-the-Moon size, but still of national interest.

Received many Tweets like this one, from “Jane:” “There were many fans (like myself) who stayed up all night just to watch Jungho’s first game as a pirate. I’m glad I did.” … 

Best “new” swing in camp: Pedro Alvarez’s, whose three hits in the first two exhibitions have all gone to left field. … 

Best new beard in camp: That, too, belongs to Alvarez. …

Can’t believe how turned on people are about the Bucs’ new matte batting helmets. If you ask me, I think they’re dull. … 

You’ve probably read a lot about McKechnie Field’s new expanded clubhouse. What does that mean? This: Last spring, there was one big-screen TV; now there are 16. …

According to the Bovada sports book, the over-under for MLB’s highest HR total of the season is 42 1/2. That may be too high: The only guy to do 37-plus last season was Nelson Cruz (40), and he has moved from Baltimore’s Camden Yards into Seattle’s spacious Safeco Field.

Subsequently, if no one reaches 40 this season, it would be the first without a 40-homer man in 33 years — since Reggie Jackson led with 39 with the 1982 Angels. … 

Bucs have a “Sixth Sense” about 2015 season

Snapshots and quick shots from Spring Training … 
Buccos club president Frank Coonelly and GM Neal Huntington have both been heard dropping references to wanting to bring another World Series championship to Pittsburgh, because it would make six and thus also match the Steelers’ Super Bowl rings.
OK, then, we’ve got the 2015 motto: “Sixth Sense.”
“I see Deadbirds?”
The Pirates are hoping for an NCAA bid. No, not Seton Hall’s. Pittsburgh’s.

We always knew Huntington and Clint Hurdle loved big arms. Those in camp this spring are attached to some big bodies.

Tyler Glasnow is 6-foot-8. Josh Wall is 6-foot-6, and you could assemble an entire staff, not to mention a backcourt, with the 6-foot-5 guys (among them Jameson Taillon, Nick Kingham and Clayton Richard).

Then, there are the Tall Brothers, 6-9 John Holdzkom and 6-7 Jared Hughes:

You can read about their unique kinship on MLB.com tomorrow.

About those NCAAs? The Bucs should at least be on the bubble. … 

The mean temperature in Pittsburgh during February was 18.9 degrees. Only one February on record has been colder in the city’s history: 1979, at 18.0 degrees. Hmmm … wonder what else happened in Pittsburgh that year? … 

Whoever inherited Jeff Banister’s chore of making out the Bucs’ practice schedules and lineups could use spell-check. The other day’s batting practice rotation included a “Florimom” and the Gold’s lineup for tomorrow’s squad game originally had “Polonco” in right … 

This is my fourth Spring Training covering the Bucs. I have never seen Pedro Alvarez in such good shape — mentally as well as physically. He’s going to own this. To borrow from another media, he’s got the X Factor. …

Pied Piper of Pirate City … & Let’s Go Hae jeok!

Snapshots and quick shots from Pirate City … 

Clint Hurdle watched the battalion of Korean reporters and camera crews trailing their countryman, and immediately bestowed a nickname of Jung Ho Kang: “Pied Piper.”

The Korean media is not only fawning over Kang, but falling in love with the Bucs. Regard the regalia of MBC’s Sun-shin Kim as she does an on-camera bit with Josh Harrison:

I don’t know how you say “Pied Piper” in Korean. But I do know Pirates is “Hae jeok.”

        Pedro Florimon has the smoothest hands I’ve seen in infield practice. Easy to see how he was able to hold down the Twins’ shortstop job all 2013 while hitting only .221.

        Pedro Alvarez manned first base while infielders took turns firing one-hoppers at his feet. Were they trying to let him know how it felt to be on the receiving end of his throws last season, when he had all those throwing errors from third base? Of course not — it was part of the regular “dig it” drill for first basemen, Alvarez now being one of them.

        I found out Pedro and I do have one thing in common: We’re both Game Show Network junkies.

        Although he will have one of the Majors’ most versatile benches, which would afford him the luxury of at least thinking about it, Hurdle says he has “no” interest in having an eight-man bullpen, as some teams are considering. 

        Gerrit Cole must be one of the few ballplayers not on Twitter. “Just not very interested in that stuff,” he says.

        He can carry a team – but can A.J. carry a tune?

        I have seen A.J. Burnett.

        I have seen Brian Kelly.

        I just have never seen them both at the same time in the same place. 

        The Buccos pitcher says he isn’t particularly a fan of country music, so that could be one explanation why he hasn’t hung out with Kelly, one half of the duo Florida Georgia Line.

        Here is another: They are the same person.

        Truth be told, if A.J. has a doppelgänger, he would prefer it to be Batman. 

        Has A.J. ever been told he looks like Kelly?

        “Nonsense,” A.J. says. “I have been told he looks like me.”

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