Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Bucs' first-base platoon options
By Jayson Stark
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Emptying the notebook after spending a spectacular Tuesday morning and afternoon in Pirates camp:
• Are the Pirates done shopping? Maybe not.
We know they were willing to offer A.J. Burnett $12 million, so they clearly still have money to spend. We also know they never could find a left-handed-hitting platoon partner for Gaby Sanchez at first base this winter. But clubs that have spoken with them believe they’d still like to acquire one.
The Pirates' internal options at first base include Andrew Lambo, center, Gaby Sanchez, left, and Chris McGuiness.
In the meantime, GM Neal Huntington said Tuesday, the Pirates remain "confident in our internal options" -- which would include converted outfielder Andrew Lambo, who hit 32 home runs between Double-A and Triple-A last year, former Rangers prospect Chris McGuiness and nonroster invitee Travis Ishikawa.
But Huntington also said: "That doesn't stop us from looking elsewhere. It’s just that now, our bar has been set a little bit higher, as to 'How do we make the club better?' And 'How do we make the club better at the right situation for us?' If there's something that makes us better, and makes sense for us, we'll still look to do that."
• A year ago, Francisco Liriano was an enigmatic mystery man trying to get healthy. Now, amazingly, he’s about to become the Pirates’ Opening Day starter.
After seven often-exasperating seasons in Minnesota, Liriano was "fixed" by the Pirates' pitching gurus last year and went 16-8, with a 3.02 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 163 strikeouts in 161 innings. But the true measure of how far he has come is that his manager, Clint Hurdle, used a word to describe him Tuesday that you never heard in Minnesota -- "dependability."
“The greatest ability you can have, day in and day out, is dependability,” Hurdle said. “We have that in Francisco.”
The Pirates hope to unlock Edinson Volquez's potential.
• So who is this year’s Francisco Liriano? The Pirates are betting on Edinson Volquez, signed as a free agent to a one-year deal for $5 million.
Volquez had the highest ERA (5.09) and WHIP (1.53) in baseball over the past three seasons, among pitchers who worked as many innings as he did. But the Pirates look at his strikeout rate (8.4 per 9 IP over his career) and ground ball rate (which was once as high as 1.26 ground balls per fly ball in Cincinnati) and think they can make this work.
"The challenge is command," Huntington said. "Staying in the strike zone and attacking the strike zone. But analytically, we saw a guy who can strike people out and get ground balls. It's the walks (4.8 per 9 IP) that are the challenge."
The Pirates already have tweaked Volquez's delivery and believe he's in tremendous physical shape.
• The Pirates also feel they're on track, so far, to get Wandy Rodriguez back into their rotation after a season in which they had to shut him down after 12 starts because of forearm tendinitis. Rodriguez has thrown two bullpen sessions and said: "I don't feel nothing. I feel good. A lot different than last year."
• Finally, closer Jason Grilli, who also missed time last year because of forearm issues, caused some alarms to sound over the weekend when he skipped what seemed to be a scheduled bullpen session. But Hurdle said Tuesday -- on a day when Grilli threw 15 pitches off the mound and five more on flat ground -- that the blueprint was always for Grilli to take it slowly this spring.
"We have a plan in place for him to get involved at a particular time and then add to that as we move forward," Hurdle said.