PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. The Clint Hurdle era began with a 9-5 loss at the hands of the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park on Saturday afternoon, but the Grapefruit League debuts of Pirates pitchers Charlie Morton and Brad Lincoln overshadowed some sloppy play in the late innings.
Morton allowed one hit and one base on balls in two scoreless innings, while Lincoln allowed one run on three hits in two innings. Both are in the hunt for the fifth spot in the rotation.
"I threw sinkers, four-seamers and one cutter," Morton said. "I didn't throw any curveballs or change-ups. What I was concerned about was my fastball and to get it down in the strike zone and be aggressive with it.
"It would have been nice to strike people out, but even moreso, I got contact with balls on the ground. I'd much rather pitch nine innings than strike out 10 people. If I can do both, that will be awesome."
Said Hurdle, "It was a good outing for him, a very good outing for him."
Lincoln made one big mistake, a fat change-up that third baseman Evan Longoria deposited over the center-field fence for a solo home run. He hoped to develop the pitch as a third option, which was necessary to become a starter.
"For the most part, it went pretty good," Lincoln said. "I filled up the [strike] zone with all of my pitches, especially the change-up, which I was able to throw for strikes."
Lincoln and shortstop Ronny Cedeno also executed a successful pickoff at second base.
Left fielder Jose Tabata, second baseman Neil Walker and center fielder Andrew McCutchen comprised the first three batters in the order, as Hurdle planned to experiment with several combinations this spring.
"We all pretty well understand what Andrew can do at the top of the order," Hurdle said. "We need to look at ways to stretch our lineup to become more diverse and dynamic. We need to score more runs than we did last year. I do believe that [McCutchen] has the skill set to hit third in the lineup, but I want to take a look at [the option]."
The threesome gave a thumbs-up to the plan.
"I like it," Tabata said. "My job is to get on base as much as possible. I will take more pitches, try to get more walks, try to steal more bases."
Tabata thinks that the position would not limit his ability to hit for power.
Informed that Hall of Fame outfielder Rickey Henderson hit a major league record 81 home runs to lead off games, Tabata smiled and said, "Maybe I can to do that. [On the] first pitch."
Like McCutchen and Tabata, Walker said that he had no strong preference where he batted in the order. The switch-hitter considered the second position to be a good match for his versatility and ability to hit deep in counts.
"I cater to those other guys," he said. "I complement them. They make life easier for all for us."
Pedro Alvarez walked on four pitches in his only at-bat against Rays ace David Price, his former Vanderbilt University roommate.
In text messages, Price had joked that he would plunk his college buddy.
"He's a great pitcher," Alvarez said. "I've faced him many times. I'd say we're at a stalemate. If we face each other in the World Series, that will be the tie-breaker."
Long time coming
The most anxious player in the game against State College of Florida on Friday afternoon might not have a college kid or even a minor league prospect.
It was none other than 33-year-old pitcher Tyler Yates, who had waited 22 months to pitch in a competitive environment again.
"It had been a long time, yeah," said Yates, whose career had been in jeopardy because of Tommy John surgery. "I couldn't wait to get out there. I was restless. In the bullpen, the guys were like 'Dude, you're up, you're down, you're up, you're down . . . . What are you doing?' I said, 'I can't stay still."
I was anxious, but other than that, I thought everything went well."
In one inning, Yates allowed no runs and one hit.
"I overthrew a little bit and it affected my control, but I came away healthy and strong," he said. "It's early, and they won't judge me on my first game back. Hopefully, they'll give me a chance to get more games under my belt and I'll start to make some progress."
ON DECK: The Rays will travel to Bradenton for the home opener at McKechnie Field on Sunday afternoon (1:05 p.m., WPGB-FM) .
Kevin Correia was scheduled to start and pitch two innings. Brian Burres, Joel Hanrahan, Joe Beimel, Jose Veras, Tony Watson and Chris Leroux and also were expected to get the ball.