Bucs looking good in spring ball so far

BRADENTON, Fla. – It’s only the second week of March, and too early to get excited, but the Pirates have looked awfully good so far in spring training.

With a 10-5 win over Tampa Bay on Saturday, the Pirates improved their record to 7-2, one of the best in the Grapefruit League.

The starting pitching has been terrific. Pittsburgh starting pitchers have given up only one earned run in the last seven games (15 innings pitched). Charlie Morton and Wandy Rodriguez have been particularly impressive while Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole have been OK.

Liriano pitched three innings Saturday and gave up one run while striking out three. Cole pitched well in a “B” game Friday. Stolmy Pimentel is making a bid for the fifth starting spot, particularly since Jeff Locke was held out of his latest start with arm tightness.

Andrew McCutchen is off to a terrific start, going 8-for-11 with a homer in his first four games. Pedro Alvarez was 6-for-17 with a homer in six games and Russell Martin had three homers in five games.

Things haven’t gone as well offensively for Starling Marte, Jose Tabata, Jordy Mercer and Neil Walker, all of whom are between .200 and .250 in the early going. Marte has hit the ball hard but doesn’t have much to show for it.

Right field and first base remain the two biggest question marks. Travis Snider would appear to have the edge over Tabata in right and newcomer Jaff Decker has been impressive. Gregory Polanco has looked good, but he’ll start the season in Indianapolis.

Andrew Lambo was only 2-for-16 in seven games in his bid for playing time at first base. Chris McGuiness hasn’t turned many heads there, either, so Gaby Sanchez could start everyday unless the club makes a trade before breaking camp.

The Pirates’ outstanding 2013 season has paid big dividends at the gate with the Bucs averaging 7,462 fans for their first three home games. They drew a sellout crowd of 7,959 for the Rays last Saturday and had an Opening Day record 6,870 for the Yankees. In 15 home games in 2013, the Bucs averaged 6,229 – a spring training record.

n Jean and Joan continued to add to their autograph lists with David Price, Tampa Bay’s Cy Young lefty, and Will Myers, the Rays’ AL Rookie of the Year last season. They also tracked down Matt Joyce of the Rays, Jason Bartlett, Kurt Suzuke and Alex Presley of the Twins as well as Josh Harrison and Clint Barmes of the Pirates.

n Among the many Altoona/Blair County folks who continued to make their way to McKechnie Field were Gary and Jane Garofoli, Jim and Patty Ross, Bill and Paul (Bucky) Beard, Steve and Vicki Lang, and Bob Bechtel.

n We made our annual trip to Plant City for the Florida Strawberry Festival this week and enjoyed the music of country/western stars Charley Pride and Josh Turner.

n Restaurants visited this week were Popi’s, Caf on the Beach, IHOP (it was National Pancake Day), and a couple of fine Amish establishments, Miller’s in Bradenton and Troyer’s in Sarasota.

n Former Hollidaysburg Area High School athlete Reid Miller is attending the nationally-known IMG Sports Academy in Bradenton. A junior, Miller enrolled at IMG the second semester in January.

Currently recovering from a foot injury, Miller expects to play football as a senior next fall. He also played baseball and basketball at Hollidaysburg.

I bumped into Reid and his parents, Bob and Mary Beth, at the Pirates-Twins game last Friday. The Millers were in town for IMG’s Parents Weekend.

The IMG football team is coached by Chris Weinke, a Heisman Trophy winner at Florida State, and last year’s quarterback, Michael O’Connor, will be a freshman at Penn State. IMG was originally a school for aspiring tennis players.

Until next week …

Lane, a retired sports editor of the Mirror, writes from Florida in February and March.