Lane: Pirates’ ace Liriano could miss opener with injury

BRADENTON, Fla. – Nothing hurts a major league team more than losing a starting pitcher to injury. That’s why a hush went over the big McKechnie Field crowd on Thursday night when Francisco Liriano was removed from the game with the Orioles in the sixth inning after landing awkwardly on his left leg.

Catcher Russell Martin seemed to know immediately that something was wrong with Liriano after the big lefty delivered a pitch. Manager Clint Hurdle was summoned to the mound along with a trainer and Liriano left the game with what later was described as “tightness in his left groin.”

How long Liriano will be sidelined is not known. Early reports Friday hinted that Liriano may not be ready for the season opener March 31 against the Cubs. Sometimes injuries take longer to heal than expected, but one thing is sure: losing your No. 1 starter and last year’s comeback player of the year can’t be good no matter how long he’s out.

The Pirates continue to pack ’em in for Grapefruit League games at McKechnie. A crowd of 8,080 took in the Bucs-Rays game last Saturday and 8,186 attended Thursday’s night game.

It was McKechnie’s fifth sellout this spring and the ballpark’s largest crowd since lights were installed in 2008. The previous best crowd for a night game was 6,353 last year against the Orioles.

Jean and Joan added to their autograph lists with Baltimore standouts Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz, as well as Ben Zobrist and David DeJesus of the Tampa Bay Rays and Jordy Mercer and Travis Snider of the Pirates.

Bradenton was jumping with Altoona area folks this week. A bus group of Curve boosters traveled from Altoona to Florida via Raystown Transit Service and spent several days here.

When they arrived, the group enjoyed a picnic hosted by 16 Altoona “snowbirds.”

With Duane Bordell as their tour guide, the group took in area sights, visited local beaches, and saw spring training baseball games at McKechnie Field and Pirate City as well as in Sarasota and Clearwater during their stay.

Other Altoonans (current and former) seen at McKechnie this week included Ed and Patty Boslet, Charley and Linda Hess, Leo Walter, Joe Fatigante, Pete Quintili, Jay Dedea, Jack Reed, John Prosperi and Dr. Jay Robinson. Curve owners Bob and Joan Lozinak and Sal Baglieri were in town along with the Nuttings, principal owners of the Pirates as well as several newspapers, including the Altoona Mirror.

Among the restaurants patronized this week were Hooters, Gulf Drive Cafe, Longhorn Steak House and Ferraro’s Pizza House.

Until next week ..

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