The Pittsburgh Pirates played a seven inning B-game against the Minnesota Twins today at Pirate City. As with any B-game, the contest was extremely informal.
Innings ended if a pitcher reached his pitch count, regardless of how many outs there were, or how many runners were on base. Players batted out-of-order, and often a player was thrown in to the batting order at random spots. Throughout the game, players who weren’t participants would jog laps around the warning track. Pirates’ coaches would stand in an open gate in center field and watch the game. But the important thing was getting work in, and the Pirates definitely capitalized on that opportunity.
The Pirates used the B-game to play a few players in positions they don’t normally see. Matt Hague started at third base, a position he played 17 times last year in AAA, and 66 times in his minor league career, but a position he hasn’t played yet this Spring. Josh Harrison played at shortstop. Harrison only has one game at shortstop in his minor league career, taking place in 2011, but has worked at the position all Spring.
Hague looked a little rough at third, mis-playing a few balls, and having trouble reaching harder shots down the line.
“I’m still trying to get there,” Hague said after the game about his defense at third. “It’s difficult sometimes going first to third.”
Hague booted a ground ball to his left in the first inning, putting a runner on with two outs. In the fifth inning he made an awkward play on a slow liner to his right. Hague was caught in no-man’s land, and did a slow fall to knock the ball down, rather than picking it up on a short hop. He made a nice pick later in the inning on a sharp chopper down the third base line, but hesitated on the throw, thinking about going to second for a double play, which allowed the runner to reach safely.
Hague was drafted as a third baseman, and he’s played third in the minors, so he’s not new to the position. He needs more reps at the position, although there was a reason he was moved to first base. He doesn’t look like he could handle third base as a starter, even with added reps. The position gives him value if he’s a bench bat, and that’s mostly because of his offense.
Hague showed that offense today, hitting a two run homer to left field against Twins right hander Scott Baker. Hague crushed the first pitch he saw, putting the ball on the roof of the clubhouse beyond the 370 sign.
“He threw a first pitch slider away. I was going to take a shot,” Hague said about the homer. “It showed up there, and I was just thinking to myself ‘Get the barrel there’ and I did, and it worked out.”
While Hague looked rough at third base, Josh Harrison looked good at shortstop. He started two double plays, fielding the ball well and making good throws to second. The first double play was tailor-made, although the second one was a bit more difficult. The ball hopped up on Harrison, but he still managed to field it cleanly and make a quick throw to Mercer at second.
“I grew up playing shortstop, so it’s not anything that’s totally foreign to me,” Harrison said. “I’ve bounced around and played so many positions, it’s just another added position. But it wasn’t a foreign position, so it makes it a little easier.”
The Pirates threw Chris Leroux for two innings, Evan Meek for two innings, then an inning each for Duke Welker, Daniel Cabrera, and Mike Crotta.
Leroux was working around 92 MPH with his fastball, and showed some good movement on his pitches, especially with his breaking ball. He recorded a strikeout to get out of the first, after putting runners on with two outs, started by Hague’s error. Leroux led off the second with a solo home run on a full count. He followed that with a single past second base on a breaking ball. A passed ball allowed the runner to advance to second, but Leroux got the strikeout one pitch later. Against the next batter, Leroux missed high, hitting the umpire in the face, and allowing the runner to advance to third. He walked the batter on a full count after several foul balls, and was pulled due to his pitch count.
Evan Meek pitched two innings after Leroux. He was pulled from the first inning due to his pitch count. The second inning was much stronger. Meek got a ground out, froze a batter for strike three with his slider, issued a full count walk, then finished off the inning with another strikeout looking, this time on the fastball. Meek was sitting around 91 MPH.
Duke Welker came on in the fifth inning, and had to overcome some defensive issues. He started with an easy ground out to second, but followed that up with the awkward play by Hague. Welker had a chance to escape the inning after a slow chopper came back to the mound, setting up a double play. He threw wide to second base, drawing Jordy Mercer off the mound, making everyone safe. After loading the bases, Welker got a swinging strikeout on an 85 MPH slider, then ended the inning with a fly out to shallow left. Welker’s fastball looked good, working in the 93-95 MPH range.
Daniel Cabrera came on next, making his first appearance this Spring after dealing with right forearm tightness. His inning was cut short due to a pitch count. He led off with a double down the left field line, which was just out of reach of a sprinting Robbie Grossman, who was playing farther away from the line than normal. Cabrera erased the runner after a hard line drive right at Jeff Clement started a double play. Clement couldn’t field a hard grounder through the hole, putting a runner on first base. Cabrera then hung a slider, which led to a high fly ball, which Nick Evans lost in the sun in right field, leading to a ground rule double, and ending the inning.
Cabrera’s stuff looked good, sitting 92-94 MPH, and touching 95 with his fastball, while working in the low-to-mid 80s with his slider. However, he had some command issues, elevating several pitches.
Mike Crotta was the last pitcher to throw for the Pirates. He gave up a hard bouncing single through the left side hole in the infield. That was followed with a double play started by Josh Harrison, his second of the game. The sinker ball pitcher got one more ground out to end the inning.
The score of the game was 10-2 in favor of the Pirates, although it’s hard to put much stock in a score when innings end due to pitch counts. The Pirates did have their bats going, including two big hits from Robbie Grossman.
Grossman got off to a good start in the second inning, hitting a hard line drive to the gap. The ball one hopped the fence around the 410 sign, and Grossman easily made it to third standing. His next at-bat came in the fourth with runners at first and second against Scott Baker. Grossman hit an identical line drive to the gap, landing in the exact same spot, resulting in another stand up triple.
“He just put a good pitch, and I put a good swing on it,” Grossman said about the triple, which came off Baker.
Grossman was going full speed around the bases each time. So was he thinking triple all the way?
“Of course, you’ve got to,” Grossman said.
Jeff Clement went 3-for-3 at the plate, including a solo home run on a line drive to right field in the sixth inning. Starling Marte also tripled, with a hard shot off the wall in dead center field, allowing the speedy Marte to reach third standing. In typical B-game fashion, Pedro Alvarez entered the game in the fifth inning, batting between the third and fourth hitters in the lineup. Alvarez continued this for the final two innings, entering the lineup and getting an at-bat. He grounded out to second the first time, grounded out to first the second time, then flied out to the wall in left field in his final at-bat.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the offense came against Baker. The Twins starter is coming off a year where he put up a 3.15 ERA in 134.2 innings, along with an 8.2 K/9 and a 2.1 BB/9 ratio. Yet the Pirates hit him hard and chased him early due to his pitch count in each inning. He gave up two singles and Hague’s home run in his first inning, with Hague’s shot ending the frame. In Baker’s second inning, Garrett Jones reached on an error, then Baker gave up a single to Clement, a triple to Grossman, and a line drive single back up the middle to Michael McKenry.
For the live blog of the game, click here.
For photos from the game, click here.