Sorry for the posting delay; I’ve got very poor internet here in my hotel. If you right click any picture, you can view it at full size.
Four hours into my travels yesterday, just as I was boarding my flight in Atlanta, I checked my phone and saw that the Pirates were trotting out what is essentially the A-team for yesterday’s game against the Red Sox. Given that spring training can be a bit of a crapshoot for that sort of thing, I was excited. We got held up by an army of old-people-drivers on Route 75 and missed the top of the first inning (instead of staying in Bradenton, we usually stay in Fort Myers, which is close to where my brother lives), but I was happy to get into the park and be greeted with this site.
Jose Tabata. Neil Walker. This is what the 2011 Pirates are all about. With one out in the bottom of the first, Andrew McCutchen nearly got all of a Josh Beckett pitch and took it deep to the warning track in left field. And then Daniel Nava made a jumping catch and doubled Walker off of first base. And this is what the last 18 years of Pirate baseball is all about.
Yesterday’s game actually mirrored last Saturday’s game against Beckett pretty closely. Besides McCutchen’s long flyout in the first, he mowed through the Pirates’ order pretty easily the first time through. The second time through, though, he hit a bit of a speed bump. After Walker reached on an error and McCutchen drew a nice walk, Lyle Overbay ripped a double into the left-center game with a really nice piece of hitting to drive in both runs.
I know I say this over and over, but every single time I see Andrew McCutchen run in person his speed blows me away. On Overbay’s double he had the advantage of being the second runner, meaning he could break while Walker had to hang around second to make sure the ball dropped, but it still looked like ‘Cutch almost caught Walker at home plate. Overbay’s double was a pretty typical gap-shot in that it didn’t ricochet around the fence or the Sox outfielders didn’t have trouble picking it up, and McCutchen just cruised on in. Who watches this guy play and doesn’t come away excited? Anyone?
They kept hitting Beckett after the double; Pedro ripped a hard grounder towards the middle of the field that Pedroia made a nice play on and threw out a lumbering Overbay at third. In the stands we debated whether it was Overbay’s fault or not; the way the ball was hit would’ve made it hard for him to see Pedroia make the play and it sure looked like it was going up the middle. I think if he were faster (say ‘Cutch or Tabata or even Walker), Pedroia wouldn’t have even thought of throwing to third. He nicely illustrated on that play why I thought it was awfully fitting that the autocorrect on my phone nicknamed him Lyle Overhaul. I kind of like that nickname.
But the Pirates kept chipping away at Beckett. Matt Diaz, who looked really, really fooled on a couple of breaking pitches, singled (Me after a bad swing: This is why Diaz doesn’t play against righties. Diaz singles up the middle while my dad and uncle laugh at me). But after a two-out Dusty Brown single loaded the bases, Kevin Correia added his second hit of the game and the Red Sox reserves threw thew the ball around
Little Leaguers and everyone scored and Correia ended up on third. This is him puffing his way into third while the throw from the right field corner approaches.
It was a bad throw. He was safe.
Speaking of Correia, he had what I’d call a spotty but encouraging start yesterday. When we got to our seats after the top of the first, my uncle told me that the Sox had hit some rockets off of him in the top of the inning, but from the second through the fourth inning he pretty much cruised. He seemed to be mixing up speeds well to get some strikeouts. Actually, all four of his K’s came against players that should be big leaguers this year (Cameron, Scutaro, Saltalamacchia, and Youkilis) and not the fringe guys that played much of the game yesterday. He also did a great job keeping the ball on the ground, getting seven ground outs with just three flyouts.
He definitely ran out of gas in the fifth inning, though. He got hit hard and all three of the flyouts he gave up came in that inning. I was walking around in desperate search of food at this point and took these two pictures in quick succession from behind the plate. Hopefully we don’t see much of this in the coming season.
All in all, though, I thought Correia looked good. Definitely better than he did in the early spring.
After Correia pitched, Joel Hanrahan pitched a nice, easy inning in which he kept the bottom of the Red Sox order (guys like Josh Reddick and Nava) swinging all over themselves while he changed speeds. He didn’t face the main part of the Sox order, but he still looked good.
After Hanrahan pitched, the Pirates brought in the line change. Steve Pearce (at third), Josh Rodriguez (at short), Pedro Ciriaco, and Andy Marte moved into the infield while John Bowker, Corey Wimberly, and Josh Fields went into the outfield. Not that it’s worth much, but Pearce just looks more like a guy that should be on a big league roster than Fields or Marte, who are both pretty big around the middle. Marte kind of looks the way Pirate fans think Pedro Alvarez looks. Pedro, as you can kind of see in the pic above, looks more or less like he did last year. I think he might even be a touch trimmer. Here are Justin Thomas (who didn’t pitch well at all, not that that would be news), Pearce, and Josh Rodriguez:
And Ciriaco and Marte.
And here’s Corey Wimberly, with first base coach Luis Silverio included as reference because damn, Wimberly is short. Awesome stirrups, though.
In the bottom of the seventh, I looked in the outfield and saw this:
Two batters later, John Bowker got a hold of a ball and let the wind do the rest, which ran the Pirates’ lead back up to three runs. Bowker definitely still has a bit of a funny swing and I don’t really know how it generates power, but he’s getting results this spring and I’ll continue to maintain that it’d be a shame to lose him on waviers. Anyways, here’s the follow through on the home run swing.
Look at how quick his hand came off the bat! Seriously, how did that swing put the ball over the fence? It might’ve been windier than I realized.
That three run lead was plenty for Fernando Nieve, who pitched the final two innings against what I believe may have been the Lollipop Guild (none of the first three hitters the Red Sox trotted out in the ninth are listed at taller than 5’10”). And after going 0-for-4 last year in my first spring training trip, I finally saw the Pirates win a game:
Solid win, a nice outing from Correia, and some good swings against Beckett who otherwise seemed to be pitching well. Hard to ask for more. I’ve got more pictures to put up from yesterday, but they’ll have to wait until later because it’s 80 and sunny out and I’m done sitting in the hotel for now.
Bonus observation: I’m not sure if you could see this watching the game on TV, but Frank Coonelly spent almost the whole game sitting right behind home plate, talking to fans, shaking hands, etc. He was there until the end, too, even after the reserves were in.