Spring training is like this: on Thursday night you see the entire Pirate starting line up in Sarasota and you get excited about it, until you realize that you also have tickets for Friday's game and Friday's game is starting in 15 hours and there's no way that any of those players you just watched are going to be playing on Friday. This is the story of Friday's game.
Jeanmar Gomez started for the Pirates today. Jeanmar Gomez is the guy that's fallen behind Jonathan Sanchez in the race for the Pirates' fifth rotation spot. In the field behind him was Gaby Sanchez, Jordy Mercer, John McDonald, Josh Harrison, Jose Tabata, Alex Presley, Felix Pie, and Mike McKenry. In the stands, we briefly considered how nice it was knowing that this was the Pirates B-squad. The Pirates have definitely put starting lineups on the field worse than today's B-squad in the last decade and I don't mean that as a compliment to today's starting lineup.
Not That J-Mac, Jose Tabata, and Josh Harrison. Feel the excitement!
Gomez was OK today. The Rays had a typical spring training lineup that had a handful of regulars mixed in with some faces familiar to me as the guy that sees the Durham Bulls play a lot. Gomez got into a lot of trouble in the first and ducked out of it only allowing one run when Ryan Roberts ran into an out at third base. Other than that, the Rays squared up a few balls, but Gomez mostly kept the ball on the ground (he induced seven ground outs and just two flyouts) and didn't give up many hits after the second. Of course, he only made it through four innings and he never really wowed at any point, but he did do about the best you can hope Jeanmar Gomez to do.
Gomez left the game after four innings with a lead, though, thanks to a Felix Pie RBI double in the third inning (it came seconds after I said to my uncle, "I think Pie has played more than any other Pirate this week, and I don't think I've seen him hit a ball hard even once), then a rare Hurdling that worked out to the benefit of the Pirates in the fourth.
Seriously. Mike McKenry and Josh Harrison lead the inning off with perfectly placed singles. Jordy Mercer stepped up to the plate with John McDonald and the nine spot due up, and promptly squared around to bunt the runners over. The wasted out didn't matter since McDonald singled and Garrett Jones stepped up to hit a pinch-hit sac fly, but I was still pretty unamused by the whole thing.
I caught a Hurdling in its natural element!
Jason Grilli came in and cruised through an easy fifth and so I was hoping to end my spring training trip with a nice, easy round of "the Pirates' bullpen dominates the Rays' scrubs." Then Mike Zagurski came in. I've seen a bit of speculation that Zagurski was going to make the roster based on his being a lefty that's still throwing with the team this late in the spring, but man, he was terrible today. He got absolutely lit up by the Rays, with no abilty to throw the ball by anyone on the Tampa Bay roster. In quick succession he gave up a homer to Ben Zobrist, a single to Matt Joyce, a double to Luke Scott, then walked Shelly Duncan, then gave up a double to Chris Giminez. It looked like he was going to have to suffer the ignominy of getting pulled from a spring training game when Jordy Mercer made a really heads up play that turned what looked like a 4U groundout into a crazy 4-6-2 double play that ended the inning.
The Pirates then pulled almost everyone, and by the top of the eighth there wasn't one Pirate in the field that had a name on his back except for Mercer and Lucas May. If you haven't been to spring training, the guys without names on their backs are minor leaguers that aren't on the 40-man roster or have an NRI. Usually at McKechnie you'll see one nameless guy in an afternoon who's being rewarded for solid play. Today we saw (deep breath) Alex Dickerson, Jarek Cunningham, Junior Sosa, Stefan Welch, Jeff Larish, and Brett Carroll. All at once.
I was curious to watch Alex Dickerson. He was like a modern version of Dr. Strangeglove at first base today. It was not pretty.
Cunningham is still a little intriguing, too, but last year was ROUGH for him. He's skinnier than I expected.
At the point of the mass substitution, we all pretty much gave up any hope of a Pirate comeback. Which was fine, because this is how spring training works. Dickerson and Cunningham (the two out of that huge mess of players that I was interested in seeing) struck out in the seventh, then Sosa struck out and Carroll popped out to start the eighth. At that point, things flipped like a light switch. Jeff Larish bombed a double and May drew a walk. The Rays decided to change pitchers mid-inning (for the second time in a spring training game!). Someone named Kirby Something came in, and promptly served up a monster three-run homer to Stefan Welch on the very first pitch.
Stefan Welch, if you were unaware, is an Australian utility man who's been in the Mets' system most of his career, who's never gotten above Double-A, and who played for Australia's WBC team. This is spring training.
STEFAN WELCH, TRIUMPHANT!
– Jared Hughes and Mark Melancon both pitched well today.
– Jordy Mercer looked really slick at second base and shortstop today. He made a few heads up plays and was constantly positioned well. I will continue to not understand why Jordy Mercer isn't an acceptable backup infielder.
– Tim Alderson closed the win out (though not without trouble), and his motion looks really awkward and uncomfortable for such a big guy.
– On the assumption that Jeff Karstens starts the season on the DL (which isn't something that I've seen anyone say, but is a conclusion that I find hard to avoid with him not pitching a Grapefruit League game yet), I suppose I'm going to sit down and think about this Jeanmar Gomez/Jonathan Sanchez thing. I'm not really all that happy about it.
– And finally, Clint Hurdle was looking particularly Grimace-y today:
I'm heading back to Chapel Hill tomorrow and will decompress for a couple of days. Full-on season preview mode will begin on Monday.