As I made my way to spring training on Sunday night, I tried to figure out the Pirates' rotation for this week. My main hope was to see Gerrit Cole in person, though I figured that might be a long shot given the late date in the spring and the fact that Cole had just pitched the day before. I was right about that; before I even made it to McKechnie field on Monday, Cole was demoted to minor league camp. My second main goal was to avoid having to see Jonathan Sanchez pitch. I realized pretty quickly that I was going to fail in that goal, too, and by Monday afternoon we'd fired out that Cole would be pitching on Thursday night in Sarasota.
That's a mean thing to say about Jonathan Sanchez, who is still a fairly talented pitcher and certainly someone who should get the second chance the Pirates are giving him. What bothers me about Sanchez is more the idea of Sanchez arguably being the front-runner for the Pirates' fifth rotation spot on March 22nd and what that says about the 2013 Pirates. Sanchez's career with San Francisco was a spotted one; he always struck out a ton of guys, he always walked a lot of hitters, and the one year when his BABIP and hits allowed dropped, he was pretty excellent. Since that 2010 season, though, his walks have skyrocketed even further and in 2012, his strikeouts and velocity dipped and his homers allowed spiked. He was arguably the worst pitcher on two different 90-loss teams last year.
Which is to say that if the Pirates watched him throw over the winter, decided his mechanics were back in line and his velocity seemed OK and wanted to give him a minor league invite with the idea that maybe he'd go to Indianapolis and work his way back to the bigs as a LOOGY, well, that'd be OK. With Kyle McPherson having a disastrous spring, Jeff Karstens still nursing a sore shoulder, and no word on Francisco Liriano, though, that's not what the Pirates are asking out of Jonathan Sanchez. The Pirates suddenly need Jonathan Sanchez to not suck, because they need a fifth starter. This should alarm Pirate fans: the Pirates are supposed to be either on the verge of or one year away from their first winning season in 20 years, and they might have Jonathan Sanchez on the Opening Day roster after his combined -1.8 WAR season last year. That they are in this position is a pretty bad sign, in my eyes.
All of those things being said, Jonathan Sanchez was pretty impressive on the mound tonight. The control problems that plagued him on the mound earlier this spring were completely invisible. He only walked one Oriole in five innings of work, and to my memory he didn't have a ton of deep counts. He got four strikeotus and made a couple of hitters look silly with his slider, as Jonathan Sanchez is wont to do. The gun at Ed Smith Stadium seemed a bit unreliable, but fastball was sitting at 90-91, which is about where it was when he was a decent pitcher for the Giants. Other than two hard-hit singles by Manny Machado, Sanchez shut down an Oriole lineup that contained a lot of regular players. If 2012 had never happened, I'd feel pretty OK about all of this.
2012 happened. I'm pretty concerned about all of this.
Jonathan Sanchez was not the only thing that happened in this game, though it did end in a 0-0 tie and so it's probably true that Sanchez is the only thing much worth talking about. Starling Marte lead off the game with a double and absolutely blistered a line drive straight down the third base line in the ninth with Jose Tabata on second base, but our old friend Yamaico Navarro was perfectly positioned at third base and speared the liner. Marte also drew a walk and made a nice catch in deep left field. Travis Snider drew two walks and had a single and a "double" (by which I mean he hit a sinking line drive that practically hit Lew Ford in the face after Ford lost the ball in the lights). Alex Presley and Jose Tabata combined on a #Hurdled event in the top of the ninth, when Presley got hung up between second and first on a stolen base attempt that seemed like it was probably a missed hit-and-run sign. The Pirates went to Sarasota with their actual starting lineup (plus Brad Hawpe at DH, for some reason) and most of their starters played most of the game (Andrew McCutchen came out in the fifth or sixth, but everyone else played until the eighth or ninth) and failed to score.
The one other thing from this one worth talking about is that Justin Wilson was awfully impressive in his two innings of relief. He popped the gun at 94-96 pretty consistently in his first inning, and the Orioles just couldn't catch up with his heat. The velocity dipped some in his second inning of work, but I still thought he was impressive on the whole and want to see him in the Pirates' bullpen this year.
We had pretty good seats down the third base line. I didn't get many pictures once the game started since it got dark quickly, but the Pirates did stretch and warm up right in front of our seats and I feel like it wouldn't be a spring training post if I didn't put some pictures in here:
Garrett Jones takes a lot of pre-game practice swings on the field during spring training. I'm pretty sure this has been going on for three or four years now, because I feel like I always see him (and always only him) taking pre-game practice swings on the field.
I nominate "Starling Marte Being a Good Hitter" as the most important thing that can happen to the Pirates from a non-pitching perspective this year.
These three spent a bunch of time in shallow center field talking to an Oriole. I figure it must've been an ex-Pirate Oriole since there are about a million of them. I can't be 100% sure of who it was, but I think it was Steve Pearce. After that, McCutchen joined them out there, then Adam Jones came over to say hi to 'Cutch. I know I put on the "dispassionate statistically oriented grump" facade quite a bit, but that last part was awfully cool.
This is a less-good picture of the Three Amigos, but I included it so that you can see Starling Marte and Manny Machado having a conversation in the background, which I thought was cool to see. I'm not exactly going out on a limb with this statement or anything, but holy crap is Manny Machado going to be awesome. I like Jameson Taillon and I understand why the Pirates picked him instead of Machado and I think that Taillon might have a big breakout year in front of him, but I'll say again that Manny Machado going to be awesome.
"How about we go for 70 combined homers this year?" "OK."