Cleanup in Aisle 4: Pirates point to Walker

Cleanup in Aisle 4: Pirates point to Walker

In the days leading up to Opening Day, MLB.com is examining various aspects of each team's roster. Today, the time has come to focus on a key number for the upcoming season. For the Pirates, it's 4, as in the cleanup spot in the lineup.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The 2014 Pirates were terrific offensive tablesetters. They led the National League by drawing 520 walks and supplemented that by ranking third in hits with 1,436.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Liriano happy to be healthy after strong spring

Liriano happy to be healthy after strong spring

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Francisco Liriano came within two outs of a flawless spring. As far as the Pirates' Opening Day starter is concerned, however, his preseason remained perfect.

With one out in his third and final inning of Wednesday night's game, Liriano surrendered a solo home run to the Orioles' Everth Cabrera -- the only run off the left-hander in 12 Grapefruit League innings.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Alvarez continues to show comfort with first base

Alvarez continues to show comfort with first base

SARASOTA, Fla. -- In Wednesday night's 3-3 tie with the Orioles, Pedro Alvarez continued to essentially mock the pre-Spring Training public angst over how he would take to first base. He has put his best footwork forward, has made all the right decisions and routine plays -- and on Wednesday came up with a pair of great ones.

Both saved a run. In the first, with a runner on second, he dove to smother Chris Davis' smash into the hole and tossed to Francisco Liriano covering first for the third out.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Liriano preps for opener, Alvarez homers against O's

Liriano preps for opener, Alvarez homers against O's

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Everth Cabrera tripled in a run in the seventh and scored on next batter Alejandro De Aza's pinch-hit single to give the Orioles their first lead before the Pirates rallied in the eighth to force a 3-3 tie in a 10-inning Grapefruit League contest Wednesday night.

Pittsburgh Opening Day starter Francisco Liriano and Baltimore counterpart Chris Tillman faced off, both looking sharp. Tillman allowed three hits in five innings, one of them Pedro Alvarez's two-run homer in the second. Liriano surrendered a solo homer by Cabrera in the third, the lefty's final inning of work before yielding to Gerrit Cole, who tossed three shutout innings.

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Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter @britt_ghiroli. Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

With eye on big league return, Richard stays with Pirates

Veteran left-hander chooses not to exercise opt-out clause in contract

With eye on big league return, Richard stays with Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Veteran pitcher Clayton Richard declined to exercise the opt-out clause in his Minor League contract with the Pirates and will continue to work toward a Major League return in Florida.

The deal agreed upon Dec. 3 gave Richard, 31, the right to request his release from the Bucs if the club did not add him to its 40-man roster by March 31.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Locke, Worley OK with Bucs' fifth-starter decision

Lefty gets last rotation spot, but both pitchers ready to contribute wherever necessary

Locke, Worley OK with Bucs' fifth-starter decision

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said last week the Bucs couldn't make a bad decision when picking their fifth starter. The only difference, he said, is that one pitcher would wind up happier than the other.

That pitcher turned out to be left-hander Jeff Locke, who beat out right-hander Vance Worley for the final spot in the rotation on Monday. Worley will open the season in the bullpen, and Locke will make his first start April 10 in Milwaukee.

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Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Show time: Pirates depending on promising Polanco

After dedicated offseason regimen, OF ready to shake off rookie season and fulfill potential

Show time: Pirates depending on promising Polanco

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The public and the media, both national and local, clamored for him the first two months of the 2014 season, practically demanding that Gregory Polanco lose his Triple-A training wheels and join the Pirates. In mid-June, Polanco answered the clamor and raised the noise with a big league debut unlike any other in the Pirates' 127-year team history.

And after the introductory 11-game hitting streak, he gradually faded, then completely disappeared, hitting .103 in his last 34 games, starting only four of the team's last 37 games.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Cervelli's home run drives Bucs, backs Worley

Catcher's two-run shot propels Pirates' offense vs. Tigers

Cervelli's home run drives Bucs, backs Worley

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Pirates roughed up David Price in his final Spring Training tuneup before Opening Day, following a four-run fourth inning with a three-run sixth on their way to a 7-3 win over the Tigers on Tuesday afternoon at Joker Marchant Stadium.

Like his previous start, Price maneuvered through the opposing batting order unscathed his first time, allowing only one ball out of the infield while striking out three. Once Jordy Mercer broke up the perfect outing with a leadoff single to left in the fourth, the Pirates broke out their second trip through the order.

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Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

A comedian predicted John Holdzkom's MLB debut

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A comedian predicted John Holdzkom's MLB debut

Two and a half years ago, John Holdzkom was a former fourth-round draft pick and Minor League pitcher with time on his hands. So he did what any 20-something would do: He called into a podcast recording.

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Prospect Tucker soaks in big league experience

Shortstop plays three innings in Bucs' win over Tigers

Prospect Tucker soaks in big league experience

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Last August, you could have found Cole Tucker playing at Tigertown, inhabiting the back fields along with his Gulf Coast League teammates.

Tucker will be back at Joker Marchant Stadium eventually as part of the Pirates' Florida State League affiliate. But first, the 18-year-old shortstop got a taste there of life in the big leagues.

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Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

With 'pen filling up, Bucs option Holdzkom, Scahill

Club also reassigns Wood as one open spot remains on big league club

With 'pen filling up, Bucs option Holdzkom, Scahill

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates' bullpen picture came into sharper focus on Tuesday morning, when right-handers John Holdzkom and Rob Scahill were optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis and Blake Wood was reassigned to the Minor League camp.

Those moves left eight men -- including only one other reliever (Jared Hughes) with a remaining Minor League option -- for a bullpen that has seven seats.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Locke earns last remaining rotation spot, Worley to 'pen

Decision challenging for manager Hurdle; both pitchers likely to get starts

Locke earns last remaining rotation spot, Worley to 'pen

BRADENTON, Fla. -- In the past two seasons, Jeff Locke has stepped up when the Pirates needed him -- and also cordially and helpfully stepped down when they did not.

Recognizing, and rewarding, that ethic played a part in Locke getting the one open spot in the Bucs' starting rotation, as revealed Monday by manager Clint Hurdle.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Alvarez's grand slam caps homer-filled McKechnie finale

First baseman's shot one of six home runs by Bucs in final spring home game

Alvarez's grand slam caps homer-filled McKechnie finale

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Starling Marte, Tony Sanchez, Pedro Florimon and Pedro Alvarez hit two-run homers, Josh Harrison added a solo job and Alvarez capped the homers with a grand slam Monday as the Pirates downed the Phillies, 18-4, in the Bucs' final Grapefruit League home game, which was marred by a benches-clearing fracas.

A punches-free altercation was sparked by Sean Rodriguez's displeasure at being quick-pitched by Phillies right-hander Kevin Slowey in the fourth inning. Coaches Juan Samuel of the Phillies and Rick Sofield of the Pirates were ejected during the disturbance. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle drew a later thumb from plate umpire Chad Fairchild for arguing balls and strikes.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tomlin wants Cutch, Jared Hughes on the Steelers

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Tomlin wants Cutch, Jared Hughes on the Steelers

What seemed like an innocent visit by Mike Tomlin to Pirates Spring Training on Monday may have actually had ulterior motives.

In the above video, you can hear the Steelers head coach talking about how the Buccos changed the culture of baseball in Pittsburgh over the past few years and why he supports them. But then, Tomlin begins talking about specific players. Only then do we find out why he's really at McKechnie Field.

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Hurdle: Bucs to bring 'pack mentality' to new season

Pirates manager confident in depth as team sheds underdog status in pursuit of division title

Hurdle: Bucs to bring 'pack mentality' to new season

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Approaching his fifth season as Pirates manager, Clint Hurdle took time out of a typically busy Spring Training day to wax enthusiastically about the 2015 season, and what it might hold for a team looking to take the next step.

MLB.com: As we count down the final days to Opening Day, what best sums up your feelings? Excitement, anticipation, curiosity ... apprehension?

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Sofield, Samuel ejected after benches-clearing incident

Sofield, Samuel ejected after benches-clearing incident

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The benches emptied and two coaches were ejected Monday in a game between the Pirates and Phillies that featured six Bucs homers in an 18-4 rout of Philadelphia.

Phillies right-hander Kevin Slowey delivered a fourth-inning pitch before Sean Rodriguez was set in the batter's box, and things escalated from there.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Kang breaks slump at plate with two-hit game

Second baseman's two-run homer in the ninth gives Bucs win over Braves

Kang breaks slump at plate with two-hit game

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Pirates second baseman Jung Ho Kang halted his recent woes with a two-hit performance that was highlighted by the two-run, ninth-inning home run he drilled off Michael Kohn during Sunday afternoon's 4-2 win over the Braves at Champion Stadium.

"A very, very good day at the plate for him," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said of Kang. "He stayed on a breaking ball and lined out hard, singled sharply to center, then got all of that fastball. Nothing can breed confidence like success."

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Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Cole can reach potential at perfect time for Pirates

Right-hander has shown he can be dependable down the stretch

Cole can reach potential at perfect time for Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. -- When the games have meant the most and the pressure cranked the highest, Gerrit Cole has been at his best. Isn't that what they say about the all the great ones?

OK, slow down. He's not there yet. He's 24 years old and has made just 41 career starts for the Pittsburgh Pirates these last two seasons. In ways large and small, he's still figuring things out.

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Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Kang proving himself after time in Pirate City

Bucs impressed with infielder's last eight at-bats

Kang proving himself after time in Pirate City

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Whether contractually or just congenially, the Pirates have been committed from Day 1 to having Jung Ho Kang on their season-opening 25-man roster. Korean Baseball Organization position players, as a whole, may be on trial through him. But Kang himself hasn't been on trial in Spring Training.

However, the Bucs have to be both delighted and relieved to have Kang dot some I's and cross some T's of their arrangement. And Kang put a big-time dot on a Michael Kohn pitch in the ninth inning Sunday, sending it far over Champion Stadium's left field fence for a two-run homer that gave the Bucs a 4-2 win.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Prospect Meadows excels in full nine innings vs. Braves

Outfielder triples, scores run in Bucs' Grapefruit League win

Prospect Meadows excels in full nine innings vs. Braves

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It isn't even your proverbial big league cup of coffee. A sip of decaf, maybe. To future Pirates, however, it is the nectar of their nascent careers.

Austin Meadows received the treat Sunday, starting in right field and playing the entirety of the Bucs' 4-2 Grapefruit League victory over the Braves.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Polanco hits 2nd homer in 2 days to propel Bucs

Morton allows 3 runs over 6 solid innings vs. Jays; Walker drives in 3

Polanco hits 2nd homer in 2 days to propel Bucs

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Charlie Morton put in a claim for his inclusion in Pittsburgh's season-opening rotation with six solid innings, and Gregory Polanco struck his second homer in as many days as the Pirates downed a Toronto split-squad, 8-3, in Grapefruit League play Saturday.

Morton, making his way back from Sept. 26 labrum repair surgery, still could remain in Florida for extended spring training when the Bucs break camp on April 2. But he overcame solo homers by Daric Barton and Danny Valencia to limit Toronto to three runs, allowing six hits and walking two without a strikeout. He finished strong, retiring the last nine men he faced.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Morton makes progress with effective outing

Pirates righty goes 6 innings, states case to be included in rotation

Morton makes progress with effective outing

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates' brain trust typically takes a meeting to discuss personnel decisions, with everyone from manager Clint Hurdle to general manager Neal Huntington involved. They may have to put their heads together on Charlie Morton's season-opening fate.

April 12, in Milwaukee against the Brewers? Or, held over in Florida for a little extra tuneup in extended spring training?

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Sanchez enjoying benefits of tweet-free spring

Sanchez enjoying benefits of tweet-free spring

BRADENTON, Fla. -- To baseball fans from coast to coast, it has been dramatically apparent for months that there is something different about this Tony Sanchez in the Pirates' Spring Training camp.

It hasn't been the fact that this Sanchez has lots of hits. Rather, it's the fact this Sanchez doesn't have any tweets.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Solo blasts power Pirates past Twins

Polanco, Sanchez both homer to back Locke's solid start

Solo blasts power Pirates past Twins

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Gregory Polanco and Tony Sanchez both homered to help carry the Pirates to a 4-2 win over the Twins on Friday at Hammond Stadium. The game was called in the eighth inning due to rain.

Twins right-hander Trevor May, competing for the fifth spot in the rotation, didn't help his cause by giving up seven extra-base hits in 4 2/3 innings, including the homers to Polanco and Sanchez.

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Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Locke makes case for rotation spot in close contest

Lefty competing with Worley, Morton; Bucs pleased with options

Locke makes case for rotation spot in close contest

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Often, Spring Training battles are won on default. Managers and front office executives like it that way, for "players to make the decision for us." The Pirates have certainly experienced plenty of those.

Not this one. Sorry, but Jeff Locke and Vance Worley aren't going to do anyone any favors when it comes to the contested spot in the rotation. And the Bucs couldn't be happier about it.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

In meet-and-greet, Manfred praises Pirates brass

In meet-and-greet, Manfred praises Pirates brass

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Rob Manfred stopped by Hammond Stadium on Friday to introduce himself to Twins and Pirates players, but Major League Baseball's 10th Commissioner didn't need an introduction to the braintrust that has steered the Buccos back on a winning track.

Pirates chairman Bob Nutting and club president Frank Coonelly both have worked closely in the past with Manfred, and have earned his respect.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Tabata among 12 sent to Bucs' Minor League camp

Fellow veterans Lombardozzi and Morel also slated to begin year at Triple-A

Tabata among 12 sent to Bucs' Minor League camp

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Veteran infielders Steve Lombardozzi and Brent Morel and outfielder Jose Tabata were among 11 players reassigned to Minor League camp on Friday by the Pirates, who also optioned left-hander Bobby LaFromboise to Triple-A Indianapolis.

Also reassigned to Pirate City were pitchers Deolis Guerra, Brad Lincoln, Charlie Leesman and Josh Wall, infielders Gustavo Nunez and Delbinson Romero, outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and catcher Sebastian Valle.

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Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Harrison, Walker homer as Bucs rally, then fall to Braves

Worley settles in after five-run first, retiring 13 straight in one stretch

Harrison, Walker homer as Bucs rally, then fall to Braves

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Braves jumped out to a big lead in the first inning and beat the Pirates, 7-5, on Thursday afternoon at McKechnie Field.

After the Pirates chipped away at a five-run deficit and eventually tied the game at 5 in the eighth inning, Jonny Gomes led off the ninth with his first Braves homer, a blast to left field off lefty Clayton Richard. Later in the inning, Jesus Flores singled home Chris Johnson to make it 7-5.

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Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.