BRADENTON, Fla. -- Did Pirates manager Clint Hurdle sneak his Opening Day lineup -- minus one temporarily sidelined starter -- on the McKechnie Field diamond for Wednesday's exhibition against Toronto? If he did, it was certainly accidental and circumstantial. The 8-6 loss to the Blue Jays was merely the Bucs' fifth game of 31 preseason contests. So many camp decisions still have to be made, with plenty of time to make them. Nevertheless, the lineup that jumped Kyle Drabek for an early 4-0 lead could be what PNC Park fans see on April 5: Alex Presley, Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata in the outfield; third baseman Pedro Alvarez, shortstop Clint Barmes and first baseman Garrett Jones -- a likely Opening Day choice with right-hander Roy Halladay starting for the Phillies.
The only variable could be at second, where Neil Walker rested a tight lower back and was replaced by Josh Harrison (who went 2-for-2), and the battery.Jeff Karstens, who threw shutout ball in becoming the first Pittsburgh pitcher to go three innings, is under consideration for the assignment. A strong spring following up his strong second half would make him a deserving candidate. And if Karstens is pitching, Michael McKenry will be catching him. Karstens' solid pitching down the stretch coincided with the mid-June arrival of McKenry in a trade with Boston. In the 10 starts caught by McKenry, Karstens had an ERA of 2.63. "He really buys into the idea a pitcher has for his game plan," Karstens said. "And he really cares. He has a deep passion for the game. He cares about each and every guy who goes out there, and that's beneficial for the entire pitching staff."