Without an early morning flight, I was able to get into Bradenton and to McKechnie about a half hour before the first pitch of today's Pirates/Twins game, which meant that were were there in plenty of time to both see some of the Pirates in the batting cage, then watch the players as they wander out onto the field and stretch, sign autographs, and horse around with each other while getting ready for the first pitch. That's maybe my favorite part of these spring training games; these are Major League players with a decidedly minor league atmosphere, which puts you closer to the field and the general revelry.
The only player in the cage when I got there was Garrett Jones, who seemed to be working on balance and timing with Jeff Branson. I didn't even know Jones was going to play in the game at the time, but I'll go out of my way to point out that THAT FIRST SENTENCE WAS FORESHADOWING a later part of this post. Not an important part or anything, just that I'll be getting back to it.
I headed up towards the field and within a couple of minutes, the first two Pirates headed out to stretch. They were Neil Walker and Andrew McCutchen, who sent the autograph seekers crazy. Walker signed a few programs and such before moving on, but 'Cutch spent a good ten minutes with the fans signing.
That's not to judge anyone else (I don't know how long other players took because I headed a bit further down to get a better line of sight with my camera), just to note that 'Cutch spent plenty of time signing autographs today when he didn't have to.
Anyway, it's time for the "Various Pirates Stretching!" montage! Let's start with Pedro Alvarez:
And the one and only Bill Virdon among a crowd of current Pirates:
Here's Clint Hurdle and his staff heading towards the dugout, which in my mind was set to the same music as Oren Ishii and the Crazy 88 arriving at the House of Blue Leaves in Kill Bill Volume 1.
And here's Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker in one of those "Future of the Pirates and I hope that's a good thing" pictures of Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez.
Jose Tabata (who didn't play today) and Andy Marte make their entrance.
Onto the game (I have more pictures, but I don't want to overload this post, they'll go in a later post or maybe a Picasa album or something). Paul Maholm started and he made it through six innings, but he didn't really look all that great and the boxscore (which shows nine hits and two walks in six innings) doesn't really even tell the full story. Of those nine hits, five came from the bats of Denard Span, Joe Mauer and Delmon Young, who were the only three regulars that the Twins started today. Mauer and Young in particular just teed off on Maholm today. If not for a nicely timed double play in the fifth, it coud've been a disaster. It was just spring training, but still, I wasn't terribly impressed.
The bright side of things was that the Pirates did play some nice defense behind Maholm. Check out Lyle Overbay's awesome $5 million form fielding a grounder.
And here's Neil Walker making a nice play at second. He also had a really slick double play turn.
On offense, things were equally unimpressive. Well, I do like this quick succession of pictures I took of McCutchen and Walker swinging in the on-deck circle before the game.
Both of them had nice days; McCutchen had a hit and worked a few counts deep while Walker hit a couple of balls right on the nose and had a double. That was a full third of the Pirates' hits today, though, with Bowker and Pearce chipping in one each and the catching tandem of Jaramillo and Brown also chipping in one.
Pedro Alvarez looked particular terrible. He was way off balance both times up. His first at bat against Brian Duensing, he was way, way ahead of Duensing's offspeed stuff.
The next time up, he just stood there watching Duensing's fastballs with his bat on his shoulder.
What really alarmed me was the venom that the crowd seemed to have for Pedro. After his second strikeout, the Pirate fans behind me, beside me, and in front of me wrote off his entire Major League career as a bust and seemed incredulous that the Pirates were considering bringing him north with the team this year. I believe someone called him a turd muffin (OK, that was the drunk 25-year old local girl behind me). Meanwhile on the way home, I checked my phone and found a tweet from Colin Dunlap reporting that Pedro Alvarez stayed at McKechnie way late after the game with Clint Hurdle taking BP (Dunlap has more at the PBC Blog). Every time I see Pedro, he seems nice and respectful and he seems to always be working hard (I don't know if it's apparent from any of my pictures, but he's not bigger than he was last year and if anything, he's maybe a bit trimmer with some more muscle), and Pirate fans act like he's Jabba the Hutt. I don't get it.
Garrett Jones, who came into the game in the seventh inning, also looked just way out of sorts. I can't even find his bat in this picture. I think his wrists broke early and hands are way, way ahead of the rest of his body. And also, the ball is already in Joe Mauer's glove. Like I said, his timing was way off.
Things weren't all bad, though. Jose Veras pitched and pitched pretty well in his one inning. He throws hard, as advertised, but really, really mixed Joe Mauer up with some off-speed stuff. Mauer looked like he was taking batting practice against Maholm, but Veras completely crossed him up and struck him out. His motion is pretty jerky and looks awfully uncomfortable, though.
Garrett Olson threw well, too. There was no gun at McKechnie today, but it seemed like he was popping the glove pretty nicely and he had an easy 1-2-3 inning. As you can see below, he has a beard, which means he's A-OK in my book.
The only other thing that stands out fromt his one was Starling Marte getting an at-bat and nearly legging out an infield hit. Shelby Ford and Anthony Claggett were there too, but meh.
Of course it's spring training and so nothing that happened today is necessarily a huge deal, but Brian Duensing didn't seem overly impressive on the mound and he pretty much mowed the Pirates down for five innings. And Maholm's line wasn't terrible, but it sure seemed like if he was facing the entire Twins' lineup he would've maybe lasted 2 2/3 innings and gave up three times as many runs. If this game had happened in July, we'd all be rolling our eyes and saying, "Same Old Pirates."
Thankfully, it's still March.