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Pirates notebook: Watson's rough spring continues against Blue Jays

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, March 19, 2017, 6:51 p.m.
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli talks with closer Tony Watson during a game against the Blue Jays Sunday, March 19, 2017, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli talks with closer Tony Watson during a game against the Blue Jays Sunday, March 19, 2017, at LECOM Park in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Pirates closer Tony Watson was hit hard in an abbreviated outing Sunday in an 11-11 tie against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Watson gave up five runs on three hits, walked two and struck out one. He retired just two batters before being lifted.

“The overall execution (was lacking), and the balls were elevated,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Without having the consistency of keeping the ball down, it was a challenge for him.”

It was Watson's first game action since March 10, when the left-hander tossed a scoreless inning against the Tampa Bay Rays.

In five outings (41⁄3 innings), Watson has allowed eight runs on eight hits (16.62 ERA) with three walks and six strikeouts.

Watson was held out of Grapefruit League games in order to free up innings for other pitchers. That didn't mean he was inactive.

“He's done a lot of work, actually,” Hurdle said. “There were 61 pitches thrown between his two (Grapefruit League) outings, so there was work done.”

Watson pitched in a minor league game Thursday and also had a 32-pitch “touch-and-feel” side session.

Cole chasing stars

After hitting a two-run single in the fourth, Gerrit Cole showed good hustle when he went to second on a wild pitch.

“It's called a dirtball read,” Hurdle said with a grin.

The ball rolled a couple of feet away from catcher Mike Ohlman, who got off a quick throw to second base. However, the throw was high, and Jake Elmore's tag was an instant too late.

“I'm not chasing stolen bags. I'm chasing stars,” Cole said. “What we say in here is the fastest way to a star is get 90 feet.”

The coaches dole out Stargell stars for exceptional plays. Cole's smarts and speed might have earned him a reward from baserunning coach Kimera Bartee on Monday morning.

“KB is real generous with the stars,” Cole said. “So, I'm hoping I can get my first one tomorrow.”

Marte gimpy

Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are expected to rejoin the Pirates on Tuesday after their Dominican Republic team was ousted from the World Baseball Classic.

Marte's playing time in the WBC was curtailed by a sprained right ankle, which he injured March 8 during an exhibition game against the Pirates. Marte played in just three of the DR's six games and batted .250 (3 for 12) with one homer.

“It's going to be something that takes time,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “We've been in contact with the medical staff out there about his ankle. They've done a great job of giving him rest when he needs rest. We've appreciated how Tony (Pena, DR manager) and their medical staff handled it.”

Rotation plans developing

With only a limited need for a fifth starter in April, the Pirates might break camp with four starting pitchers and carry either an extra bench player or reliever.

The Pirates are not scheduled to play April 4, 13, 20 and 27, but they have just one open date (May 15) in a 34-day span from April 28 to May 31.

“We've talked about how we maximize the rotation out of the gate,” Huntington said. “How aggressive do we want to be with these guys every fifth day so early in the season, given the odd schedule we have? Part of it will be based on who we decide is going to be the last starter, how much of a stranglehold he has on that spot and also matchups from there on out.”

Management has not ruled out going north with a five-man rotation.

“We're still working through exactly who's going to be there and how we structure it,” Huntington said.

Kang update

As he waits for a work visa to enter the United States, Jung Ho Kang continues to work out by running, lifting weights and swinging in a batting cage. He has not yet faced live pitching.

“He's going to need a spring training, (although) probably not as long as spring training typically is,” Huntington said. “We can set up some (simulated) games, we can set up a lot of at-bats for him in a short period of time. But it's hard to say until we get him here.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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