ShareThis Page

Spring training blooms with experimentation for Pirates pitchers

| Saturday, March 16, 2013, 11:37 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher James McDonald talks with catcher Michael McKenry and pitching coach Ray Searage between innings against the Orioles on March 1, 2013, in Sarasota, Fla. McDonald, who was working only on his fast balls, gave up three home runs in the game. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

BRADENTON, Fla. — Spring training is a time for players to experiment, but it isn't always easy to set aside competition and settle for the sometimes undesirable results.

“Sometimes it'll take over, and you'll get a little mad,” pitcher James McDonald said. “When I'm up there and all my pitches aren't as sharp, you get a little frustrated, but you have to think, ‘I have to prepare for a job.' Regardless of the situation, I've got to get the feel of something on the mound and get in the groove. You have to be smart about it. But deep down inside, you're gritting your teeth sometimes.”

McDonald threw only two sliders in a recent four-inning outing against Baltimore while working on the feel of his lesser-used changeup. He still allowed just one hit.

In A.J. Burnett's first outing of the spring, he wasn't throwing any curveballs, then used the pitch on a limited basis in his second game. The right-hander walked in a pair of runs and was unhappy about his struggles to deliver first-pitch strikes in an outing of 1 13 innings that pushed his ERA to 13.50. After the game, Burnett said that even though he was where he needed to be at that point in spring, he still wanted to do well and get decent results.

And sometimes it isn't the pitches that cause problems.

The Pirates have been preaching the running game all spring, and catcher Russell Martin suspected that when Gerrit Cole fell behind Baltimore's Ryan Flaherty before dealing a home run pitch, it was because Cole was worried too much about Manny Machado, his first baserunner of the game, on first.

Pitching coach Ray Searage said that if he sees an alteration or believes a pitcher's stuff would be enhanced if he incorporated a new pitch in certain situations, spring is the time to test it. Still, encouraging players to work on a weaker pitch or try a new sequence sometimes requires a certain touch.

“They're trying to make an impression and trying to make the team,” Searage said. “Obviously the stuff we're working on with some guys is new, and we don't want to set them up for failure. We want them to succeed.”

Searage said he seldom tells a pitcher he can't throw his best pitch, unless it's someone whose roster spot isn't in question.

“Then I'll say, ‘Hey, let's get this going today and see what happens with it,' ” Searage said. “Usually what it all comes back to is that fastball with good location, down in the zone, in or out or whatever the case may be. That's usually everybody's go-to pitch.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.