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Pirates notebook: Hurdle picks Liriano to start Opening Day

| Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, 2:06 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates outfielders Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte prepare to take batting practice Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen smiles as he catches a ball during the first full-squad workout Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates outfielder Gregory Polanco takes batting practice with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte during a first full-squad workout Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Left-hander Francisco Liriano will be the Pirates' Opening Day starter March 31 against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park.

It's no surprise manager Clint Hurdle selected Liriano. Last year's Opening Day starter, A.J. Burnett, signed last week with the Philadelphia Phillies. Gerrit Cole has less than a full season's experience. Edinson Volquez is a newcomer, and Charlie Morton has not yet done enough to deserve the honor.

Liriano, 30, spent last spring rehabbing from a broken right arm and did not make his Pirates debut until May 11. He ended the season with a 16-8 record and 3.02 ERA. He finished ninth in Cy Young voting and was named NL Comeback Player of the Year.

“He's a guy who models the behavior you want to see in others,” Hurdle said. “He's a man you can depend on. Many times I've shared with these players the greatest ability you can have, day in and day out, is your dependability. We have that in Francisco.”

Hurdle revealed he had chosen Liriano during a team meeting Tuesday morning, but the decision was not made public until that afternoon after the first full-squad workout. By then, Liriano already had left the spring training complex.

This will be Liriano's second career Opening Day assignment. He opened the 2009 season for the Minnesota Twins and gave up four runs in seven innings in a 6-1 loss against the Seattle Mariners.

Sneak peek

The highlight of Tuesday's drills was seeing the dream outfield — Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco — work together in batting practice and shagging fly balls.

Spring training probably will be the only time all three are on the same field until at least mid-June. Polanco, the club's top prospect, is expected to begin the season at Triple-A Indianapolis.

“I can't wait to see what Polanco does in spring training,” McCutchen said. “Every time you read up on him, it seems he's done something well. He already has the physical part down. Now it's just going out and doing it.”

Grilli update

Jason Grilli worked out in the secondary bullpen, which is behind a screen and out of sight from fans and most other observers. The 37-year-old closer's routine has more time off from mound work built into it to reduce wear and tear.

“He threw off the slope: five (pitches) from flat ground and 15 from up on the mound,” Hurdle said. “He felt good to go, so we'll add to that moving forward.”

Because he played in the World Baseball Classic, Grilli pitched in just six Grapefruit League games for the Pirates last spring. Hurdle said Grilli will get more action than that this year but did not elaborate.

Around the horn

Infielder Josh Harrison arrived in Florida on Tuesday afternoon and missed the day's workout at Pirate City. Harrison was allowed to report late; his wife delivered a baby girl a few days ago. “We wanted to give him extra time to get his family settled and situated,” Hurdle said. ... Owner Bob Nutting was scheduled to arrive in Bradenton on Tuesday night and will give his annual address to the team Wednesday morning. ... Right fielder Travis Snider was unable to swing a bat in workouts because he recently sliced a finger on his left hand while chopping sweet potatoes. The finger is bandaged, and Snider will be limited to shagging flies until it heals.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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