Pirates notebook: Hurdle sets up spring pitching

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, 6:12 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Opening Day starter Francisco Liriano also will get the ball for the Pirates on Wednesday in their Grapefruit League opener.

Liriano is scheduled to pitch the first inning against the New York Yankees at McKechnie Field. Also set to pitch are Edinson Volquez, Jeanmar Gomez, Vin Mazzaro, Bryan Morris, Jared Hughes, Duke Welker, Josh Kinney and Adam Wilk.

Thursday, Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke are slated to go two innings apiece against the Yankees in Tampa. Brandon Cumpton (two innings), Yao-Hsum Yang, Daniel Schlereth and Cody Eppley (one apiece) also will pitch.

Gerrit Cole will work the first two innings Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays. Wandy Rodriguez will pitch two innings Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

The need for speed

Agility drills and short, explosive runs were a big part of Gaby Sanchez's offseason workouts. The drills sharpened his defensive ability at first base, enabling Sanchez to move to the bag quicker and run down hard grounders.

Sanchez hopes to discover another benefit when he's not playing defense.

“If they let me, I can do some damage out there on the bases,” Sanchez said. “Stealing bases is more about being smart on the bases than it is just being fast.”

In 2008, Sanchez had 17 steals in the minors. But he has swiped only 10 bags over six seasons in the big leagues.

As a first baseman, it's Sanchez's job to hold runners on base. Maybe he can use some of that knowledge when he's the baserunner.

“I think first basemen have the edge because pitchers don't think they're going to run, more than anything else,” Sanchez said with a laugh.

Battles heat up

Grapefruit League games will sharpen the focus on position battles at first base and in right field.

“We've got to find at-bats for the guys who are in competition,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We've got a lot of players, and we've got to find combinations. The guy who breaks camp with us in right field might not have the most innings in right field in spring training because some guys can only play right and others are flexible to move around.”

MLBPA chief visits

Tony Clark, the first former player to be named executive director of the players' union, held a meeting in the cafeteria at Pirate City after Sunday's workout.

“I still am far more comfortable in a baseball uniform than I am in a suit and tie,” Clark said with laugh.

Clark's confab with the Pirates players was a closed session, but he did meet with reporters before it started. Some highlights:

• The revised rules designed to reduce injuries in home-plate collisions will be announced by Tuesday. Clark said “there is a distinct possibility” instant replay will be used to determine whether a catcher left a clear lane for a runner or if the runner made malicious contact.

• The union and MLB officials have had conversations about toughening penalties for players who violate the Joint Drug Agreement. “The hope is we can do some things with respect to what the player concerns are related to improving the program as a whole very soon,” Clark said.

• The union is unhappy with the changes to free agency with regard to the qualifying offer process. “It appears that the combination of changes to the draft pick compensation and how teams now appear to be valuing the picks has put a strain on the free agents tied to draft-pick compensation,” Clark said. “We have some concerns. We are paying attention to it. This is the time of year when every player expects to be in camp, and that's not the case this year.”

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

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