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Pirates notebook: Closer Grilli sharp in brief outing

| Friday, March 7, 2014, 7:21 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates closer Jason Grilli pitches to the Twins' Jason Bartlett during a game Friday, March 7, 2014, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates closer Jason Grilli pitches against the Twins during a game Friday, March 7, 2014, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Twins center fielder Alex Presley singles in front of Pirates catcher Russell Martin Friday, March 7, 2014, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Twins center fielder Alex Presley shares a laugh with Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer after being thrown out at second base Friday, March 7, 2014, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — In spring training games, a big league closer hardly ever works the ninth inning.

The lineup usually is full of backups and minor league hitters before the seventh-inning stretch. So the best chance for a reliever to face top-notch competition is early in the game.

“I don't look at it like that,” Pirates closer Jason Grilli said. “Guys who have a stick in their hand in the batter's box is plenty good for me, especially if they have an opposing (team's) jersey on.”

On Friday, Grilli made his Grapefruit League debut in the third inning against the Minnesota Twins after starter Wandy Rodriguez finished his work. Grilli breezed through his one-inning outing, getting Kurt Suzuki on a fly out, Jason Barrett on a strikeout and Alex Presley on a grounder.

“It feels good to get on the bump and see all the hard work come into effect,” Grilli said.

Grilli, 37, has been eased into workouts this spring after missing six weeks last season due to a sprained right flexor tendon.

“He's going to get as many innings as he's gotten in the past,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

A 12-year veteran, Grilli knows how to make the most out of spring training preparations.

“Just get through it,” he said. “It's rather long. Guys work tremendously hard in the offseason. We all have training programs that we could probably make infomercials and sell DVDs on. We're probably over-prepared for spring training. If you try to get in shape during spring, it's almost too late.”

Elite vs. elite

Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, faced Twins outfielder Byron Buxton, the No. 2 overall pick in 2012, in a “B” game at Pirate City. Cole blossomed into a front-of-the-rotation pitcher down the stretch in 2013, and Buxton is now the game's consensus top prospect.

Score a win for Cole. Buxton was frozen by a sharp curveball for a called third strike in the first inning. In the third, Cole got Buxton to chase a 89 mph slider out of the zone for another strikeout.

Cole touched 97 mph and averaged between 92-96 mph with his fastball. He pitched three innings, allowed three hits, including a home run, walked one, and struck out four. While his breaking ball was sharp, Cole struggled with fastball location.

Cole was followed by left-hander Justin Wilson, who touched 94 mph, and right-hander Stolmy Pimentel, who hit 95 mph.

Presley returns

Presley returned to McKechnie Field for the first time as a visiting player.

“It was a little strange,” said Presley, who broke into the majors with the Pirates in 2010. “I've never been on this other side before. It's good to see everybody. When you come back like this, you realize all the relationships you'd built over the years.”

Presley, 28, had a .299 on-base percentage over four seasons with the Pirates, who expected more from him. He was traded to Minnesota in August as part of the deal for first baseman Justin Morneau.

“I got some chances in Pittsburgh,” Presley said. “I capitalized on some, didn't on others. The outfield is stacked in Pittsburgh, and it's a tough one to break. This is a new start, and I'm excited to have the chance.”

This spring, Presley is in the running to be the Twins' everyday center fielder and leadoff hitter.

“If I play my game, I think I'll be fine,” Presley said. “I did a lot of good things last year with this team. If I steal a few more bases, I'll be good. We need some guys at the top who can run, and they're looking for me to be that guy.”

Presley singled leading off the first inning. He was thrown out trying to steal second base.

Around the horn

Neither Andrew McCutchen nor Russell Martin had played in a game since Monday, but they went a combined 5 for 6 with four runs scored and two RBIs against the Twins. “It's a funny game,” Hurdle said. “If we play them every third game and get those kind of results, we'll see where it takes us.” ... Right-hander Phil Irwin, who was bothered by a sore elbow, has resumed throwing. He will toss a bullpen session Monday and is slated to pitch Thursday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

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

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