Pirates notebook: Liriano throws off mound with no issues

Rob Biertempfel
| Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 7:30 p.m.

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Despite a groin injury, left-hander Francisco Liriano is still on track to be the Pirates' Opening Day starter.

Liriano tested his sore left groin Wednesday by throwing 55 pitches in a simulated game at McKechnie Field. He had no problems throwing from the windup and stretch or getting off the mound to field grounders.

Liriano had been running in drills for three days before the sim game. Wednesday was the first time he had thrown off a mound since leaving in the sixth inning last Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles.

“It didn't bother me at all,” Liriano said after the workout. “I feel normal. We'll see how I feel (Thursday). I think I'm ready to go.”

The final determination will be made after Liriano throws a side session Saturday in Philadelphia. If the discomfort flares up again then, Liriano could go on the disabled list and right-hander Brandon Cumpton likely would pitch Monday's opener against the Chicago Cubs.

Cumpton tossed five shut out innings and struck out four Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins. He ended spring training with a 2.21 ERA in six outings (two starts).

“It's a balance between making sure we don't put (Liriano) in harm's way and making sure we respect his desire to compete when he says he's ready to go,” general manager Neal Huntington said.

Liriano did not make his first start last season until mid-May due to a broken right arm.

“Last year I started on the DL,” Liriano said. “I don't want to have the same thing happen to me this year. But at the same time, I want to be sure that I'm healthy for the whole year, not just one game.”

Volquez to stay behind

Right-hander Edinson Volquez also pitched in the sim game. Despite rocky outings in spring training, Volquez will be the No. 5 starter in the rotation.

Volquez will remain in Florida for extended spring training after the Pirates break camp. He's scheduled to throw up to 100 pitches Sunday in a minor league game.

Volquez will make his Pirates debut April 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park.

A change for Mazzaro

Until last year, when he put together a breakout season with the Pirates, Vin Mazzaro was best known for an infamous relief outing with the Kansas City Royals.

In May 2011, Mazzaro allowed 14 runs in 2 13 innings against the Cleveland Indians. He was the first pitcher since 1900 to give up that many runs in fewer than three innings.

Mazzaro was one of the last players cut from spring training camp last year, then was called up to Pittsburgh on April 16 and stayed the rest of the season. He was not scored upon in his first 16 innings at PNC Park and pitched five perfect innings of relief in a 14-inning game June 30 against Milwaukee.

When Mazzaro worked more than one inning, he had a 0.91 ERA. On July 22, when closer Jason Grilli was injured during a game against Washington, Mazzaro took over to notch his first career save.

“Every year is big,” Mazzaro said. “But that one was pretty important for me and my career.”

Mazzaro was used mostly as a starter from 2009-12 with the Royals and Oakland Athletics. Last season was the first in which he was used exclusively as a reliever, and Mazzaro flourished.

He allowed only 13 percent of inherited runners to score and got more than three outs in 25 of his 57 outings.

Mainly a two-pitch guy last season, Mazzaro is working to add a changeup to his fastball-slider repertoire. It's a good weapon to get left-handed hitters off the fastball away.

“I've always had one, but it was a tough pitch for me, so I never used it a lot,” Mazzaro said. “It's a feel thing. I've played with tons of grips and finally found one I'm pretty comfortable with.

“It's mostly a matter of trusting it, than anything else. I got to the point now where I can throw it and not worry about the result. Stay positive, and you'll have positive results.”

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

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