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Pirates' season-ticket sales up 40 percent from 2013

| Friday, March 28, 2014, 4:15 p.m.

The Pirates' breakout 2013 season paved the way for near historic levels of season-ticket sales in 2014.

Season-ticket sales are up almost 40 percent from last season and the season-ticket base is at its second-highest level in PNC Park history, according to club spokesman Brian Warecki. The Pirates also project to eclipse last season's total of 23 sellouts.

“The fan response this offseason has been tremendous,” Warecki wrote in an email. “What this reflects is the significant increase in fans securing seats early through the purchase of full and partial season-ticket plans. Due to this increased early demand, we encourage fans to secure seats for the games they want to attend now before inventory becomes even more limited.”

The Pirates were not willing to reveal the total number of season tickets sold.

Last season, the Pirates drew 2.3 million fans at PNC Park, the second-highest attendance total in the stadium's history, second only to the 2.435 million attendance mark set in the park's inaugural season in 2001. Pirates president Frank Coonelly has said the club was hoping to draw 2.5 million this season.

The Pirates will open the season with the game's 27th-ranked payroll ($78 million), according to the Associated Press.

Work in progress

Pirates starting pitcher Charlie Morton has worked on adding a third pitch this spring — a hybrid split-changeup — to better combat left-handed hitters.

Morton has had success with the pitch this month, but Phillies second baseman Chase Utley drove the pitch off the right-field wall for a first-inning double Friday. It was the only hit Morton allowed in his three shutout innings in his final spring tuneup. Righties hit .221 against Morton last season, but lefties hit .302. Morton will start against the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday at PNC Park.

Closing time

Pirates closer Jason Grilli replaced Morton in the fourth inning and faced the heart of the Phillies lineup in Jimmy Rollins, Utley and Ryan Howard.

Grilli got Rollins to fly out. Utley singled, and Ryan Howard grounded out to an inning-ending double play. Grilli's fastball velocity topped out at 92 mph.

Morris makes cut

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said after the game that reliever Bryan Morris will be on the Opening Day roster. Morris was part of a logjam of out-of-option relievers vying to make the club. Morris has enjoyed improvement in his throwing velocity this spring. He threw 96 mph fastballs Friday and a 92 mph cutter.

“He's thrown pitches that are hard to hit and sometimes hard to catch,” Hurdle said. “His confidence is in a good place.”

Said Morris: “I've been anxiously awaiting the (roster deadline). I was expecting to be here. I worked my butt off this offseason to take one of those spots.”

Hurdle declined to address other looming roster decisions. But if the Pirates are to keep 12 pitchers as is expected, an out-of-option pitcher in Vin Mazzaro or Jeanmar Gomez is in jeopardy of being cut.

Around the horn

The Pirates are holding back few tickets for public sale for Monday's Opening Day game, Warecki said. The Pirates will release any player-held or other tickets if they become available. Fans should visit pirates.com or the PNC Park ticket office closer to Monday's game time. ... Though he's expected to be in the Opening Day lineup, Pedro Alvarez again was out of the Pirates lineup Friday. Alvarez took part in infield work prior to the game.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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