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Photo Credit:  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

For the third time in five games, the Pirates played the Toronto Blue Jays, and for the third time, they lost. Today, it was by an 8-6 score at McKechnie Field. Tony Sanchez struck out looking on three consecutive pitches to end the game with two runners on base.

The Pirates may have lost this game today to the Blue Jays, which, by the way, is the third time already in this young Grapefruit League season, but I saw what I wanted AND needed to see from the offense. The Bucs hit three homeruns this afternoon, including a 2nd inning blast by Pedro Alvarez. Yes, Pedro Alvarez. He also had a single in the sixth inning before being pulled.

Garrett Jones also had a solo shot, while Starling Marte blasted a two-run bomb in the seventh inning and added a single in the ninth. Marte has been extremely impressive thus far in Spring Training, hitting at a .727 clip, and he’s making a strong case to be up with the Big Club very soon. But without a doubt, the key to the entire Pirates’ offense is Alvarez, who, as we’ve been hearing for years, has the pedigree and talent to be a monster power hitter. It was great to see him have a good day at the plate today.

Clint Barmes and Alex Presley, two other players who will be vital to the Bucs’ offense in terms of putting runners on for the likes of Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, and Alvarez (hopefully), had a hit each this afternoon.

Jeff Karstens started the game for the Pirates, and looked very strong in his first action of Spring Training. Karstens pitched three innings of scoreless baseball, while giving up just two hits and striking out one batter. He had command of his pitches and threw with confidence, just as he did last year. It was nice to see this from Karstens, who, due to the injury to A.J. Burnett, will absolutely be a part of the starting pitching rotation on Opening Day.

Unfortunately, as solid as Karstens looked today, Brad Lincoln looked every bit as unraveled. He gave up four runs on six hits and walked two batters in only one inning of work. Ouch. We’ve seen this in the past from Lincoln: a solid start followed by a rough outing, then another solid start. Consistency has plagued him, especially at the Major League level, and unless he corrects this, he’ll be on the outside looking at the Pirates’ starting pitching rotation.

Jose Diaz and Jason Grilli looked solid in their lone innings of work, setting the Blue Jays down in order in the fifth and ninth innings respectively, while Jeff Locke limped through two innings of his own, surrendering three runs on five hits. It is going to be a battle amongst relievers this spring for a spot in the Major League bullpen, and performances like this will make a difference to Clint Hurdle & Co. Evan Meek’s rough week continued today, giving up a run and two hits, including a homerun, in the eighth inning. Clearly, Meek’s spot in the bullpen is safe, but it’s still a disappointing start for him thus far.

With every Spring Training game, while it’s exciting and moderately significant to win games, it’s more important to see improvement in players in particular situations. The Pirates’ bullpen was disappointing today (for the most part), but Jeff Karstens was highly impressive, as was Pedro Alvarez on the offensive side. I like what I’ve seen from the offense overall so far. But can’t we beat the Blue Jays at least ONCE this Spring Training?!

The Pirates will face the Philadelphia Phillies tomorrow afternoon at 1:05pm.

Grapefruit Record: 2-3

And…

As Always…

Let’s Go Bucs!