Jones, not Snider, in No. 2 slot against righty
Pirates slugger's OPS against right-handers tips scale in his favor
PITTSBURGH -- Staying with a look he hadn't begun to explore until the tail end of the preseason schedule, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle went with Garrett Jones in the two-hole in Monday's Opening Day lineup.
Jones' power potential -- 27 homers and 86 RBIs last season -- might suggest a better fit deeper in the lineup. However, for Hurdle, it came down to OPS: Jones' .888 against right-handers last season promoted him in the batting order -- and also over Travis Snider, who'd gone through Spring Training believing he'd get first call in right field against right-handed pitching.
"For me, it's either second or sixth for Jones," Hurdle said. "Against a right-hander [the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija], it's hard for me to hit a guy with that OPS sixth. That's too deep, might miss some opportunities. I'm trying to find the best combination to get men on base in front of Andrew [McCutchen, the No. 3 hitter], and stretch out the lineup, top to bottom."
Snider was OK with the move after having the reasoning behind it explained to him by Hurdle, who said, "He's going to play. [Jose] Tabata will play. Everybody will contribute. I felt this is our best offensive lineup right now."
The guy who actually bumped Snider was not Jones -- who normally would have played first base -- but the right-handed-hitting Gaby Sanchez, whose .302-4-11 preseason production was hard to overlook.
"I crunched numbers," Hurdle said, "and in looking at the spring Gaby Sanchez had, I'm not smart enough to decide he doesn't need to play right now."
In Monday's 3-1 loss to the Cubs, Jones went 0-for-3 against Samardzija and struck out against righty reliever Carlos Marmol. Facing Samardzija, Sanchez went 0-for-3 and drew a walk from Marmol. Pinch-hitting for Jared Hughes in the eighth, Snider struck out against Samardzija.
Inge healing quickly from broken shoulder blade
PITTSBURGH -- Brandon Inge couldn't be sure whether it made him misguided or a martyr -- but playing nearly a week in Spring Training with a broken right shoulder blade made him a Pirate, and validated his reputation as a gamer.
Inge, in town only to participate in Opening Day festivities at PNC Park before going on to Triple-A Indianapolis, confirmed that X-rays of the area where he had been hit by a March 14 pitch revealed a fracture "in a spot none of the medical people had ever seen before."
Still, the non-roster invitee to big league camp returned to action to play a couple more games before being shut down, presumably by duly impressed Pirates management.
"Yeah, they knew," Inge said in response to whether manager Clint Hurdle and staff were aware of his condition. "But it was a case of me wanting to give them a look of what I could do."
In retrospect, that helps explains general manager Neal Huntington's remark on March 24 that Inge "is as tough a guy as we have in camp."
"It feels fine now," Inge said Monday. "Woke up a couple of days ago, no pain. So it's healing quick. I hope to return here soon."
Inge, on the 15-day disabled list, will join Indianapolis on a rehab assignment.
Hurdle impressed with Martin's throwing ability
PITTSBURGH -- As Spring Training was winding down, with everybody just waiting to leave Florida, Clint Hurdle finally saw what he had been waiting for: Russell Martin take his arm out of its holster.
"He made three throws the last two games of Spring Training you're not going to see anybody make any better -- anywhere, anytime, anyhow -- getting Ichiro [the Yankees' Suzuki] and a couple of other guys," Hurdle said.
As Pirates manager, Hurdle could never speak as enthusiastically about his catchers in 2012 when, certainly with the complicity of Pittsburgh pitchers, 174 of 193 runners stole successfully under their watch.
Martin, Rod Barajas' successor as the No. 1 catcher, has pride in his arm and throwing mechanics. Having missed two weeks early in Spring Training with a sore shoulder, it took him a while to regain calibers. He also is motivated by having inherited the spotlight from last season's problems.
"I keep hearing about this and that from last year. But it's a new year," Martin said. "I have confidence in my ability to get rid of the ball, and my arm strength, so hopefully the work we put into it as a pitching staff is going to make us more confident, and we won't even have a question any more."
Reining the opposition running game was a high camp priority. Hurdle is pleased with the effort put into it, and the results coming out of it.
"One of the takeaways [from Spring Training] has to be the attention to detail in this area," the manager said. "Guys have bought into it, and they now know it is a weapon that will make everybody better. I think we made good progress with it."
After snowfall, skies clear for pregame ceremonies
PITTSBURGH - Andrew McCutchen was promised the awards months ago. But he didn't actually get them until Monday, when the Pirates' star received his 2012 Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards as part of Opening Day ceremonies at PNC Park.
Proving once again that heavenly skies operate on Baseball Time, sunshine flooded the field when the Cubs and the Pirates were introduced.
Only two hours earlier, snow flurries were blocking the view of the wonderful Pittsburgh skyline and of the Roberto Clemente Bridge.
But the skies cleared, on the perennial celestial cue, and the pregame pageantry set a suitable festive table for the main course the National League Central foes soon served up.
The memorable occasion was dedicated to others' memory as, sadly, moments of silence were observed for victims of the December Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy and to members of the Pirates' alumni who passed away since the last Opening Day.
In honor of the Newtown, Conn., victims, managers Clint Hurdle of the Pirates and Dale Sveum of the Cubs, players of both teams, umpires and all on-field personnel wore a symbolic ribbon patch on their sleeves.
After the presentation of colors by a joint guard of all four branches of the military, both "America The Beautiful" and the national anthem were masterfully rendered on violin by Noah Bendix-Balgley, concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Standing by the violinist's side was United States Marine Corporal Brandon Rumbaugh, the first of Pittsburgh club chairman Bob Nutting's guests in what will be a season-long practice of hosting members of the Wounded Warriors. A native of Uniontown, Pa., Rumbaugh is a double-amputee after losing both legs during his second tour of duty in Afghanistan.
As part of the celebration, the Bucs had everyone in house to take a bow during the pregame introductions. That included a quartet of disabled players who even had assigned lockers, but will be heading back to Florida to resume rehabilitations: pitchers Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens and Francisco Liriano and infielder Brandon Inge.
Also in uniform and sitting in front of his locker was Jose Contreras, who, alas, was not eligible to line up along the third-base foul line with everyone else: As neither on the 40-man roster nor the disabled list -- Contreras was invited here from the Minor League camp -- rules prevented the Cuban right-hander from actively participating in pregame ceremonies.
Jim Rohr, the retiring chairman and CEO of PNC Bank, delivered the ceremonial first pitch. A little later, A.J. Burnett delivered the authentic first pitch, and season No. 127 of the Bucs was under way.
• Do-everything John McDonald was identified by manager Clint Hurdle as the Bucs' emergency No. 3 catcher, behind Russell Martin and Michael McKenry. McDonald has never actually caught, either in the Minors or the Majors. It may never come to that: the Pirates were the only big league club to use only two catchers all last season -- Rod Barajas and McKenry.
• McDonald (80 to 17), Jonathan Sanchez (36 to 57) and Brandon Inge (78 to 2) had their uniform numbers changed from their Spring Training issues.
• Monday marked the first time the Cubs visited Pittsburgh for a season opener since April 7, 1978 -- when John Candelaria hurled a seven-hitter to decision Rick Reuschel, 1-0, in front of 39,028 at Three Rivers Stadium.
First number, last word
28.6: Average age of the Pirates' Opening Day 25-man roster, the highest since 2005, when the active roster at the start of the season averaged 28.9 years.
"This is also the lineup that officially opens the season for second-guessing. Now we know it's the baseball season." -- Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle, upon being questioned about his Opening Day batting order
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.