Hurdle tabs Francisco Liriano as Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, Fla. -- When Francisco Liriano scales the PNC Park mound on March 31 to face the Chicago Cubs, it will not be the first Opening Day assignment of his career.

However, it will be the first as his team's Plan A. Liriano pitched the Minnesota Twins' 2009 inaugural when "Scott Baker was supposed to be the Opening Day starter," Liriano recalled, "but he got hurt like 10 days before the season started, so they told me like a week before."

The left-hander got a little more heads up this time, getting the word from manager Clint Hurdle nine days before the Grapefruit League starts. Hurdle made the announcement during the team meeting prior to Tuesday's first full-squad workout.

"No booing, not at all," Liriano said with a grin. "I was kinda shy about it, and it was a little embarrassing. But a good feeling at the same time. Guys congratulated me.

"I'm very happy for the opportunity, and excited. I can't wait. I look forward to it, and try to do the same thing I did last year. Thank God for a second chance. Things work out for a reason, and I'm still here, happy to be here."

Liriano referred to his chaotic 2012-13 offseason, when a more lucrative contract with the Pirates was voided by the household accident in which he fractured his non-pitching arm. He signed a revised deal after extensive renegotiations, then spent all of Spring Training rehabbing and did not make his first start until May 11. He went on to post a 16-8 record, earn the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award and vest his 2014 contract at $8 million.

"I had a tough Spring Training last year after being hurt," Liriano said, "so it's neat to be healthy and to know exactly when I will start. I'm ready to go, and it's a great feeling."

Pirates ramp up camp with live batting practice

Outlook: Marte ready to impress in his second season

BRADENTON, Fla. -- At 11:25 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Spring Training reached another gear for the Pirates. It was time for batting practice not against a coach or a pitching machine, but against each other.

All four fields at Pirate City came alive. Opening Day starter Francisco Liriano dealt to Starling Marte; naturally his very first pitch, in the dirt, nearly clipped the toes of Marte, the human ball magnet. Charlie Morton threw to Travis Ishikawa; Edinson Volquez to Travis Snider; Gerrit Cole to Andrew McCutchen.

As usual, pitchers appeared to be ahead of hitters. Except, Gregory Polanco was ahead of Vin Mazzaro. The Most Valuable Player of the Dominican Winter League hit rope after rope off the righty reliever.

"I was pleased with the first day," manager Clint Hurdle said afterward. "I felt we were ready for it, and attacked it."

The hurlers each pitched two simulated innings, sitting down between rounds of about 15 pitches.

Worth noting

Jose Tabata and Jeanmar Gomez, the Pirates' two players from Venezuela, both said their families are safe and fine amid the political unrest in the country.

• After one day of limited activity due to a three-stitch cut on a finger of his left hand, Snider felt well enough to join Wednesday's batting practice.

"He progressed well. He took swings, did more running, shagging, fielding," Hurdle said. "Still not throwing over the top, but he's coming along well."

Clint Barmes, the Bucs' starting shortstop in 2012-13, is transitioning into a different role, with Jordy Mercer set to take over at the position. Barmes, who saw most of his action at second base for the 2008-10 Rockies after Troy Tulowitzki's arrival, will "work as a utility middle infield guy," Hurdle said.

First number, last word

9-1, 1.55: Francisco Liriano's lifetime record and ERA at PNC Park, where on March 31 he will start off the Pirates' 128th season in the National League.

"What are the odds of 12 guys having great springs? I'd love to see one of those, and for everyone to get through healthy. But it very rarely plays out that way. This would be a great year for that to happen. Even though that would really complicate things."
-- Hurdle, on the anticipated competition for bullpen jobs -- among incumbents, those without remaining options and big-armed prospects.