FORT MYERS, Fla. -- For those wanting to see what the 2013 Pirates will look like, Wednesday's lineup against the Red Sox came a lot closer to what the real deal will be on Opening Day than just about any lineup thus far in the Grapefruit League season.
The Pirates had what could be seven regulars in the starting lineup to face Red Sox lefty Jon Lester. The only exceptions were Michael McKenry behind the plate and Brandon Inge as the designated hitter. Expected starting catcher Russell Martin has been limited to DH duties because of a sore right shoulder.
The first six batters on the field at JetBlue Park could be what Pirates fans see at PNC Park regularly, with Starling Marte and Travis Snider hitting in front of Andrew McCutchen. Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Garrett Jones started in the Nos. four, five and six spots, respectively, as they often did in 2012.
Prior to this game, McCutchen had picked up just seven official Spring Training at-bats as the Pirates, like many teams, are trying to pace their everyday players with the World Baseball Classic adding length to the spring schedule.
"It's good," McCutchen said of making the trip with a bus full of regulars. "We have everybody we normally put in the lineup. It's nice to be able to show up, to play a game on the road and get back into the swing of things."
Starting seven players who should see regular playing time -- Clint Barmes was the shortstop, hitting ninth -- is something that is going to start happening with more frequency as the calendar creeps towards Opening Day.
"We think it's time," manager Clint Hurdle said after the Pirates' 9-3 victory. "We'll start backing these guys up, bundling some games for them. Some of the guys who were out there [on Wednesday] will start again [on Thursday]. We'll get most of them back-to-back starts, then a day off.
"Spring Training is a little more complicated than when I played. Now we have night games, day games after night games, more split-squad games, but we're definitely going to start getting our guys out there that we need to get more reps from."
Locke takes step forward in rotation audition
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jeff Locke is getting used to pitching at JetBlue Park. If the Pirates played in the American League East, that could be seen as a positive sign about his ability to pitch at Fenway. Instead, he'll take his strong outing on Wednesday as a step in the right direction along the path of getting ready for life in the National League Central.
In his third start of the spring, and second straight here in Fort Myers, Locke went four solid innings, allowing just one run on three hits and two walks while striking out three in Pittsburgh's 9-3 victory. It was a much better performance than his last JetBlue appearance, when the lefty yielded three runs over three innings on Friday.
"I was pretty happy with everything today," Locke said. "The only thing I wasn't really happy with was getting two quick outs and stuff happened. Everything felt really good today. I can't stress enough how much better it feels to come back here a week later and pitch better, regardless of who it's against."
Locke ran into that two-out trouble in the third after two perfect frames to start things out against a Red Sox lineup that wasn't exactly chock full of regulars. He retired the first two batters quickly to run his streak to eight consecutive batters retired when Pedro Ciriaco singled. Ciriaco eventually came around to score on a Jonny Gomes double. Locke gave up a one-out double in the fourth, followed by a walk, but just like in the third, he was able to dance out of trouble.
"That was one of the bright spots for him today, because he was behind in the count while he was out there," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The fact that he made pitches, he stayed away from the big inning, they scratched him for the one run, no more damage than that, he went out there four times, it was a good step forward for him.
"He had a much better outing than the last time he was here. Everything was fresher, everything was a little cleaner with a better downhill angle, a better quality of strikes when he was throwing."
"I was able to throw more pitches in the strike zone and keep the ball down a lot better," Locke said, in comparison to his last JetBlue outing. "There were some pretty well-stroked balls, but that's just a part of baseball. For me, personally, with it being Spring Training and you're preparing yourself for the season, it was definitely a step in the right direction today. I mixed up my pitches and I was able to get quality work from the windup and the stretch."
Irwin making name for himself with strong spring
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Phil Irwin has always flown under the radar. In high school, college and since joining the Pirates as a redshirted junior in the 21st round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, he's been happy to let others grab the spotlight. After a third strong outing in his first taste of big league camp, though, Irwin is finally making a bit of a name for himself.
The 26-year-old from the University of Mississippi came into Wednesday's 9-3 win against the Red Sox with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning, calmly getting the final out, then tossing a scoreless seventh as well. It brings the right-hander's Grapefruit League ERA down to 2.08 over 4 1/3 innings of work.
"We've liked Phil," manager Clint Hurdle said. " We've liked him probably when some other people didn't like Phil. He's done a very good job. Today was another good challenge for him, to come in a bases-loaded situation. The ball comes out of his hand fresh and he spins a hard breaking ball."
Irwin has used that breaking ball, along with a slight uptick in velocity as a pro -- he'll sit in the low 90s -- to quietly make his way up the organizational ladder. When the Pirates needed to raid the Triple-A roster to help out in the big leagues in 2012, Irwin received his first chance to pitch at the highest level of the Minors, and in many ways, he became the team's ace.
That was clear in the International League playoffs against the Charlotte Knights. Indianapolis had lost the first two games, with the Knights scoring 22 runs over the first two games. Indians starters, including top prospect Gerrit Cole, were getting hit hard, with Charlotte's hitters diving over the plate and driving balls everywhere.
Irwin put a stop to that in Game 3. He drilled the very first batter of the game, immediately reclaiming the inner half of the plate. Irwin went on to throw seven shutout innings, striking out 11, to give Indianapolis what would be its lone postseason victory in 2012.
"One of the things that was shared with me is that the kid has a very, very good demeanor," Hurdle said. "He's not a Dow Jones guy. He's right here, he just [flatlines] and goes. He's got great confidence in his ability and he never talks about it. 'This is what I can do, here it is.' We like him and we're definitely keeping an eye on him."