PITTSBURGH -- The guy pitching batting practice early Thursday in PNC Park to Hines Ward, and gregariously enjoying it, was Clint Hurdle. Unlike some others who maybe couldn't ignore their athletic-challenge DNAs against the recently retired NFL and Steelers great, the Bucs manager figured he'd be good for teeing up some cookies."I tried to throw it where he's swinging, trying to find his happy spot," Hurdle said. "Hey, he's a top-of-the-lineup guy. He can really run. Like I tell our young players, if they can run and hit fly balls, there's a job for them: It's at WalMart." After his pregame workout, visit and photo-ops with the Bucs, Ward threw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to series finale with the Nationals. "It was an honor for us to have him out here," Hurdle said. "With all the footprints and memories he left on the city of Pittsburgh, it was a special opportunity."
In Hanrahan's absence, closer not certain
PITTSBURGH -- Manager Clint Hurdle would not commit pregame to who would be his closer during the absence of Joel Hanrahan, who has left the club for three days to honor and attend funeral services for his grandmother."Watch the game. There will be somebody up in the ninth inning if we have the lead," said Hurdle, who in all sincerity himself did not yet know who the mystery closer might be. That was because he planned to strategize matchups against the Nationals, so the choice depended on the Washington hitters lined up for the ninth. "It can be [Juan] Cruz or [Jason] Grilli," Hurdle said. Earlier this season, while Hanrahan was resting a strained hamstring, Cruz took care of the job and converted consecutive save opportunities in Arizona. Those were the veteran righty setup man's fourth and fifth career saves. Grilli has even less experience in the role, with a total of three saves in 211 career relief appearances.
Bucs set to host first Social Media Night
PITTSBURGH -- The Bucs' first Social Media Night of the season, next Friday, is a chance for fans to buy discounted tickets to that night's game against the Cubs and be part of a special pregame reception.All fans have to do for participation is either follow the Bucs on Twitter at @Pirates or like the team's official Facebook page, facebook.com/pirates. Those doing so can get $10 off Outfield Box seats for the Friday game. Qualifying fans will also gain entry into the pregame reception, at which they will receive a free Pirates T-shirt, be eligible for prizes and giveaways, and take in appearances by club executives and broadcasters. Fans can obtain full details on the event at pirates.com/socialmedia.
The Pirates are getting ready to get their pink on for the annual Mother's Day game dedicated to breast cancer awareness. Swinging pink bats against the Astros will be Jose Tabata, Rod Barajas, Clint Barmes, Yamaico Navarro, Alex Presley, Casey McGehee, Pedro Alvarez, Nate McLouth, Andrew McCutchen and the day's starter, A.J. Burnett. Additionally, Neil Walker and Josh Harrison will wear pink shoes.
Erik Bedard reported to the park feeling better Thursday than when back spasms had forced him early out of Wednesday's game, but it was too soon to speculate about the lefty being able to take his next scheduled turn, Monday in Miami. But the staff will need a definitive read on Bedard's availability by Friday night. If he can't go, Brad Lincoln is the most likely replacement, since he picked up the first three innings after Bedard's ouster.
Depending on the prognosis, the Pirates could also decided to place Bedard on the disabled list. That would allow Daniel McCutchen to remain on the roster even following Joel Hanrahan's return on Sunday from the bereavement list.
Entering Thursday night's game, Pirates starting pitchers had already logged three games with 10-plus strikeouts. All last season, not once did a Buccos starter crack double figures.
In 2011, the Bucs were 1-10 in series-ending games in which they had a shot at completing three-game sweeps. They started 2012 the same way, dropping Thursday's finale with the Nationals after having taken the first two games.
The Last Word: "We didn't have to give one to that kid. He'll win enough on his own." -- Kevin Correia, on his two sixth-inning mistakes that got Stephen Strasburg off the hook Thursday and instead gave him a 4-2 win.
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.