Pirates veteran starter surrenders seven runs against Astros
By Brian McTaggart and Tom Singer
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Chris Carter and Colby Rasmus each blasted their second home runs of the spring as the Astros rode the strong pitching of starter Roberto Hernandez and an offensive outburst to beat the Pirates, 14-2, on Sunday afternoon at Osceola County Stadium.
Pirates starter Charlie Morton worked his longest outing of the spring and wound up getting rocked for nine hits, including a pair of home runs and seven runs in 4 1/3 innings. He enjoyed a 1-2-3 first inning before coming unraveled in the second inning.
The Astros didn't need the long ball to take a 3-0 lead in the second inning. Jonathan Villar shot a triple to right field to score Jed Lowrie and Rasmus, and Hank Conger followed with a sacrifice fly to left field to score Villar to get the Astros rolling. Conger added a two-run double in the Astros' eight-run fifth that blew the game open.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Carter's bat is heating up: Carter, who finished second in the American League last season with 37 homers, has homered in consecutive games. He hit a two-run blast on Saturday against the Yankees in Tampa and hit a solo shot in the third inning Sunday off Morton, giving the Astros a 5-1 lead. When Carter gets hot, he's as dangerous as it gets. He hit 23 homers in a 52-game stretch in the second half of last season.
Hernandez makes strong case: After giving up five earned runs in six innings in his previous two Grapefruit League outings, veteran Roberto Hernandez got back on track in his bid for the fifth spot in the rotation when he allowed three hits and one run in four innings. Hernandez was pleased with the way he kept the ball down, throwing 32 of his 49 pitches for strikes.
Morton "propped down" by Hurdle? Maybe it was just Charlie Morton's bad luck to draw the starting assignment the day after Pirates manager Clint Hurdle gave props both to his starters for "pounding the strike zone" and for the team overall for "playing tight, one-run games." But Morton surrendered those first seven runs as the Astros pounded the Bucs. He was the first member of the projected rotation to allow more than three runs in a start this spring.
Holdzkom stretches out: For John Holdzkom's second straight outing, the Pirates tried to extend the usual one-inning reliever to two, and it went a lot better than the first attempt. Holdzkom did give up a run in his second inning of work, but got in 1 2/3 innings, striking out two without a walk. His first attempt lasted only 1 1/3 innings, and he allowed a run while issuing two walks to the Astros last Tuesday. "Certain guys are built for two," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We've seen him throw one, just trying to get him to throw more pitches. It may not be the role for him but we want to assess it. The velocity was good in the first, he had the best palmball we've seen in the second inning."
• "When he's locked in and getting good pitches to hit, he's hits the ball as hard as anybody on our team and as far as anybody on our team. The even-keel approach he has allows him to not ride an emotional wave during his good times and bad times." -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch on slugger Carter, who has homered in consecutive games.
• "I can't say. I don't remember. I made out that lineup at 6 a.m. this morning, and I might misquote myself." -- Hurdle, in response to whether Corey Hart was in the lineup as an outfielder for Monday's game in Port Charlotte against the Rays.
• The Astros sent 12 batters to the plate in the sixth inning Sunday, scoring eight runs on eight hits with one walk. Nine of 10 batters reached base after George Springer began the inning with a groundout.
Astros slugger Evan Gattis played five innings in left field in a Minor League game for the second day in a row Sunday as he works his way back from wrist soreness. More importantly, he took batting practice with the Major League club for the first time in a week and then got two at-bats in a Minor League game. … Left-hander Brett Oberholtzer threw 35 pitches in the bullpen on Sunday after battling a minor lat strain and some illness in the past week. His next step is pitching in a Minor League game on Wednesday.
Astros: Watch live on MLB.TV as veteran right-hander Scott Feldman, who started on Opening Day for the Astros a year ago, will make his third start in Grapefruit League action when the Astros face the Braves on Monday at 12:05 p.m. CT at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee. Feldman last pitched in a Grapefruit League game on March 13 against the Nationals, throwing three innings. He threw in a Minor League game on March 18, which was an Astros' off-day. Feldman won't start on Opening Day this year after Dallas Keuchel was given the nod.
Pirates:Arquimedes Caminero, arguably the most impressive pitcher in the Pirates' camp, is due for another relief appearance as the Bucs trek to Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday for a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the Rays. Caminero, contending for a bullpen spot, has fanned 12 in eight innings while allowing two runs and six hits. A.J. Burnett is set to start against Tampa Bay righty Chris Archer. The game can be heard in an exclusive webcast on pirates.com.