Niese efficient in longest spring start for Pirates

Veteran lefty throws 73 pitches over six innings despite long layoff

Niese efficient in longest spring start for Pirates

SARASOTA, Fla. -- As pitchers ramp up their workloads to get ready for Opening Day, the Pirates usually allot them 100 pitches or six innings -- whichever comes first. The latter came well before the former for Jonathon Niese on Thursday afternoon.

Niese threw 73 pitches in a 6-5 loss to the Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium, quickly becoming the first Pirates pitcher to throw six innings this spring. He ran into trouble in the fourth and fifth innings, giving up four runs and two homers as Baltimore capitalized on pitches left up in the zone.

"I felt I was pretty efficient. During the season, when I go over hitters before the game, I probably don't make those mistakes," Niese said. "I can't say never, but more than likely won't."

Chris Davis lined an RBI double to left-center field in the fourth, and Mark Trumbo followed with a homer to left-center a batter later. Jonathan Schoop blasted his third homer of the spring deep to left field to lead off the fifth inning.

Pirates boast strong starters

Before that, Niese was at his best. He retired the Orioles in order, all on groundouts, in the first. He faced four batters in the second and negated a leadoff single in the third with a double-play grounder. He also retired the side in order in the sixth inning.

"The one inning got away from him a little bit. The ball got elevated, and they have a team that can do some damage on balls left over the plate," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Stamina was good, 14 hitters retired on three pitches or less.

"There's some good to hunt, and there's some areas of improvement to work on, as well."

It had been more than two weeks since Niese took the mound in a real stadium, pitching in front of fans and against another team's hitters. His last Grapefruit League start came on March 8, when he threw three innings in a loss to the Phillies.

Niese pitched four innings against Minor League hitters at the club's Pirate City training complex on March 13. His scheduled start on March 19 was canceled due to rain, so he threw an 82-pitch simulated game in an indoor batting cage. Yet he was able to take something out of each outing.

"They're helpful. I'm able to work on what I need to work on," Niese said. "I'm still getting that volume up where I'm cutting loose and going 100 percent, kind of eliminating the human element in those situations and getting my work in."

Niese will make one more Spring Training start, and it will be more of a tune-up than anything else. After that, Niese will focus on preparing for his first official start with the Pirates.

"I'm healthy right now, feel like the ball's coming out great," Niese said. "Just ready for the season to get going."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.