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Pirates learning pitfalls of Metrodome

Pirates learning pitfalls of Metrodome

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Pirates infield coach Perry Hill was on the field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome hours before the Pirates took batting practice Tuesday, as he took his own batting practice of sorts.

Pittsburgh's Interleague trip to Minnesota -- for a series that continues with the second game of a three-game set Wednesday -- marked the first time in nearly five years that the Pirates had played on artificial turf. And Hill wanted to get a firsthand look at how balls bounced off the surface.

His findings?

"It's like prescription turf, since I don't know a better word," said Hill, noting the difference between the Field Turf that is now used in the indoor stadium and the old AstroTurf. "The bounces aren't as high. My heads up to them is that the ball is going to stay down, but it's going to get on you quicker."

The Metrodome is one of three stadiums with artificial turf, with Toronto's Rogers Centre and Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., being the other two.

Despite the fact that most of the Pirates' players have little-to-no experience playing on turf, the defense had little trouble adapting to the change in surface Tuesday. Rather than having the infielders field their normal 25-30 ground balls, Hill had each of them fielding closer to 40 in order to familiarize themselves with the speed of the hops.

"I'm expecting the challenges to be the speed of the ball, obviously," said second baseman Freddy Sanchez, who hasn't played on turf since 2003, when he was in the American League. "Obviously not playing here much, you've got to get a feel for it in [batting practice]. But you don't want to think too much about it and don't want to let it get to us too much."

Tuesday's game in the Metrodome snapped the Pirates' streak of 786 straight games played on grass. The last game not played on grass was on July 11, 2004, when the Pirates finished up a series against the Expos in Puerto Rico. The only players remaining on the club that played in San Juan are reliever John Grabow and shortstop Jack Wilson.

"It's a little bit of a challenge," said manager John Russell. "The biggest thing is bad hops. It's going to be a little different for them."

But, as the Pirates found out Tuesday, the field surface isn't the only unique element the team has to deal with in its first series in Minnesota since 2001. Fly balls have been known to be camouflaged by the white roof, as was the case in the fifth inning, when Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen lost sight of a Joe Crede popup.

What should have been a simple inning-ending flyout ended up dropping to McCutchen's right for an RBI double.

"The only way that you can stay on those high fly balls is by keeping your eye on the ball the whole time," McCutchen said. "If you take your eye off it, you're going to lose it. That's what happened."

Pitching matchup
PIT: RHP Ian Snell (1-7, 5.25 ERA)
Though his record doesn't show it, Snell has actually pitched decently in his past two starts. After struggling with his efficiency through much of the first two months of the season, Snell has pitched at least six innings in each of his past three games. His past two outings have each been quality starts. Still, Snell hasn't picked up a win since April 18, which could be weighing on his psyche just a bit. Snell lost to the Twins back in 2006, allowing three earned runs in 6 1/3 innings.

MIN: LHP Francisco Liriano (2-7, 5.99 ERA)
Liriano wasn't lights-out in his last start against the A's on Wednesday, but he was effective enough. He delivered his second consecutive quality start, giving up three runs on five hits over his six innings while striking out seven. It still wasn't enough to earn him a "W," but the Twins have been pleased by the fact that Liriano has limited the big inning in each of his past two starts after going just four innings in each of his previous three. The left-hander will try to continue the success against the Pirates. Liriano has faced Pittsburgh just once in his career, allowing two runs over seven innings while earning the win in 2006.

Bucs bits
The Pirates have signed five additional players selected in this year's First-Year Player Draft: Marc Baca (42nd round; RHP), Ty Summerlin (30th, SS), Jason Erickson (24th, RHP), Jose Hernandez (23rd, LF) and Pat Irvine (33rd, LF). All five have been assigned to short-season State College, which begins its mini-camp Tuesday. ... The Pirates' trip to Minnesota is somewhat of a homecoming for Russell, who began his managerial career in the Twins' organization. Russell managed eight seasons in Minnesota's Minor League system, and managed current Minnesota players Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau. ... Right-hander Donnie Veal made his third rehab start with Triple-A Indianapolis on Sunday. Veal pitched two innings and allowed two runs on one walk and three hits. ... Catcher Adam Melhuse, who signed with the organization as a Minor League free agent five weeks ago, announced his retirement from baseball Tuesday. He had been playing with Triple-A Indianapolis. ... The Pirates are hosting a blood drive at PNC Park from noon until 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Those who give blood will receive two tickets to the Pirates-Royals game on Sunday, June 28, as well as a promotional item. Former Pirates pitcher Kent Tekulve will be signing autographs for the first two hours of the event.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FSN-HD

On radio
• WPGB-FM 104.7

Up next
• Thursday: Pirates (Zach Duke, 7-4, 3.10) at Twins (Nick Blackburn, 5-2, 3.31), 1:10 p.m. ET
• Friday: Pirates (Ross Ohlendorf, 6-5, 4.56) at Rockies (Jason Marquis, 8-4, 3.77), 9:10 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Pirates (Charlie Morton, 0-0, 0.00) at Rockies (Jason Hammel, 4-3, 4.10), 8:10 p.m. ET

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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