HOUSTON -- The Pirates have talked about it in theory for years: An outfield staffed by three center fielders. Under general manager Neal Huntington's watch, the organization's top outfield prospects are all nurtured as center fielders, with the premise that if you can handle that, transitioning to a corner is a cinch.Theory became fact on Friday night, when Alex Presley started in right field with Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen remaining in left and center, respectively. That trio played a total of 1,194 games in center (out of 1,538 or 78 percent) during their Minor League apprenticeships. "We definitely think we have an outfield to cover ground. If a ball's got a hump in it, it'll come down in leather," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. Presley was making his first start in right field since Sept. 27, 2010, replacing Garrett Jones. The one actually bumped from the lineup against Houston righty Jordan Lyles was Casey McGehee, with Jones moving in to play first base. Presley entered as a late-game defensive replacement Thursday in right field, his first big league appearance there since Sept. 28, 2010. He has to adjust to the new corner, as well as to the loss of his left-field job to Marte. "It's a little different, in the way the ball comes off the bat. Nothing major. I get looks during batting practice to get used to it," Presley said of the different perspective. As for the change in roles, "I'll play whenever time permits. I'm not that worried about it. I'll keep working hard no matter what the role is, and do whatever I can to help the team."
Barmes excited to team up again with Wandy
HOUSTON -- Not all of Wandy Rodriguez's former teammates will be taking bats to the lefty who makes his debut with the Pirates on Saturday night. One of them will again have his back -- shortstop Clint Barmes, who played behind Rodriguez last season, and will be there once more Saturday night.Barmes is wild about the acquisition of Rodriguez, and may have been the first to bring up the fact the veteran has World Series experience. He pitched for the Astros in the 2005 Fall Classic, thus giving the Pirates three players (Rod Barajas, A.J. Burnett) with that background. "I'm very excited to have him over here. He'll definitely help us," Barmes said. "In this situation, compared to where he'd been at, hopefully it'll be some motivation for him to get to that next level. He was part of that '05 team, so he got some taste of it. Definitely a big pick-up for us." Rodriguez's first start for the Bucs, and against the 'Stros, has been viewed with a degree of pathos, with people focused on how weird it will be for him to pitch against the uniform he'd worn in his last start five days earlier. Barmes waved that off, instead pushing for another view: A chance at gamesmanship against friends, just like on the sandlot. "It'll be like playing against ex-teammates has been for me. I always enjoy that," said Barmes, this season hitting a collective .283, with two homers and eight RBIs, against the Rockies and the Astros entering Friday's game. "It's definitely a different game [against former teammates]. I enjoy those challenges, going head-to-head with guys you've spent a lot of time with. I get excited about, and look forward to, those games. So I think it will all be exciting [Saturday]."
"We should win that relay. I don't know who else could beat us. If we don't, it would have to be a breed I haven't yet heard of."
-- Alex Presley, on whether the Pirates outfield consisting of him, Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen would win a relay race among Major League outfields.
While the number crunchers try to come up with the definitive list of first-pitch debut homers in Major League history, this will suffice as an indication of its rarity: Starling Marte was the 2,730th player to make his big league debut since 2000, and the 13th to do so with a first-pitch homer. That's 000.45 percent. Did someone mention "rare?" A.J. Burnett (12-3) is the first Pittsburgh starting pitcher to win 12 of his first 15 decisions since, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, Emil Yde in 1924. Yde was a rookie lefty who finished that season with a 16-3 record. Following two light days of playing catch, reliever Juan Cruz (elbow inflammation) played long-toss on Friday and a determination will be made Saturday when he can begin throwing off a mound. Casey McGehee had started 46 straight games, going 2-for-24 in the last seven of them to prompt manager Clint Hurdle to sit him Friday, for the first time since June 2. "Just wanted him to back away from the flame. He's been at a real good place for six weeks, and I wanted to cut this off before it becomes more," Hurdle said.
It's gotta be the shoes? Starling Marte got rung up by Major League Baseball's fashion police for wearing all-gray shoes in his scintillating Thursday night debut, when he went 2-for-4, including the first-pitch game-opening home run. Switching to acceptable Pirates spikes -- they must be at least 51 percent black, reflecting an official team color -- Marte went hitless in four at-bats Friday in his second big league game, although he did set up the Bucs' 6-5 win with a game-tying sacrifice fly in the ninth.
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.