PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – Russell Martin homered for the third time this spring and drove in four runs to lead Francisco Liriano and the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 10-5 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays Saturday.
Martin had an RBI single during a six-run first inning against Rays starter Matt Moore and added a three-run homer off Grant Balfour in the fourth.
With six hits in his last 10 spring training at-bats, the 31-year-old catcher boosted his average to .462 through five games. Last spring, Martin went 6-for-40, setting the tone for a slow start to a season in which he hit .226 with 15 homers and 55 RBI.
Liriano sat for more than a half-hour while the Pirates were batting in the top of the first, at one point getting up to play catch to try to stay loose. The left-hander allowed one run and four hits in three innings. He walked one and struck out three.
“He sat in the dugout forever. We actually had to send him out on the field to have him toss,” Pirates bench coach Jeff Banister said. “Just being able to find the rhythm after the first inning and get some fastballs in the zone” was impressive.
Moore was a 17-game winner for Tampa Bay last season, but has a history of not pitching well in spring training. He failed to get out of the first, yielding six runs and five hits in two-thirds of an inning.
Neither Moore nor manager Joe Maddon was concerned following the 41-pitch outing.
“If I go on recent history, a tough spring training means an 8-0 start. I’m not really worried about that. He had the same kind of issues last year,” Maddon said. “His delivery is something he has to get together to be effective. It was just one of those days.”
Jerry Sands homered off Josh Kinney and drove in three runs for the Rays.
Pirates: Liriano was the NL Comeback Player of the Year in 2013, going 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA in 26 starts while helping the Pirates make the playoffs. Saturday was his third start this spring. His main objective against the Rays was working on fastball command.
“I’m right where I want to be right now,” said Liriano, who gave up a leadoff triple to Logan Forsythe and a sacrifice fly to James Loney in the first. “I’m just going to keep working and get ready for opening day.”
Rays: Moore was 17-4 with a 3.29 ERA in 27 starts last season, when he was a first-time All-Star. The first seven batters of the game reached base against him Saturday. He hit leadoff man Starling Marte with a pitch and walked Jordy Mercer before giving up an RBI single to Martin. Right fielder Brandon Guyer dropped a fly ball for an error that led to two unearned runs, and Moore also contributed to the poor outing with a wild pitch.
“Physically, I feel fine. If you take a look back at the way things went the last couple of springs, my entire career for that matter, it takes me a little while to figure that rhythm out,” Moore said. “When things are firing right, they’re firing right. Right now, it’s not as consistent as we like. … But there’s time to work on it and address things and kind of fall into that groove.”
Rays: Second baseman Ben Zobrist was scratched from the lineup due to a stiff neck. Maddon said the injury is not serious. Zobrist also missed time during camp with a sore lower back.
Tampa Bay reliever Joel Peralta left the game in the sixth with a sore neck after fielding a hard one-hopper back to the mound that initially deflected off his glove. The right-hander threw the runner out, then remained in the game to get the second out of the inning.
Maddon said Peralta was removed as a precaution after showing his was fine.
The Rays optioned LHP Enny Romero, RHP Alex Colome and LHP Mike Montgomery to Triple-A Durham. RHP Matt Andriese, RHP Merrill Kelly, RHP Victor Mateo, C Luke Maile and OF James Darnell were returned to minor league camp.
So much for the plan
Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez and second baseman Neil Walker were among the regulars to make the trip. The hope was they would benefit from getting some at-bats against the left-handed Moore, who was removed after facing 11 batters. Alvarez reached on an error and Walker singled in their only plate appearances against the Rays’ starter.
“That first inning, the boys came out and made him pitch. That’s been the biggest key for us (this spring), making pitchers pitch,” Banister said. “You watch Pedro, he hasn’t been chasing balls, swinging at balls … and Walker has had some pretty good (at-bats) against left-handed pitching so far, too.”