Notes: Underwood's slider; Castro's speed

Tucker doubles in return; Bucs ink all non-arb players

March 12th, 2021

When arrived in Pirates camp this week, he saw a few familiar faces, including and , with whom he’d worked out in Arizona during the shutdown.

But there was a third character from the Pirates who interacted with Underwood during his time out west who will be instrumental to him this season: Pittsburgh pitching coach Oscar Marin.

“He called me and was like, ‘Remember that guy [from Arizona]?’” Underwood recalled. “And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, that was me.’”

Marin will get his first look at Underwood as a Pirate this spring on Saturday, when the right-hander is scheduled to throw his first bullpen session. And there will be at least one pitch the two will talk about at length.

Underwood enters camp with a new tool. While pitching for Criollos de Caguas in the Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League this offseason, the right-hander was reunited with David Rosario, his pitching coach in Class A Short-Season and Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach while working through the Cubs’ farm system.

The two had tinkered with the idea of a slider during Underwood's early years with the Cubs, but Underwood was only 19 years old at the time and wanted to establish the pitches he had under his belt and not risk his progress with an experiment. Winter ball this offseason gave him the perfect setting to test it out.

“I took it straight to the mound and it wasn’t consistent yet, but the action and the movement was real, and I really liked how it came out of my hand,” Underwood said. “I just think it’s going to help all of the other pitches play.”

Underwood, like recent addition , is an option with experience starting and relieving. Though Cahill has started more in MLB while Underwood has pitched more in relief, the latter debuted as a starter for the Cubs.

“We’ll probably look to get Dwayne multiple innings at some point in Spring Training,” Pittsburgh general manager Ben Cherington said, “but not necessarily as a starter. We like his stuff and how it might play off in the bullpen.”

Underwood believes he has the capability to be a starter if he can harness his tweaked arsenal, but he’s happy to take any role and is excited for the opportunity to make the team.

“I think there are a lot of innings in this arm, a lot of really good innings,” Underwood said. “I want to prove myself.”

The rare four-base error
Third baseman appeared to have flown out to Blue Jays left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to end the fifth inning of Thursday’s 2-1 win against Toronto at LECOM Park, but instead, Castro went for a rollicking trip around the bases.

Castro put the Pirates up, 2-0, when he scored on a Little League home run, as Gurriel thought he’d secured the ball, but it rolled out as he began to slow up. The umpire ruled Castro safe, but Gurriel appeared surprised as he slowly moved toward the rolling ball before firing it to the infield.

Castro was running all the way, but he had to make a nifty headfirst slide to avoid a tag at home plate to complete the wild play.

“[Third-base coach Joey Cora] made a really good decision, but it comes down to Castro running hard from the get-go,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “Not giving up on the play, and he ends up being the winning run in the game.”

Tucker back in action
made his return to the lineup after he sustained a left thumb contusion on March 3. He didn’t appear to have any limitations, as he drove a ball deep to left field in his first at-bat then worked a two-strike count for an opposite-field double in his second.

“Overall, good first day back for Cole,” Shelton said. “He looked strong and healthy, which was important.”

Pirates sign non-arb players
Pittsburgh announced Friday that it had signed all 30 pre-arbitration eligible players, a group that ranges from starters like Ke’Bryan Hayes and to prospects like and .

Cherington said the process was a good time to have open dialogue with players, though he expects the club will stay focused more on one-year agreements in the short term vs. extensions.

“It’s pretty much business as usual,” Cherington said, “and we got all our 0-3 [years of service] guys done, and we’re focused on getting ready for the season.”

Up next
The Pirates will travel to Tampa, Fla., to face the Yankees on Saturday, when will make his third Grapefruit League start. , , , , , Yerry De Los Santos and will follow. The Yanks will counter with Corey Kluber, and first pitch is slated for 1:05 p.m. ET. The action will be live on MLB.TV or available to listen to on 93.7 The Fan or MLB Audio.