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Luplow using spring invite as learning opportunity

Outfielder will likely start year in Triple-A; Neverauskas, Smoker get work in; Cervelli has nice day at plate
Special to MLB.com

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Outfielder Jordan Luplow started in right field in the Pirates' 5-4 loss to the Blue Jays Thursday. He went 1-for-4 to bring his Grapefruit League average up to .237.

Luplow, the Pirates' 2017 Minor League Player of the Year, is battling for one of the remaining bench spots, although it seems likely he'll start his season in Triple-A Indianapolis.

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Outfielder Jordan Luplow started in right field in the Pirates' 5-4 loss to the Blue Jays Thursday. He went 1-for-4 to bring his Grapefruit League average up to .237.

Luplow, the Pirates' 2017 Minor League Player of the Year, is battling for one of the remaining bench spots, although it seems likely he'll start his season in Triple-A Indianapolis.

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Even if he doesn't open the season on the Pirates' 25-man roster, Luplow said he has plenty of additional knowledge he will take back with him in the Minors.

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"I think it's been a great opportunity for me, especially learning from the veteran guys," Luplow said. "They've been really inviting to me and I can't thank them enough. They've been willing to open up and show me what they've learned throughout the years. They've let me be a sponge around here."

Position battle

Thursday's starter Chad Kuhl said after the game that the coaches wanted to get Dovydas Neverauskas in during the middle of an inning. The right-handed reliever struck out both batters he faced during the sixth.

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Josh Smoker, who is also competing for a bullpen spot, gave up a solo home run to Jon Berti in the ninth inning but struck out two to retire the side.

"He's been working on some things," Hurdle said of Smoker. "They're sitting on fastball. We're trying to work in secondary pitches. I think he's given up four, five home runs this spring. He's attacking the zone.

"We're looking at a guy that's shown some signs of success at the Major League level. He's working hard to develop a secondary pitch and improve his fastball command. Those will be his keys to success."

Around the horn

Francisco Cervelli went 2-for-3 with a two-run single and a walk. Cervelli is hitting .379 this spring and continues to get positive reviews from Hurdle.

Video: TOR@PIT: Cervelli plates two on a single to center

"It was fun just to watch him come into camp," Hurdle said. "He's been athletic, light on his feet, blocking. I think he's framing up real well. His hand is healthy, his body is healthy. Tonight, it was four good at-bats. I think he had 20 pitches after three at-bats. He's in a good place."

• Left-handed reliever Felipe Rivero gave up a two-run, opposite-field home run to Blue Jays prospect Bo Bichette in his one inning of work, but Hurdle was encouraged by what he saw.

"I don't think it was a tough outing at all, I thought he had the best stuff he's had all spring," Hurdle said. "That's the difference of lenses you can have when you watch these things.

"Fastball velocity was the best it's been, slider was the sharpest it's been. We had a ball we probably needed to put away for an out and the wind blew a home run off the foul pole."

Jameson Taillon, who is scheduled to start on April 2 at PNC Park, threw 96 pitches over 5 2/3 innings in a Minor League game Thursday. Bo Schultz, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, threw 12 pitches over an inning in the same game.

Up next

Left-hander Steven Brault will take the mound against Aaron Nola and the Phillies at LECOM Park on Friday afternoon at 1:05 p.m ET. George Kontos is also expected to pitch for the Pirates. Fans can watch live on MLB.TV.

Ralph Long is a contributor to MLB.com.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Jordan Luplow