BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates broke out the sliding mats late Thursday morning on the back fields at Pirate City, their final full-squad drill and a sure sign it's almost time for the games to begin.The Bucs will begin their Grapefruit League schedule on Friday, when they hit the road
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates broke out the sliding mats late Thursday morning on the back fields at Pirate City, their final full-squad drill and a sure sign it's almost time for the games to begin.
The Bucs will begin their Grapefruit League schedule on Friday, when they hit the road and face the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park. First pitch is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET. The radio broadcast will be available live on Gameday Audio.
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Right-hander Tyler Eppler, a non-roster invitee who's ticketed for Triple-A Indianapolis, will start the opener against Rays lefty Vidal Nuno. Tampa Bay is slated to start a number of its regulars, including Denard Span, Kevin Kiermaier, Mallex Smith, Matt Duffy, Wilson Ramos, Brad Miller and Adeiny Hechavarria.
"It's a guy that we do want to see," manager Clint Hurdle said of Eppler. "He put a good volume of work together last year. I think there's still work in front of him. We'll see what he does with this opportunity and where it takes him next."
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Eppler is expected to pitch two innings. He'll be followed by seven other non-roster right-handers: Alex McRae, Casey Sadler, Tyler Jones, John Stilson, Yeudy Garcia, Damien Magnifico and Brett McKinney.
With the quick turnaround between Spring Training workouts and games, the Pirates do not have to field a "representative lineup" -- with a certain number of Major League regulars -- until March 1, Hurdle said. That could allow them to evaluate their younger players, or those competing for jobs on the Opening Day roster, over the next week or so.
"It very well might have allowed us some room to work," Hurdle said. "However, as we worked through the schedules of our veteran guys, most of our guys will be in play by the second game. We still have opportunity.
"We are going to be really proactive in getting people involved and engaged in the games."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.