BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) – Andrew McCutchen hit a two-run homer and Gregory Polanco doubled twice as the Pittsburgh Pirates played to a 4-4, nine-inning tie Wednesday with a Boston Red Sox split squad.
McCutchen has hit six homers, including five in his past nine games. He has reached base safely in nine of his past 11 games.
“My stroke has been there all spring,” McCutchen said. “Being consistent with it is the biggest key. The best time to do it is right now, so I’m good.”
Red Sox starter David Price went four innings and gave up a run on four hits, walked one and struck out three.
“I’ve continued to feel better as spring went along,” Price said. That’s what I’m accustomed to and I felt really good today.”
Price, who signed a seven-year, $217 million contract in December, will pitch on Monday in the season opener against the Cleveland Indians.
“I feel good and I’m ready to go,” Price said. “I’ll let my mind rest the next two or three days. It really kicks in about 48 hours before any start. That’s when I’ll really lock it in.”
Boston’s Ryan Hanigan and Blake Swihart hit back-to-back RBI singles in the first inning. Chris Young had an RBI triple in the fifth.
Pirates left-hander Jon Niese worked four innings, allowed two runs on five hits and struck out five.
Jason Rogers, who’s trying to win a bench job with the Pirates, had a run-scoring single and walked four times.
Juan Nicasio beat veteran Ryan Vogelsong for the Pirates’ final spot in the starting rotation. Nicasio was signed as a reliever but impressed the staff by stringing together 15 scoreless innings.
“An opportunity arose and he grabbed onto it,” pitching coach Ray Searage said. “We’ve still got that fail-safe with Vogey, who can start and relieve. So can Nicasio, but, right now, Nicasio’s got the edge.”
Pirates’ reliever Jared Hughes (strained lat) most likely will open the season on the disabled list. “It’s a major bummer,” said Hughes, who hasn’t pitched in a game since March 16. . 3B Jung Ho Kang (leg) played in a minor league game and for the first time was allowed to hit, play defense and run to first base. Previously, Kang was limited to either hitting or fielding on a given day. . SS Jordy Mercer (pink eye) missed his second game in a row. . Polanco (shoulder) was in the lineup for the first time since Friday.
Red Sox: LHP Roenis Elias was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he will pitch as a starter. With RHP Steven Wright winning the No. 5 rotation spot, manager John Farrell considered keeping Elias as a reliever, but the Red Sox face a lot of righty-hitting lineups in April. “There’s only a few appearances to reference, so to say his transition to reliever is complete would be premature,” Farrell said. “At the same time, this is a left-hander who’s had success at the big league level and we wanted to see if it could work, at least in the short run, in the bullpen. For the time being, this is the path we’re taking.” . Call-ups 1B/OF Allen Craig, C Sandy Leon, INF Josh Rutledge and RHP Anthony Varvaro will travel with the Red Sox to Montreal for exhibition games on Friday and Saturday.
Red Sox: Farrell said Chris Young is in line to get more playing time as the fourth outfielder than Rusney Castillo, who signed a $72 million deal in 2014 as an international free agent.
“Chris Young will be on the field against left-handed pitchers, I can tell you that,” Farrell said. “If it’s a tough left-hander, we may have an alignment with Rusney in center field. But that’s not to suggest it’s a platoon in center field.”
Against Niese, Young started in left and Castillo was in center.
Pirates: University of Pittsburgh running back James Conner will throw the ceremonial first pitch Sunday in the season opener against the St. Louis Cardinals at PNC Park. Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma last season but continues to work out with the team. “Fear is a choice,” Conner said. “I choose to not fear cancer. I choose to fight it, and I will win.”
Pirates: LHP Kyle Lobstein will start the last Grapefruit League game today against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte. The Pirates will play a scrimmage against the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday in Indianapolis.