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Bucs’ Sorting-Out Process Will Extend Well Beyond Bradenton

Many unresolved issues surround the Pittsburgh Pirates this season, and they won’t be sorted out by the time the team heads north in a few weeks. However, the Bucs have the potential to make it an interesting summer.

Joe Block was having some fun the other day, which is what you’re supposed to be having during spring training.

“Jock Jams is playing at the ballpark in Bradenton. Jealous?” the Pirates’ second-year play-by-play man tweeted on Tuesday.

Of course we’re jealous, Joe.

No matter the weather in western Pennsylvania, it’s always better at spring training.

It always looks better, sounds better, smells better, feels better.

But the questions are harder to answer up here.

And it’s up here, starting in April, that the Pirates will have to answer a bunch of those.

The early reports from Bradenton have been encouraging, from Tyler Glasnow striking out six of seven batters faced in an outing against Baltimore, to Gerrit Cole emerging unscathed in his first two exhibition innings against the Orioles, to Jameson Taillon doing the same after two frames against the Yankees, to Ivan Nova giving up zero earned runs over two spring-training starts.

It’s all more than a little intriguing until you recall that Juan Nicasio struck out half of south Florida last spring but it didn’t translate in the regular season.

The answers will be forthcoming eventually, but not until April and beyond.

And until then the Pirates have a lot to chew on, issues not limited to but including:

  • Whether Cole will return to contention for the Cy Young Award or the disabled list.
  • Whether Taillon will be healthy enough and experienced enough to harness what he flashed last season all season.
  • Whether Glasnow can find an off-speed pitch he can throw for strikes and also find a way to slow down the track meet that erupted last season when someone got on base.
  • Whether Nova can stay as zeroed in all season as he became last season upon joining the Pirates, when he found the plate at a rate that produced 52 strikeouts and three walks in 64.2 innings.
  • Whether Tony Watson can wipe away memories of his early foray into closing that included allowing a ninth-inning home run on Aug. 29 at Chicago and hemorrhaging three more in the ninth inning on Sept. 6 against St. Louis.

That’s more to ponder than the average playing of “Jock Jams” at the ballpark would normally allow.

And we haven’t even gotten to the effectiveness of the reconfigured outfield, whether Josh Bell can field at first base and develop some power at the plate, and what the Pirates will ultimately do about thrice-convicted drunk driver Jung Ho Kang, and how Kang will respond.

The preponderance of uncertainty is enough to presume doom until you remember the potential of those involved, until you recall the anticipation with which the Pirates have been waiting on players they’ll now be counting upon in 2017.

It’s not all going to be answered in the affirmative.

But with three reliable starters and a bullpen capable of finishing the job, the Pirates might just be able to work around the rest.

That still wouldn’t be enough to make the Cubs and Cardinals jealous, but it could make for an interesting summer.

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