Hurdle tabs Francisco Liriano as Opening Day starter

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Francisco Liriano is still day to day with a tight left groin muscle. With the start of the regular season one week away, the Pirates will soon have to decide whether to change Liriano's status to Opening Day-to-Opening Day.

The Bucs have pretty much decided to scratch Liriano's final scheduled Grapefruit League start, which would have come Tuesday. If able, he instead will pitch in a camp game at Pirate City.

"We want to control the environment, so he may not pitch another 'A' game before we break from Spring Training," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "He's not 100 percent, but it's not a major concern for us at this point in time. We feel good about where he is, just being overly cautious."

Liriano has been getting treatment since leaving Thursday night's game after 5 2/3 innings, when the tightness began to affect his delivery. He has been anxious to return to the mound, asking of pitching coach Ray Searage every time they pass each other, "Throw side today?"

"And I keep saying, 'No, no. Not until I hear from out medical people,'" Searage said, grinning. "I've got to protect Francisco from Francisco. I'm still taking it one day at a time."

No. 2 starter Charlie Morton, who stretched out to seven innings and 97 pitches in a Minor League game on Saturday, has not been told to stand by in case the Opening Day assignment falls on him.

"I hope it doesn't come to that," Morton said of an injury costing Liriano Opening Day honors. "But someone will have to take the ball."

Cole finds positives in outing against O's

Cole looks to take next step with Pirates in 2014

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Gerrit Cole's pitching line was poor. His parting line was much better.

"I would have liked not getting destroyed on my mistakes," Cole said after allowing six runs, four of them on three homers, in 6 2/3 innings of the Bucs' 10-inning 7-7 tie with the Orioles.

Nick Markakis led off the first with a homer, but between Chris Davis' wind-aided solo homer in the third and Ryan Flaherty's two-run blow in the sixth, Cole retired nine of 12, with one of the hits in that sequence a bunt single.

"I was most happy about being able to make the adjustment midway through the game," Cole said. "I started to find that rhythm, started to find my delivery. I went on some really good runs. It's not fun giving up six runs and three bombs, and a game like this seems to have a lot of glaring negatives, but you've got to look for the positives."

Cole was also glad about being able to flip the switch from "coast" to "compete" when he wanted to. He morphed from practice mode to "shut down absolutely, at all cost" in the first, when a Jordy Mercer error led to the Birds having a man on third with one out.

Cole's response: A strikeout of Davis, then a harmless fly from Nelson Cruz.

Cole's next start -- when and where -- is not known. He referred to matters as being "up in the air," possibly a holding pattern while the club determines Francisco Liriano's ability to make his Opening Day start.

Wherever and whenever Cole takes his next turn, this obviously was a good tuneup, complete with three at-bats. As Pittsburgh's first pitcher to be included in a lineup this spring, Cole popped out on a bunt attempt in the second, struck out in the fifth and lifted a sacrifice fly that gave the Bucs a 5-3 lead in the sixth.

Worth noting

Jason Grilli and Tony Watson both pitched an inning in Saturday's game against Philadelphia and worked a hitless inning apiece Sunday in a Minor League game. It is the first instance of pitching on consecutive days for both.

Andrew McCutchen included his fifth homer in another 2-for-4 game -- which dropped his average to .529.

Jordy Mercer doubled his previous RBI total for the whole spring on one bases-loaded double in the sixth inning which drove in two; Mercer ended the game with a total of three RBIs.

First number, last word

42: Plate appearances this spring by Pirates leadoff batter Starling Marte, who has yet to take a walk.

"We try not to be overly reactive, positive or negative, to Spring Training performance. We're seeing some good signs out of Andrew, the quality of the at-bats." -- Huntington, downplaying Travis Ishikawa (.333) and talking up Andrew Lambo (.095) in their ongoing battle for a backup first baseman job.