The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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February 24, 2013

Locke looks sharp in Pirates’ opener

PORT CHARLOTTE, Mich. — Roberto Hernandez made a strong debut for the Tampa Bay Rays. Jeff Locke did the same for Pittsburgh.

Hernandez needed just 12 pitches for a perfect first inning Saturday in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 3-2 win over a split squad of Rays.

Formerly known as Fausto Carmona, Hernandez was 0-3 with a 7.53 ERA last season for Cleveland.

Hernandez and Jeff Niemann are aiming for the fifth spot in the Rays’ rotation. Niemann needed just 11 pitches to strike out two and retire the side in the second.

“I don’t waste too many of my thoughts on (it being a competition),” Hernandez said. “I don’t think of it that way.”

Hernandez signed with the Rays after being arrested after leaving the Dominican Republic U.S. Consulate, which accused him of using a false identity to obtain a visa.

Niemann relieved Hernandez in the second and needed just 11 pitches to strike out two and retire the side. Reliever Fernando Rodney pitched the third, striking out the side.

Rodney, who will be leaving soon to join the Dominican Republic for the World Baseball Classic, needed just 10 pitches – nine of them strikes – in his appearance.

“That’s what I wanted: To pitch a couple of innings and not do too much,” Rodney said.

Locke pitched three hitless innings. He went 10-5 with Triple-A Indianapolis last year, and is competing for the fifth rotation spot with fellow prospect Kyle McPherson. He was chosen the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year, said he was pleased with his effective 32-pitch outing and knows competing with McPherson will be tough, especially with a close friend.

“I’ve known Kyle a long time – he was here when I was traded here (from Atlanta in 2009) and he made me very comfortable,” the 25-year-old lefty said. “I’ll tell you what I’ve told everyone who’s asked me: They’re going to take the best 25 guys for the team. It may be Kyle, it may be me, it may be both of us, but I know we’re both going to work hard and appreciate the opportunity.”

Manager Joe Maddon thought all his pitchers looked sharp for the first spring training game.

“I just want to make sure they are well,” Maddon said. “Roberto’s ball looked like it had great movement, and Jeff’s had a lot of deception on his (slider). I saw strikes and deception with both of them.”

Notes: Rays third baseman Evan Longoria returned to camp after missing three days due to the birth of his daughter. Longoria did not play in the split-squad game Saturday, but Maddon said he may make his spring debut Tuesday against Houston. … American League Cy Young LHP David Price threw a bullpen session and long toss prior to Saturday’s game. … Rays top outfield prospect Wil Myers made his team and spring debut Saturday, going 0-for-1 with a walk. Myers was the instrumental player in the trade that sent Rays pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis and infielder Elliot Johnson to the Royals. … The Pittsburgh Pirates have reached agreement with 41-year-old pitcher Jose Contreras on a minor league contract. The Pirates say Contreras is expected to report to camp today. Contreras is recovering from surgery on his right elbow and will be doing rehabilitation work during spring training. Contreras was 1-0 with a 5.27 ERA in 17 games for Philadelphia last year. The Cuban previously pitched for the Yankees, White Sox and Rockies.

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