PIT@MIN: Pirates take the lead on Mauer's error

PITTSBURGH -- Two seasons ago, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had a hard time believing that Andrew McCutchen could lead the National League in hits (194) and convert that into only 96 RBIs.

In 2013, the Bucs gained a legitimate leadoff hitter (Starling Marte), and McCutchen, in the three-spot, enjoyed a similar season at the plate to earn NL MVP honors -- and had even 12 fewer RBIs.

Obviously, the key batting-order spot is the one between Marte and McCutchen. In 2012, the collection of Pirates No. 2 hitters posted an on-base percentage of .304; in '13, they combined to hit .262.

If Neil Walker is hitting with his familiar consistency, many foresee him as a No. 2 fixture; the spot is ideal for a switch-hitter.

For the time being however, Travis Snider is making it his home. Hurdle spoke highly of Snider's condition and friskiness all spring, and he now wants to see if he can also recapture his nose for the bases.

In occasional Minor League detours (a total of 132 games) the last three seasons, Snider had an on-base percentage of .400-plus.

"We're optimistic that the OBP will play out in the Major League level close to what it was in the Minor Leagues," Hurdle said. "He had the best spring we've seen. Moved around in the outfield and on the bases the best since we've had him.

"I liked the look of it in Spring Training. We'll see how it plays out during the season."

Pirates to see plenty of NL Central in April

The Pirates open with 26 games vs. the NL Central.

PITTSBURGH -- Schedules always make for a fun early-season topic. The last two years, the Pirates had extremely tough first-quarter slates.

This time around, the Bucs have it tough because their first 26 games will be against National League Central foes, at least potentially setting the tone for the entire campaign.

Twenty of those games will be against co-contenders St. Louis (beginning with this weekend's series in PNC Park), Cincinnati and Milwaukee.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle just shrugged.

"It's the schedule," Hurdle said. "Every year we get a new one, and we always have conversations about it.

"It's always important to play well in the division, and we've got that challenge right away. Will the division be as competitive as it was last year? Time will tell; I don't think anyone foresaw three of the teams having 90-plus wins. I do believe it will continue to be challenging, and strong."

Pirates finalizing treatment plan for Taillon

Taillon, Cumpton are future of Pirates' rotation

PITTSBURGH -- Top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon got a second opinion on the cause of the pain in his right elbow on Monday, and the results were at least complex enough to prompt Pirates brass to regroup.

After Taillon originally reported the discomfort and had an initial MRI 10 days ago in Florida, both he and front-office personnel freely discussed the results, which showed the key ligament to be intact.

The ligament in question is the object of the common Tommy John surgery.

The outcome of testing by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles has not yet been shared.

"We're still working through the process, trying to get with Dr. ElAttrache to confirm everything and finalize our plan of treatment," assistant general manager Kyle Stark said.

First number, last word

64: Consecutive innings pitched without allowing a home run, the longest active streak in the Majors, by Pittsburgh reliever Mark Melancon; he served up his last long ball -- and the only one of 2013 -- on April 14, to Cincinnati's Joey Votto.

"Really exciting. What made it exciting is being with such a historic franchise. We've got [a patch for the late Ralph] Kiner on our sleeves, and [Barry] Bonds and [Dick] Groat are standing out there ... it tells you the significance of this organization for so many years." -- Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole, reflecting on the first Opening Day of his career.

Worth noting

• Their teammates have voted McCutchen, Russell Martin, Clint Barmes and Jason Grilli back onto manager Hurdle's Leadership Council, while Francisco Liriano has been chosen to replace A.J. Burnett as the starting pitchers' rep. The council meets twice monthly with Hurdle to discuss various team issues.

• When the Pirates find themselves in a must-win situation, they can always call on their best clutch performer, Petrina McCutchen, the center fielder's mom.

The Bucs are 3-0 in games following her rendition of the national anthem, most recently prior to the 1-0 walk-off win on Opening Day.

• That, incidentally, was the Bucs' sixth 1-0 victory in a season opener -- the fourth over the Cubs, following similar triumphs in 1947, 1949 and 1978. The Pirates also won 1-0 in 1902 over the Cardinals and in 1965 over the Giants.

• The Pirates' newly announced partnership with 84 Lumber Company, a leading supplier of building materials and services, is only fitting: The early '70s Bucs were nicknamed The Lumber Company, for the heavy bats they swung into postseasons, including to the 1971 World Series title.