Outlook: Martin has pop, but struggles to get on base

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Russell Martin is well aware of the concerns raised by the knee injury to his catching sidekick, Chris Stewart. He just doesn't get it.

Stewart underwent surgery on Wednesday on his right knee, and he is expected to be sidelined from four to six weeks. It opens the door for the cancellation of the Indianapolis trip of Tony Sanchez, whose Major League readiness -- particularly defensively -- has been questioned. And there is also apprehension about the Pirates' depth at the position behind him.

How does the Bucs' main man behind the plate feel about Sanchez's ability to back up?

"To me, there is a pretty simple answer," Martin said. "He did a great job when called up last year. In my mind, he's a big league catcher. The only thing keeping him out of the big league is me. Know what I'm saying? The situation is pretty simple. Is he the kind of guy they want to play every day [in Triple-A]? Or would they allow him to be the backup while Stew works his way back? It's not my job to make those decisions.

"We have depth there," Martin said of the depth at catcher, thinking primarily of Omir Santos, who is in camp on a non-roster basis but has 122 games of big league experience. "Santos caught for the Mets before [96 games in 2009]. He can catch. For me, it's not that big of a concern right now. Stew will be back in four to six weeks, and Tony is young and healthy."

And Martin does not sound like the kind of guy apt to enter a season already worried about who will give him a rest.

"I'm not afraid to catch a large portion of the games," he said.

Liriano leaves sharp outing with groin tightness

Hurdle tabs Francisco Liriano as Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Francisco Liriano was acing the test of his penultimate spring start, taking deliberate steps toward his Opening Day assignment -- until he had to unexpectedly come out of Thursday night's Grapefruit League game.

Liriano dealt with some tightness in the area of his left groin muscle all game, and he departed after the last two pitches he threw raised the concern of his catcher.

Liriano was working on a four-hit shutout with two outs in the sixth inning when catcher Russell Martin thought Liriano's 2-and-1 pitch to the Orioles' Adam Jones was on the funky side.

"He'd been spot-on the whole game and the last couple of pitches didn't come out right. I know he was feeling it all game, and I didn't want to see my pitcher have to battle through an inning in Spring Training," said Martin, who immediately motioned manager Clint Hurdle and assistant athletic trainer Ben Potenziano out of the dugout.

After a few minutes of consultation, Liriano left the field and the game.

"It was just a little tightness. I felt it the whole game," said Liriano, his left thigh wrapped in a thick ice pack. "I didn't want to push it and have it get worse. I don't think it's that bad at all. I don't think it's serious. I just want to make sure I'm ready for Opening Day."

Liriano's prognosis will greatly depend on how he feels Friday morning.

"We always talked to him [throughout the game]," Hurdle said. "The last two pitches he threw just didn't look the same."

Until then, Liriano was, as Martin described, spot-on.

"He was really good. Popping strikes, working quick," Hurdle said. "He got in a real nice groove, settled in by the third inning."

Liriano wound up making 76 pitches, and his target was 85. So, other than the abrupt departure, the tuneup was all it was meant to be. Whether the groin issue interrupts his path to the season will soon be determined.

First number, last word

8,186: Attendance at Thursday night's game between the Pirates and the Orioles, a McKechnie Field record for a night game, topping the 6,353 for the March 8, 2013, game between the same teams.

"I don't want to add to the drama. I don't want to get into something that's not real, without letting the player tell us how he feels. We'll have conversations, and see how he feels." -- Hurdle, when asked whether the tightness Liriano experienced in his left groin might prevent him from making his last scheduled preseason start.

Worth noting

• Left-hander Jeff Locke pitched a two-inning simulated game on Thursday and, according to Hurdle, was consistently in the 90-93 mph range without any discomfort.

Andrew McCutchen's spring average went down -- from .560 to .556 -- after he went 1-for-2, with a home run and a walk, in Thursday night's game. McCutchen has 12 hits in his last 21 at-bats.

• Almost matching McCutchen is Michael Martinez, who legged out an infield single in the eighth to give him 10 hits in his last 20 at-bats.

Bryan Morris has a six-inning scoreless streak after blanking the Orioles in the ninth.