Top Prospects: Brandon Cumpton, RHP, Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The unofficial race for the fifth spot in the Pirates' starting rotation has an official leader. Brandon Cumpton stepped up Friday with a sharp four-inning outing -- the longest of the spring for a Pittsburgh arm -- in the 6-5 victory over Philadelphia.

"I tried to get back to my game plan, just attacking hitters and getting ahead early and putting them in position to put the ball on the ground," said Cumpton, a reputed ground-ball pitcher who got 10 of his 12 outs in that manner. "I feel like it's starting to click after I've slowly made adjustments in each outing, although I know the results haven't shown that."

Cumpton had been scored upon in each of his first three appearances, all in relief. Even Friday, he gave up two runs -- both unearned. He allowed only two hits -- a single to Domonic Brown and a double to Darin Ruf -- while walking one and striking out two.

"An improved day for him all around," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He had his command in play. The fastballs were good, he worked both sides of the plate, pitched inside. The changeup velocity was good, and the slider improved as the outing went on."

Cumpton, who delivered 36 of 59 pitches for strikes, took satisfaction in taking with him into the game the work he had done on the side since his last outing, on Sunday.

"I carried my last two bullpens into the game. That really helped a lot," Cumpton said. "I had a good outing today, but I need to carry this over in two days to my bullpen, then into whenever the next game would be."

Hurdle hopes Kinney's 'infectious' attitude spreads

Kinney recalls dreaming of playing for the Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Josh Kinney's spring got even better on Friday. The boyhood Pirates fan from northern Pennsylvania entered the exhibition game in the ninth inning with none out and the bases loaded of Phillies -- all the runners needed to wipe out the Bucs' two-run lead -- and he preserved a 6-5 victory.

Kinney, however, did not get any younger. And being a couple weeks shy of his 35th birthday, neither the grand escape nor the fact he has been scored upon only twice in six outings shorten his odds of making the bullpen.

However Kinney's "dream" spring turns out, it doesn't mean he hasn't already been valuable.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle only hopes his younger pitchers have paid attention to Kinney at the right time ... such as when Hurdle waved him to the mound after Yao-Hsun Yang had walked two batters and hit one to load the bases.

Hurdle: "This is right up your alley."

Kinney, with a big smile on his face: "Let's go. This is going to be good."

Ronny Cedeno hit an infield pop. Cesar Hernandez walked on a full-count pitch to force in a run. Then Wil Nieves high-bounced into a third-to-first double play to end it.

"He has a passion for the game that's probably unparalleled in that clubhouse -- and there are a lot of passionate people in there," Hurdle said of Kinney. "He's got bright eyes, big ears and is getting things done with a smile on his face and loving every minute of it.

"For those guys to see a man that's been around the block a couple of times still have that kind of enthusiasm ... it's infectious."

First number, last word

15: Stolen bases by the Pirates in their first 17 exhibition games. In 2013, the team stole a total of 16 bases in 32 exhibitions.

"The point we make to them is, we want you, but there could be 29 other teams watching. I want to see them be whatever they can, wherever they can do it. There's no telling when or where you'll grab somebody's eye. It might be in the eighth inning of a Spring Training game." - Hurdle, on the Minor Leaguers -- Mel Rojas Jr., Willy Garcia and Junior Sosa -- who fueled the Pirates' eighth-inning comeback Friday against the Phillies.

Worth noting

• Opening Day starter Francisco Liriano also turned in a four-inning outing on Friday, allowing three hits and one run to the Yankees' Triple-A squad in a Minor League game at Pirate City. Liriano walked three and fanned five.

Andrew McCutchen has nine hits -- including three home runs -- in his last 16 at-bats and an overall spring average of .545. This is a guy who hit .240 last spring on his way to earning National League Most Valuable Player honors.

• Bill Treasurer, author of "Leaders Open Doors" and someone who has lectured for two decades on how people can bolster their leadership skills, held a Friday morning workshop for, appropriately, the Pirates' entire on-field staff.