Stars who helped spark Pirates' resurgence reunite with Phillies (2024)

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A visit to the Philadelphia Phillies’ spring training clubhouse at Spectrum Field made it almost seem like the Pittsburgh Pirates should be preparing for a National League wild-card game.

In one corner of the room was Andrew McCutchen’s locker. About 12 lockers down from McCutchen, Francisco Liriano sat in a chair playing with his phone. Across the room, Josh Harrison and Neil Walker were getting ready for a Saturday morning workout.

Even Pete Mackanin, who finished the 2005 season as the Pirates’ interim manager, is walking through the clubhouse looking for “Bruce” Harper.

All four players were members of the Pirates teams that played in the wild-card game from 2013-15. All have been reunited with the Phillies, who believe they are ready to break a streak of eight nonwinning seasons in a big way.

The Phillies splurged on right fielder Bryce — not Bruce — Harper (13 years, $335 million) and right-hander Zack Wheeler (five years, $118 million) in the past two offseasons. They brought former N.Y. Yankees manager Joe Girardi aboard.

McCutchen is beginning the second season of a three-year, $50-million contract. Liriano, Harrison and Walker are in camp on minor league contracts, though each stands a reasonable chance of being on the Opening Day roster.

“It’s a lot of fun being with these guys again,” Walker said. “We played together for so long, and we have some many great memories together. Hopefully, we can do what we did with the Pirates and help the Phillies get to the playoffs.”

McCutchen, Liriano, Harrison and Walker played big roles in the Pirates breaking a skid much longer than the Phillies’ drought of winning seasons. The Pirates finished under .500 for 20 straight years, the longest stretch of futility in major North American professional team sports history, before breaking that curse in 2013.

Liriano then pitched the Pirates to victory over the Cincinnati Reds in the wild-card game at PNC Park that year. Liriano is a reliever now, making that transition last season when he returned to the Pirates as a free agent and posted a 3.47 ERA in 69 games.

“It was a good year personally but a tough year for the team,” said Liriano, referring to the Pirates finishing last in the NL Central. “It’s good to be on a team with a really good chance to win.”

Only one of the four former Pirates has played in a World Series (36-year-old Liriano), and the others aren’t getting any younger. Walker is 34, McCutchen 33 and Harrison 32.

“It’s different now than when we were first with the Pirates,” Harrison said. “Now we’re all married and have kids. We laugh about that. Times change.”

Stars who helped spark Pirates' resurgence reunite with Phillies (1)


Philadelphia Phillies’ Josh Harrison during a spring training baseball workout Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, in Clearwater, Fla.

McCutchen figures to bat leadoff and play left field.

He was having a fine initial season in Philadelphia last year, hitting .256/.378/.457 with 10 home runs in 59 games. However, he suffered a season-ending knee injury in a baserunning mishap June 3 during a game at the San Diego Padres.

McCutchen is fully recovered.

Harrison and Walker could make the Opening Day roster, aided by a rule change that expanded rosters to 26.

Teams also are limited to carrying no more than 13 pitchers through Aug. 31. That could be a detriment to Liriano’s attempt to make the club.

Stars who helped spark Pirates' resurgence reunite with Phillies (2)

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

Pirates reliever Francisco Liriano pitches against the Phillies Saturday, July 20, 2019, at PNC Park.

“I think the 25th and 26th men are going to be more important than ever, and the fact that (Harrison) and I can play multiple positions is going to help,” Walker said.

Walker batted .261/.344/.395 with eight home runs in 115 games for the 105-loss Miami Marlins last year. Harrison, though, had a miserable .175/.218/.263 line and one homer in 36 games with the 114-loss Detroit Tigers.

Stars who helped spark Pirates' resurgence reunite with Phillies (3)


Philadelphia Phillies’ Neil walker signs autographs during a spring training baseball workout Friday, Feb. 14, 2020, in Clearwater, Fla.

Harrison did not play after May 27 because of surgery to repair a torn hamstring tendon. He also missed six weeks with a broken hand during his last season with the Pirates in 2018.

“I’ve played through some things, in retrospect, that I shouldn’t have played through the last couple of years,” Harrison said. “I feel healthy now, and I’m excited about getting back to the player I used to be. And it’s exciting to be on a team with a legitimate shot to win it all and be back around some of my closest friends.”

John Perrotto is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

Stars who helped spark Pirates' resurgence reunite with Phillies (2024)


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