Pirates Notebook: Hurdle Pleased with Spring Training Work

Only two games remains for the Pirates during spring training. After the Bucs beat the Toronto Blue Jays 3-1 in Dunedin, Fla., the team flew to Philadelphia, where they will face the Phillies for a two-game exhibition series.

After pitchers and catchers had their first official workout at Pirate City in Bradenton on Feb. 19th, the team — which started with 58 players (18 were non-roster invites) — has pleased Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle with all the extra work that they put in this spring.

“This is the hardest working group of men I’ve had in Spring Training,” Hurdle said. “That’s not to say that others haven’t worked hard. These guys, from the time they showed up, 8:00 [a.m.] early work on the field. Concentrated extra work over lunch. Their preparation, all the things that we’ve tried to put in to place. They’ve been receptive. The execution work on the fundamentals early. We’ve done all the work we can do, now it’s connecting the dots come game time.”

“We were challenged in some areas fundamentally. I think the aggressive base running, that’s going to pay off. We’ve gotta play hard, we’ve gotta play smart. On the bases we’ve got to be aggressive, we’ve gotta be smart. We know that going in. We’ve gotta hit cut off men. We’ve got to out execute the other team when we play ball. And we’ve got to have a soldier mentality when we go out there. There’s no entitlement to anything, we’ve got to earn everything we get.”

The Pirates entered Grapefruit League action on Sunday with a team .278 batting average this spring. The club has seven active players that are hitting for a .300 clip or better — Matt Hague (.373), Josh Harrison (.357), Andrew McCutchen (.327), Casey McGehee (.308), Nate McLouth (.349), Yamaico Navarro (.327), Alex Presley (.333).

The club finished with a .244 batting average during the 2011 season.

“I thought that was something that we needed to take care of and become much better at this spring,” Hurdle said. “It’s the only opportune place we have to work and see it. So I was very encouraged by the way we’ve gone about following a game plan offensively. The way the individuals have paid attention and ramped up their individual offensive games, and then connected the dots to an overall team offensive perspective. I’m very encouraged by that, we’ve done a good job of that.”

Hurdle took over as Manager on November 15, 2010. He said his focus this spring training was different compared to his first a year ago. And the results he’s seen this spring has impressed him.

“I think we had more areas to get better specific, more acute focus on from what we went through last year,” Hurdle said. “I think our starting pitchers understand better the exact nature of their role. It’s not that you get the ball every fifth day. There’s a lot more to it than that. It’s just as important what you do the other four days to prepare.”

“The bullpen’s mentality, things you need to work on, then when you draw a line in the dirt about three-quarters of the way though spring training, now it’s time to compete and figure things out. You need to play baseball. And we’ve worked extremely hard. One of the things I’m very proud of is the work that was done this camp. Early work, after the BP’s, all the work that’s been done. These guys have rolled their sleeves up and got busy.”

The club finished the spring in Florida with a 9-18-2 record during Grapefruit League action. Spring Training isn’t, however, about the record. There’s a lot more that goes into the games then just a win or a loss. Hurdle knows that, and he was focused more on the competitions, the opportunities, and overall work that each individual player has put in.

“We look at what was done this year,” Hurdle said. “The overall ownership of the at-bats has been much better this spring. We’ve done a much better job on that. The other part of it, the cohesiveness of the group, that’s starting to come together. It’s never been about wins and losses. You always like to win more games than you lose. But with the things we knew coming in to do, we wanted to get guys opportunity.”

“We told a lot of people that there was going to be opportunities, so we didn’t change our mind and become a slave to the game to win this, to do that. Get guys out there, let them compete. That’s been fresh. We took inventory on everybody in camp, too. Even the guys that we sent down, we’ve got a much better read on them. So all in all, the camp has served a purpose. These guys are itching to play…We’re itching to get after it.”

Bucs Inching Closer to 25-Man

On Sunday, the Pirates optioned right-handers Brad Lincoln and Daniel McCutchen to Triple-A Indianapolis. The active big league camp roster is currently at 28. Right-hander Juan Cruz is the only player reaming who is a non-roster invite. Of the 28 remaining, 14 pitchers, two catchers, eight infielders and four outfielders.

“Everybody in camp is still battling for a job. Everyone that’s in that clubhouse is still battling for a job,” Hurdle said.

Final cuts have to be made by April 4th.

Burnett Tosses ‘Four Innings’ in Minor League Game

Right-hander A.J. Burnett continues to take steps forward to getting back on the mound. Burnett underwent right eye surgery on March 2nd, after a freak accident where he fractured his right orbital bone after taking a foul bunt off his eye.

Burnett tossed three innings in a Minor League game on Sunday. It marked Burnett’s first game action of the spring.

The right-hander gave up just one hit — a single to outfielder Starling Marte — while throwing 54 pitches against the Pirates Triple-A club in an intrasquad game at Pirate City.

“Delivery looks sound. He got a little quick in the first inning, but after that he was fine,” Pirates’ pitching coach Ray Searage said.

Burnett will throw a side session on Tuesday, then make his first rehab start for the Bradenton Marauders (High-A) on April 6. After that outing, Burnett will be re-evaluated for his next steps.

“For the most part I got my work in,” Burnett said of his outing. “Could have been a little sharper, will be a little sharper, but gotta get that pitch count up and that’s what today is for.”

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