BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates know that they won't be boasting baseball's most talented team this season. But manager Clint Hurdle appears determined to squeeze every last bit of advantage he can from the group of players he has.
One emphasis early in spring -- and something not worked on much under former manager John Russell -- is having pitchers practice "slug" bunting. This type of bunt is executed by showing bunt, drawing the bat back and then trying to chop the ball hard at a defender who is expecting a normal slow-rolling bunt.
A successful "slug" bunt has an element of surprise. And it can be particularly effective when the defense imposes a wheel play, which is when the corner fielders charge toward home while the middle infielders run to cover first and third.
"We're going to have to rely on the skill sets we have -- speed, surprise, variety," Hurdle said. "To be able to slug bunt with your pitcher is critical. I've been fortunate enough in the past to have some pitchers who could handle the bat. When you can be better in the ninth spot than the other team, it's an added weapon."
McCutchen refining stolen-base technique
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has made it no secret that he expects the team to be more aggressive on the basepaths this season. That means more attempts to steal bases, more aggressiveness in going first to third or home from second.
For Andrew McCutchen, the freedom to run is a welcome invitation. Now, he's spending extra time with infield/baserunning coach Luis Silverio to make sure he makes the most of his opportunities.
Silverio began watching tape of McCutchen shortly after joining Hurdle's staff in late November. The more video that Silverio, a long-time coach in the Royals' organization, watched, the more concerned he got.
"He is doing a couple of negative moves," Silverio said, explaining what he saw in McCutchen's attempts to steal. "To me, he doesn't have a very good balance. He does not have a very good athletic position to start with. That creates an extra move -- a few inches."
Wanting to eliminate any superfluous movements that might slow McCutchen down, Silverio has taken the outfielder aside this week to work specifically on baserunning technique. The emphasis is in getting McCutchen to be more relaxed and in a better athletic position to steal bases. Improving the center fielder's first-step quickness is the end goal.
"I know a lot of times when I get thrown out, it's bang-bang," McCutchen said. "If I can eliminate some small movements and have a better start, maybe that bang-bang turns into being in my favor."
McCutchen isn't publicly setting any numerical goals for the upcoming season, but the consensus around camp is that he is on his way to becoming an even more efficient basestealer. That's plenty notable given that McCutchen is coming off a season in which he swiped 33 bases. The outfielder was thrown out 10 times. He was successful on 22 out of 27 attempts during his rookie season.
"This is a special guy," Silverio said. "He's got special speed. We just have to put the speed to work more frequently and more consistently. He definitely has the potential to be an excellent basestealer."
Tight hamstring sidelines lefty Olsen
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Left hamstring tightness forced Pirates left-hander Scott Olsen to the trainer's room on Thursday morning, not long after pitchers began their daily fielding drills. The Pirates did not give any additional details about the injury, except to say that Olsen's status would be updated after he is reevaluated on Friday.
Olsen, who suggested that the tightness could have been a dehydration issue, said he doesn't expect to be sidelined more than a day or two.
"I don't foresee it being anything serious," he said.
Olsen has spent much more time off the field then he would have liked over the past two seasons, though all of those injury issues have been related to his left shoulder. Olsen spoke earlier this week about his surgically repaired shoulder, noting that he has felt no discomfort since he resumed throwing in January.
Pirates extend Fields for Kids to Bradenton
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates announced on Thursday that they have extended their Fields for Kids grant program to Bradenton this year. The program will match grants from $1,000-$5,000 to support the construction or renovation of baseball and softball fields in the Bradenton area.
Non-profit organizations, local governing bodies and schools are eligible to apply for a Fields for Kids grant. Applications, which can be found at www.pirates.com/piratescharities, are due by April 1.
In an effort to raise money to supply these grants, Pirates Charities is holding its Fourth Annual Pirates Charities Spring Training Golf Classic on Feb. 24. The event, which will also include a silent auction, will group participants into teams of four with former and current Pirates celebrities.
For more information on the tournament, or to register, contact Stacy Morgan at 941-747-3031 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Outfielders Alex Presley and John Bowker arrived at Pirate City on Thursday morning, one day before all position players were required to report. Shortstop Ronny Cedeno and right-hander Jose Ascanio, who has been stuck in Venezuela with visa issues, were expected to arrive later in the day. ... Asked about where Andrew McCutchen might fit into the batting order this season, manager Clint Hurdle didn't show his hand. Hurdle said that while he usually slots his best hitter into the No. 3 hole, a player's history and comfort level in different spots in the lineup will play a role in his decision. McCutchen has a career .302 average in 53 games hitting third, and he has batted .283 in 190 games as a leadoff hitter. ... The Pirates have invited approximately 60 players to early Minor League camp, which begins on Feb. 28. The rest of the organization's Minor League players will officially begin Spring Training workouts on March 7. ... Pitching prospect Luis Heredia, who was tentatively scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Thursday, will now do so on Saturday. Heredia, 16, continues to observe Major League camp while roaming around the Pirate City grounds.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.