Alvarez seeing results of extra hitting sessions
Bucs third baseman swats first spring homer Wednesday
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Making every effort to put himself in position for a successful first full season in the Majors, third baseman Pedro Alvarez continues to spend numerous extra hours working on his approach and plate discipline in these waning days of March.
No better was this on display than on Monday and Wednesday. More than an hour after Alvarez had exited Monday's game, he remained at McKechnie Field to take extra batting practice with manager Clint Hurdle and hitting coach Gregg Ritchie.
Asked to relay the focus of the session, Hurdle said: "Sometimes you have to find a way to slow the game down. When you're behind the fastball and ahead of the soft stuff, it's a very uncomfortable place to be. Sometimes you get up there and just have too much going on. All the thinking needs to be done on-deck. Once you get in the batter's box, you need to compete."
2010 Spring Training - Pittsburgh Pirates
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There seemed to be some immediate and tangible evidence that information passed along during the extra hitting sessions is clicking for Alvarez, too. After striking out in his first two at-bats Wednesday, the third baseman knocked a home run over the center-field wall. Alvarez came to the plate against a left-hander his next time up and patiently drew a walk, just his second of the spring.
"I've been making some strides, though I still have a little work to do before the season starts," Alvarez said. "I think it's gone pretty well."
The Pirates are hopeful that Alvarez's work to improve his approach will naturally help him reduce his strikeout total, too. Alvarez has struck out 21 times in 53 at-bats this spring.
"The offspeed stuff has challenged him a little right now," Hurdle said. "The fastballs, he's getting into a better position. He's worked very hard on his approach. He's a big league hitter in progress. Once he gets in a groove, the noise gets loud. He might be one of those guys who has to keep trying to get a little bit better at [making contact].
"It's a work in progress," Hurdle added, "but I think it's headed in the right direction."
Bowker's focus on field, not roster moves
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Since returning from a minor wrist injury two weeks ago, John Bowker has given the Pirates every reason to include him on the team's Opening Day roster next week.
Bowker, who is fighting for a spot as the club's fifth outfielder, is one of six position players competing for the final three spots (or two, if the Pirates opt to take a third catcher) on the bench. He'd be able to play both corner-outfield spots and first base. The Bucs could also use Bowker in center field if the team finds itself in a pinch.
"You try not to get caught up in that and control what you can," Bowker said of the impending roster decisions. "I'm not really thinking about it when I'm in the [batter's] box or anything. I'm just going up there and just trying to play the game and not think about it."
Whatever Bowker has been doing, lately it has been working. Since March 10, he has gone 7-for-22 with three homers and a pair of doubles. The Bucs have no concerns about Bowker being able to hit fastballs, but have spent a good amount of time this spring helping Bowker improve his approach against breaking pitches.
Without more success in that area, it is hard to envision Bowker succeeding long-term in a part-time role. Bowker, who the Pirates acquired in a Trade Deadline deal last summer, hit .232 in 26 games with Pittsburgh last season.
Besides Bowker's pinch-hitting proficiency, there's one other factor the club has to consider when determining where Bowker begins the season. He is out of options, meaning that Bowker could be taken by another team if the Pirates opt to leave him off the Opening Day roster.
"With no options, obviously it's a little different," Bowker said. "I still try not to worry about it too much. I'm trying to just get that rhythm and get the timing down like everybody else. I think it's going pretty well right now."
Diaz trying new approach to avoid slow start
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Matt Diaz knows his numbers don't lie, which is why, perhaps, he is so open about his slow-start tendencies. It's also why Diaz is so willing to try something new this spring.
A career .241 hitter in April, Diaz has never been one to start the season on a tear. While Diaz owns career averages of .302 or better in each of the following four months, he has yet to figure out the key to starting off strong.
And yet, maybe by accident, Diaz hopes he has found the answer.
"This is just the hardest camp -- physically -- that I've ever been in," said Diaz, who spent the last five seasons with Atlanta. "It's just the longest days, the most work. I had a little pouty lip the first day after and then I started to think, 'Wait, I'm one of the worst April players in the game. Who am I to not try something new?' I'm excited to see if it all pays off."
After getting off to a slow spring start, Diaz has hit safely in eight of his last 11 games. The outfielder is used to enduring streaky springs, though he is at the point in camp where consistency in results does begin to carry some weight.
Poised to split time in right field with Garrett Jones, Diaz will get the majority of at-bats against left-handed pitching. Diaz has a proven track record against lefties (.335 career average), but he certainly does not want to begin his career in Pittsburgh the same way former teammate Adam LaRoche did. LaRoche found out quickly that fans have a hard time overlooking mediocre April results.
"Obviously, I do something a little different every year, trying to figure out what it's going to take to get going," Diaz said. "I've done more work this spring than any spring, so hopefully April will be different."
Snyder set to rejoin lineup Thursday
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Chris Snyder is scheduled to play in his first Grapefruit League game since March 9 when the Pirates face the Orioles on Thursday night.
After catching four innings in a Minor League game on Tuesday, Snyder returned to Pirate City and had 10 at-bats in a Minor League game on Wednesday. Snyder, who was sidelined with back soreness, has not had any issues with his back since returning to the field.
Now, the concern is getting Snyder back to feeling comfortable with his swing after the layoff. He has had just 15 at-bats this spring and only seven games remain before the Pirates open the season against the Cubs in Chicago on April 1.
"He was still a little rusty, but he saw a large amount of pitches [Tuesday]," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He really got stretched out today. He swung the bat better [Wednesday]."
Right-hander James McDonald is scheduled to return to the mound on Saturday -- likely in a Triple-A game. McDonald threw another side session without issue on Thursday and that marked his last step in his return back from left side soreness. McDonald has not pitched in a game since March 11 and has not pitched more than 2 2/3 innings in any of his three outings. ... Lefty Joe Beimel is scheduled to throw off the mound on Thursday after having two successful days of playing catch on flat ground. Beimel missed his scheduled appearance on Saturday as he dealt with left elbow discomfort. Though Beimel is optimistic that he'll be ready to return to games soon, he also said he is willing to start the year on the disabled list if it's in the best interest of his long-term health and durability. ... Right-hander Brad Lincoln (right arm bruise) played catch on Wednesday. It marked the first time Lincoln has thrown since being hit by a line drive last Friday. ... The Bucs honored their Double-A Altoona club before Wednesday's game against Houston. Players from that team were given Eastern League championship rings.
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.