BRADENTON, Fla. -- Spring Training in any Major League camp has its staples, chief among them batting practice. Position players spend endless time in the cage, alternately hitting off teammates and coaches.It's part of the routine. But it doesn't have to be routine, and the Bucs have a couple of wrinkles you may not see outside Pirate City. Manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage both like to think outside the batter's box. Pirates pitchers take their BP turns in two shifts of 20 and 15 pitches, sitting on the bench in between. The intent is obvious. "It simulates pitching two innings," Searage explained. "I don't know if a lot of teams do it this way, but we started this last spring and it works for me." "It builds up stamina and endurance," Hurdle said. "We're trying to be aggressive with everything we're doing, and this gets pitchers off on the right step."
Hurdle has his own contribution when it comes to breaking up the Spring Training routine, as the session against batting-practice pitchers becomes a competitive drill of situational hitting."The feedback I've gotten from players," Hurdle said, "is that they always get more out of work where there is a goal, something to aim for. It adds the element of competition. It's a situation that takes them to a very good place."
Japanese reporters in camp offer perspective
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Ryota Igarashi, trying to work his way into the Pirates' bullpen as a non-roster reliever, has a very modest crew of Japanese media tracking his moves.The Igarashi beat is about five percent of the throng chronicling Yu Darvish's first Spring Training with the Texas Rangers in Surprise, Ariz. A Japanese reporter in Pirate City offered a very interesting perspective on the homeland interest in Darvish. "The sensationalism is much bigger than it was for Ichiro Suzuki [in 2001], bigger even than for Daisuke Matsuzaka [in 2007]," said the reporter, adding that Darvish likely signals the end of the line for such minute-by-minute coverage of Japanese countrymen. "Darvish is the end," he said. "From now on, for new players coming over, it will no longer be exciting. This is it, for this type of commotion."
Sunday's photo day commitments put a big dent into the workout schedule. The only pitcher to hit the mound was Charlie Morton, who threw a side session. The next step for Morton, easing his way back from hip surgery in October, will be to throw batting practice for the first time on Wednesday. The highlight of the reduced schedule was a baseball equivalent of football's walk-through drill. The defense worked on outfield throws to third and home at half-speed and focused on the precision of cutoff positioning. Afterwards, infielders took turns peppering first-base "trainees" Garrett Jones and Casey McGehee with throws in the dirt. A strain to an oblique muscle tends to be one of the most fickle injuries from which to recover, partly because players usually try to return too quickly. The best medicine apparently is an offseason's forced layoff. Kevin Correia has shown no effects of the oblique strain that washed out the last month-and-a-half of his season. "He looked fine," Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said of the righty's first batting-practice turn. "A little better the first phase. He got a little out of sorts in the second round, but that's what practice is for, to get these guys to improve their focus."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.