By Chris Mack

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BRADENTON, Florida (93-7 THE FAN) – A bandage has been ripped off, and now the wounds of a difficult off-season and the words of some veteran presences in the clubhouse can start to scab over and heal, as baseball is once again the focus for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

At least that’s what it felt like as the first Full Squad workouts took place on all four fields at Pirate City Monday.

Before baseball began though, Chairman Bob Nutting addressed the team privately, telling them, according to General Manager Neal Huntington, that their goal is still to win a sixth World Series for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and to provide them anything they need to do just that.

It was also announced that pitcher Joe Musgrove experienced some right shoulder discomfort Sunday during his bullpen session. The team said it will continue to evaluate and treat him to determine his status, but Musgrove is expected to be able to pitch his next scheduled session on Wednesday.

-Before Live Batting Practice got under way, there were baserunning, as well as pop-up and infield drills to get through.

Nothing looked unusual on the basepaths, but First Base Coach and Baserunning Coordinator Kimera Bartee spent close to 10 minutes giving instructions to the entire team before drills began.

It goes in to the team’s desire to be more disruptive on the basepaths, or as Adam Frazier put it the other day, more of a “distraction” to the opposing pitcher and defense.

“We can be more active on the basepaths when we trust and continue to do our homework in preparation’” said Clint Hurdle. “There are areas of preparation we’re adding for our baserunning – our whole component – [and] base stealing. We need to be smart, we need to be aggressive,”

“It’s been an area of angst at times,” continued the manager. “We’re going to find out what we can do. We’re going to give them every opportunity to be more aggressive. We need to be smart. Unpredictability would help us a lot this year, in everything we do.”

-Pop-up drills are always interesting, as the assembled media, who usually stand on the crushed grey rock of the warning track along the baselines, either scatter for cover or spend 15-20 minutes trying to track balls fired out of Juggs guns at home plate of Fields 1 & 4, hoping they don’t lose one in the sun and get brained.

For a group of people who love sports but don’t quite have the athletic ability to play it at any significant level, it’s often the only form of exercise in the day. (Yes, that includes me.)

-As for the fielding alignments during these drills, Field 1 had Josh Bell and Daniel Nava at first base, Josh Harrison and Kevin Kramer at second base, Jordy Mercer and Cole Tucker at short stop, and David Freese and Colin Moran at third base. Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco patrolled center and right fields respectively, while Frazier and Jordan Luplow rotated in left field.

Tucker continues to get exposure to the Major League side of things in workouts, rotating in with Mercer a lot. It’s the kind of practice he needs, said General Manager Neal Huntington.

“Once you get to AA, you’re on the horizon. It’s a great experience for him to see Major League pitching, and recognize what he’s pretty close to being ready to do, and maybe what he needs to work on to get ready to get up here and to help this team win.”

-On Field 4 it was Erich Weiss and Eric Wood at first base, Chris Bostick and Max Moroff at second base, Sean Rodriguez and Kevin Newman at short stop, and Jose Osuna and Pablo Reyes at third base. Todd Cunningham and Jason Martin rotated in center, Bryan Reynolds was in right, and Austin Meadows patrolled left field rather than the center he’s played more often than not coming up through the minors.

-Asked if Meadows in left is an indication of things to come, Huntington laid out the team’s thinking about any possible future outfield alignments.

“We’ve talked about where he falls if everything eventually comes together, and obviously we’ve got a good right fielder, a good center fielder… he will certainly get attention in left.”

Manager Clint Hurdle was a little more abrupt in his assessment.

“He’s going to need to arrive first, before I get involved in that decision-making process.”

Huntington explained what they’re looking for from Meadows before exposing him to the Major League level.

“Consistency of production, and his ability to go help the team win on a consistent basis and be that best player on the field that he can be on any given night.”

Translation? Show that you can stay healthy, play everyday, and still be an impact player.

-Nava’s work at first base has been fairly plentiful early on, but Hurdle pointed out that it’s mostly to get another person to run in at that position during drills, not necessarily because they’re going to go out of their way to put him there rather than his more comfortable corner outfield spots.

They’re also more focused on what he can do as a bat off the bench than anything else.

“As you look to put your bench together, he’s a guy that’s shown the ability to do it at a Major League level,” said Hurdle.

“It’s very challenging at times to break in younger players that have played every day throughout their minor league career and then you get them on the bench in the big leagues and they try to figure that out. It was very challenging for Osuna last year. This acquire was for a veteran man that’s done it. [He’s] shown the ability to give you good at bats late in the game to help you win a game.”

-Bell’s power was on display in batting practice, but with a couple of days before he has to post a lineup for Friday’s Grapefruit League opener in Port Charlotte against the Rays, Hurdle wasn’t committing to where he thinks Bell will hit every day.

“4th is a possibility. He handled it, I thought, very, very well [last year].”

-Chad Kuhl, Tyler Eppler, Nick Kingham, and Dario Agrazal pitched on Field 1 during Live BP to Bell, Harrison, Moran, Freese, Rodriguez, and Frazier. At one point Agrazal came too far inside on Freese and nicked him on the forearm with a pitch. Exasperated, Freese left the cage in a quick but quiet display of frustration. Hurdle checked on him briefly and Freese finished the workout with no issues.

-On Field 2 Trevor Williams, Alex McRae, Clay Holmes, and Luis Escobar pitched to Marte, Polanco, Mercer, Luplow, Nava, Moroff, and Osuna.

Huntington used Williams as an example of how a Major League bullpen stint to start the year could help either Tyler Glasnow or Steven Brault.

“In the ‘70s, and really even into the ‘80s, you served an apprenticeship out of the bullpen, most of the time before you became a Major League starter. It’s a lot easier to get guys out three outs at a time than it is to go out and try to get them for 21, 24, or 27,” said the GM.

“In Tyler’s case, if he doesn’t make our rotation, then he’s absolutely a consideration for that bullpen, again in that middle role, where he comes in and today it’s one hitter, tomorrow it’s three outs, [it] might be nine outs at some point in time.

“It’s hard to tell Steven [Brault] that he needs to go do more at AAA. So both of those guys are in a situation, where if we feel it’s right, if we feel our starting depth is enough, that they could absolutely break on the club with our Major League team out of the bullpen, as Trevor Williams did a year ago.”

-Fields 3 & 4 were populated with minor league and bullpen arms, including Edgar Santana and Jack Leathersich pitching to Tucker, Martin, Newman, Reynolds and several others.  Dovydas Neverauskas was one of several arms throwing to Meadows, amongst others.

Leathersich bring s a crafty southpaw approach into the competition for the bullpen mix, while Santana and Neverauskas both rely more on heat –upper 90s fastballs– than deception. They’re up against the recently acquired Michael Feliz and Kyle Crick for just a couple of spots in the relief corps.

“Kyle’s got an explosive fastball,” said Huntington on Monday. “The breaking ball can get swings and misses. We see him as a quality back end reliever that, as a handful of these guys, may begin their time this year as a multi-inning reliever. They may get one inning here, they may get one out here, they may get six outs the next time out. He’s got the versatility to give us some length but also to go get some important hitters.”

The additions of Crick and Feliz, as well as the competition from Santana and Neverauskas, all points toward a ‘pen of hard throwing strikeout pitchers.

“Swing and miss is almost always an out, and the game is trending toward velocity,” Huntington acknowledged.

“We’ve brought in a handful of those, we’ve developed a handful of those, and we’ll continue to look to add those guys that have a chance to pitch late in the game.”

-Despite Eric Hosmer’s and J.D. Martinez’s big money free agent signings in the last 48 hours, don’t expect the Bucs to go free agent shopping… at least not at the IMG free agent camp across town, where those two were working out recently.

“We believe in this group,” said Huntington. “But we’ll continue to have conversations. We’re always open to creative additions. We’re always open to ways to improve the club if we can.”

-MLB’s new limit on visits to the mound was released as the team was working out, so neither Hurdle nor Huntington wanted to chime in until they’d had time to read the specifics of the rule.

Minor league reliever Bo Schultz, less than a year out from Tommy John surgery, said his understanding of the rule is that any verbal communication between a pitcher and anyone else on the team will count as a ‘visit.’ If that’s the case, will players have to develop a new set of signs to communicate with their pitchers? Or will that count as a visit as well?

Beginning with the 2018 season, only six ‘non-pitching change visits’ will be permitted in the first nine innings of a game, with one additional visit being permitted in each extra inning.

-Tuesday’s on-field workouts will begin at 10am and end before noon, allowing players interested to partake in an afternoon volunteer effort at a local Miracle League field.

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