Bucs begin Spring Training ready for fresh start

Bucs begin Spring Training ready for fresh start

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates expect all 41 pitchers and catchers to be in uniform for today's first mandatory Spring Training workout of 2011.

Pitchers and catchers were required to report to Pirate City by the end of the day on Sunday. All but Jose Ascanio, who is traveling from Venezuela, had checked in by early evening. Ascanio was scheduled to arrive later in the evening.

The Pirates were one of 12 teams to make Sunday the organization's official report date for pitchers and catchers. Though there were no mandatory workouts on Sunday, the players' arrivals lead up to Monday, when Clint Hurdle will run his first Spring Training workout as the Pirates' new manager.

"For me, this is an exciting time," Hurdle said. "I'm looking forward to being a part of something significant and special here."

Most of the pitchers and catchers who will take the field on Monday have already worked with Hurdle and his new coaching staff this winter. Turnout at the club's January minicamp in Bradenton was high, though this will be the first time that all the pitchers will be ready to throw off the mound.

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Of this group of 41 pitchers and catchers, 15 are non-roster invitees. Monday's workout is scheduled to begin at noon ET, though a number of players will be undergoing physicals earlier in the morning.

The position players aren't far behind either. The first full-squad workout will be held on Saturday, though a number of players have already arrived at Pirate City to begin early workouts.

Altogether, the clubhouse attendants have prepped for 62 players to be housed at Pirate City. Of the 23 non-roster players, nearly half (11) are pitchers. Four catchers, six infielders and two outfielders round out the rest of the group.

Hurdle has promised changes to the Spring Training routine, so the workout days should look different than they did when John Russell was in charge. Hurdle specifically noted that there would be an increased focus on shoring up fundamentals and honing pitchers' pickoff moves.

"We're going to talk about playing better baseball," general manager Neal Huntington said. "We're going to talk about taking care of business every single day. We're going to talk about making sure that we're prepared. We're going to talk about making sure we're in position to win that next game. If we do that every day, if we do that every series, if we do that every week, if we do that every month, we're going to look up at the end and we're going to have had a great year."

While the countdown to Opening Day begins in earnest with the start of Spring Training, this is also a time for competition. And there are a number of decisions that still must be made for a team coming off a 105-loss season.

Over the next seven weeks, the Pirates will name a closer, as well as a fifth starter. Both the bullpen and bench will come into better focus. A lineup will be crafted, and relationships will be formed between players and the coaching staff.

Though the Pirates are counting on their young core of players to make big strides this year, there will also be some new faces at camp. Matt Diaz, Lyle Overbay, Kevin Correia and Scott Olsen all ended their free-agent periods by inking deals with Pittsburgh. Diaz and Correia each signed two-year contracts.

"For the first time, I can talk about my true genuine excitement about our Major League team and where we're headed," Huntington said. "It's not about building our farm system. That's not the message. We're going to stay committed to building a champions-caliber organization."

Workouts at Pirate City will run through Thursday, Feb. 24. The following day, the Pirates will host the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota in a 12:05 p.m. ET exhibition game at McKechnie Field.

Grapefruit League play begins with a 1:05 p.m. ET contest against the Rays in Port Charlotte, Fla., on Feb. 26. Pittsburgh then opens its home portion of the schedule at 1:05 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 27, against Tampa Bay.

The Pirates' Grapefruit League schedule will wrap up in Florida on March 28, after which the Pirates will travel to Philadelphia for a pair of exhibition games at Citizens Bank Park. All this leads up to April 1, when the Pirates will open the 2011 season with a 2:20 p.m. ET game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

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.