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."