Beimel takes crown in pitchers' bunt contest

Beimel takes crown in pitchers' bunt contest

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Joe Beimel has a total of three at-bats since 2006, and he hasn't laid down a sacrifice bunt since his last tour with the Pirates in 2002.

Yet, somehow, on Thursday, Beimel unofficially became the best bunting pitcher on the club. Beimel won the team's bunt contest, besting five others in the finals of an ongoing Spring Training competition. Kevin Correia was the leader before Beimel won it in a second-round "walk-off."

"I've had some good bunt instructors over the years," said Beimel, who doesn't consider himself the world's best at laying one down.

The entire team gathered on the infield grass and was genuinely into the competition, hooting and howling in support. Joel Hanrahan ran up to the plate and gave Beimel a chest bump after he won.

"Just gets everybody focused," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Everybody's got a shot, everybody's got a chance. ... You can hear the cheers and the oh's and the ooh's and the aahs."

Points are given out for each bunt that lands in a designated area, painted on the ground right in front of the plate. Keeping the ball within three small circles brings the most points.

There was, of course, a purpose to the drill beyond simple fun. Bunting has long been a lost art, and the Pirates were 11th out of 16 National League teams in sacrifice hits last season.

"You got to have pitchers who can handle the bat," Hurdle said. "It was a soft spot identified to me early in the interview process. They've heightened the awareness of it throughout the Minor League system already, and they'll continue to do so. It's just something you need to know how to do."