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Notes: Growth since last trip shows

Notes: Growth since last trip shows

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LOS ANGELES -- According to Pirates manager Jim Tracy, it's the little things that turn a club from an also-ran to a contender, and those little things have started piling up in the Pirates' clubhouse. So much so, that this weekend's trip to Los Angeles proves to be a good background against which to view them.

Making their third visit to Chavez Ravine in less than a year, the differences between each visit have been significant for the Pirates. Last June, the team stumbled into Los Angeles in the midst of one of the worst losing streaks in Pirates history. It was a team that Tracy admits wasn't very good, especially on the road.

By September, the Bucs had turned their season around, eventually going 37-35 over the second half of the season, and letting their presence be felt on the pennant race. It was a team that Tracy felt was beginning to understand what it took to win, and the Pirates were starting to believe in themselves.

The 2007 edition comes to the park not with the idea that it could win, but with the thought that it will. With a young pitching staff that now has a year under its belt, and a lineup with added fire power, the Bucs have a little bit of swagger that gives them the confidence that they can play with anyone.

According to Tracy, "Last year it was a matter of learning how to win. I don't think that's anything they still need to learn."

And it's a swagger that they're developing on the road, where they are now 6-4 on the young season. Last year's club started off 0-6 and 1-13 on the road.

"If you can play .500 or better baseball on the road, come September, you're going to find yourself in some meaningful games," Tracy said.

It's been 14 seasons since the Pirates last finished above .500, and while many fans are looking at the young and improving team as one that can break that streak, that's not the way that Tracy is thinking.

"A lot of people would be happy with 81 wins, but that's not what I signed up for," he said. "And that's not what they're thinking in the clubhouse."

While Tracy won't say he thinks this team will win the National League Central, he doesn't see any reason the Pirates can't if they continue to improve as they have since their first trip to Los Angeles.

"Our pitchers are more experienced, and with the addition of Adam LaRoche, and a few others, there isn't anyone that we can't match up with," Tracy said.

"Play well on the road and do the little things that are needed to win at this level, and you can be vying for one of those eight spots we all want."

Getting some home cooking: Coming off an 0-for-5 performance that included four strikeouts, a weekend at home is just what Freddy Sanchez needs. The Los Angeles native has a .348 career batting average against the Dodgers, including a .356 mark at Dodger Stadium.

While Sanchez's current .281 average isn't a cause for concern, Tracy did acknowledge that it's a bit harder for the shortstop being the defending National League batting champion.

"Everyone knows who he is now," Tracy said. "They are well aware of him."

On the mend: John Grabow made his third rehab appearance Thursday for Triple-A Indianapolis, allowing one run in one inning of relief at Norfolk. Grabow threw 25 pitches, 15 for strikes. Grabow is scheduled to pitch once more this weekend, and he could possibly rejoin the Pirates on Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

Down on the farm: Indianapolis' Bryan Bullington improved his record to 2-0 by surrendering only one earned run over seven innings as the Indians defeated Norfolk, 5-2. Bullington's ERA now stands at an impressive 1.02. In the same Triple-A game, Ryan Doumit, now catching full-time, went 3-for-5 with two RBIs, and he is now batting .459 with two home runs and 13 RBIs.

On deck: Ian Snell (1-1, 1.80 ERA) faces off against Brad Penny (3-0, 0.89) in the middle game of a three-game series against the Dodgers, in a 10:10 p.m. ET start on Saturday at Dodger Stadium.

Glenn Rabney is a contributor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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