Notes: Kuwata takes second chance

Notes: Kuwata takes second chance

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Masumi Kuwata had already thanked his wife, Maki, and his two sons for their support last year in his attempt to live out his dream of playing in the Major Leagues.

He had decided that the pain in his ankle had been too much to warrant a comeback. The results had been embarrassing. The separation from his family had been draining.

But then Kuwata flew to Los Angeles in September to meet with Dr. Frank Jobe to discuss the pain in his right ankle.

That ankle hadn't been the same since Kuwata twisted it in a collision with umpire Wally Bell in Spring Training last year. Despite the pain, and despite the fact that Kuwata will turn 40 in just over a month, Dr. Jobe encouraged the Japanese pitcher to have surgery on the ankle and give the Major Leagues one more shot.

"I was feeling that I should retire because I had bad results and it was painful physically," said Kuwata, who made 19 relief appearances for the Pirates last season. "Before every game, I had tape on my ankle and took pain killers. It was painful. Every pitch I made, I had to bear the pain."

But after a successful surgery, another consultation with Dr. Jobe and three months of rest, Kuwata announced to his family that he wasn't quite ready to hang up his spikes for good. It was around that time that he also talked to Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, who made Kuwata an offer to return for another season with the organization.

Now, with that decision behind him, Kuwata has arrived in Bradenton feeling that he can legitimately compete for one of the final four bullpen spots that the Pirates have open. After beginning his throwing program in December, Kuwata estimates the strength of his ankle to currently be at 80 to 90 percent.

"It's just not feeling 100 percent, but I can do anything," said Kuwata, who threw his second bullpen session of Spring Training on Monday. "But I don't want to try 100 percent right now -- maybe at the end of the month."

Even with his ankle not yet at 100 percent, Kuwata has participated in every fielding drill, bunting drill and conditioning exercise. He also continues to be a glowing example of professionalism in the clubhouse and a mentor to some of the younger pitchers in camp.

"If you could take him and bottle him and give his passion to everyone, I probably wouldn't have a job," pitching coach Jeff Andrews said. "I absolutely love being around that guy. And he looks ready to do what we need him to do."

Kuwata said that he hasn't decided what he will do if he does not make the Major League roster out of Spring Training, though he is confident that he has a realistic chance of being in Atlanta with the team on Opening Day.

For now, he is simply thankful that the physical pain that he had to consistently hide in Pittsburgh last summer is gone. That, he said, is why he believes his results can improve.

"I have to show results on the field," he said. "I just want to try and do my best. After the surgery, I wanted to see how my ankle recovered, but I didn't want to play on any other team. If I play again, I want to play here."

Morris makes statement: After the fact, Andrews admitted that he was a little concerned by his assessment of veteran Matt Morris on Saturday -- not as much by what he saw as by what he didn't see. The right-hander had limited his session exclusively to throwing fastballs.

"Everyone else was throwing all their pitches," Andrews said. "I tend to be a worrier, and I want to see this and I want to see that."

But then Andrews talked to Morris, and the veteran right-hander put any concerns to rest. Morris would be throwing his other array of pitches soon enough, and knowing Morris' experience level, Andrews trusted that the righty knew what would be the most beneficial progression for him.

On Monday, Morris was one of 18 pitchers to throw a second bullpen, and it's safe to say that Andrews no longer has reason to worry. With his offspeed pitches in sync, and stellar fastball command, Morris has convinced Andrews that he has arrived in camp ready to make a statement this season.

"It made me feel really good with what he did today," Andrews sad. "I know it's not a max effort, but ... to come out the first day and throw a breaking ball and throw it for strike after strike after strike, that was really nice to see."

Duffy hitting: Chris Duffy hit in the batting cages for the fourth straight day Monday, as the strength in his shoulder continues to progress. The center fielder is hopeful of taking batting practice off pitchers soon and has said that he is feeling no pain in his left shoulder.

Duffy also continues to throw from a distance of 75 feet and has not yet targeted a date when that distance is going to increase.

Bucs bits: Carlos Maldonado participated in his first workouts of spring on Monday after clearing up visa issues and arriving from Venezuela on Sunday. ... Jose Bautista arrived in camp just after noon ET on Monday and will begin participating in workouts on Tuesday, one day before position players are required to report. ... There will be no bullpen sessions on Tuesday, as all pitchers are being given two days off from throwing before facing live hitters beginning on Wednesday.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.