Bucs' work on pickoffs paying off this spring

BRADENTON, Fla. -- It could be the Pirates' next marketing slogan:

"Come See Our Guys Pick Off -- and Tick Off -- Their Guys."

Putting on display what they have spent so much time preaching and practicing, Buccos pitchers have been pickoff-crazy through the first half of the exhibition season. The unofficial count is eight -- three more than in all of the 2012 season.

Such execution has been the spring's biggest reward for manager Clint Hurdle -- who opened camp sworn to address the struggles of last season, when opponents were successful on 154 of 173 stolen-base attempts.

"It's shown them they're reaping the benefits of the hard work they've put into it," Hurdle said. "You're always happy when your early work transfers into game execution. They're starting to talk about it among themselves, and that can have even more impact."

Pitchers from Gerrit Cole to Jeff Locke have had a hand in it, but the leader with two pickoffs is none other than A.J. Burnett, which is significant for two reasons: One, Burnett virtually took the mound last season with a "Go Ahead, Steal" sign on his back; two, seeing the ace buy into this new approach so totally has to influence the whole staff.

"I know they're gonna run on Burnett," said the man himself, "so any little thing I can do to get better, it'll help this team get better. So I'm all in. We've been very monotonous about it, working on it daily, but I've shown twice so far that it does help."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.