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Pirates ready to play some small ball in '13

BRADENTON, Fla. -- In the Pirates' glorious 1960s and '70s, Bob Prince bubbled "You can kiss it goodbye!" when one of them connected for a home run.

Flashing forward to 2013, you may be able to blow a goodbye kiss to the home run itself. Oh, the Bucs are still going to hit them -- they still have guys who can hit loads of them -- but they are not going to live or die by them.

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The 2012 Giants -- last in the Majors in homers -- proved execution trumps the long ball in the formula for ultimate success. Even at the gate: Everyone, chicks included, may dig the long ball; but they dig winning even more.

It thus is noteworthy that through 17 Grapefruit League games, the Pirates have scored a total of 15 runs on 12 homers -- and an equal number of runs on outs. This new bent for creating runs came into focus during Monday's walk-off win over the Orioles, when the winning run scored on a grounder to the right side of the infield.

The offensive balance is an early indication of the influence of new hitting coach Jay Bell, the only man in baseball history with seasons of 30-plus homers (1999) and 30-plus sacrifice bunts (1990-91). Bell has earned early plaudits from his new pupils with instruction focused on situations, not mechanics. Manager Clint Hurdle looks forward to the season-long impacts of Bell and assistant hitting coach Jeff Branson.

"There's a lot of good work being done by them," Hurdle said. "I feel good about that mix -- the experience of Branson [formerly the Minor League hitting instructor] with most of the guys here, and Jay's overall experience. They've bolstered that department for us, and will make a big difference as we go forward into the season."

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.

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