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Milledge putting in hours in outfield

Milledge putting in hours in outfield

PITTSBURGH -- Early afternoon work by the Pirates is nothing unusual at PNC Park these days, but Lastings Milledge has become outfield coach Gary Varsho's most attentive and active pupil as of late.

Since joining the Major League club almost three weeks ago, Milledge has been engaged in extensive extra work in the outfield to shore up his defense, which has been shaky at times.

"Gary has him out there doing something different every day -- just the basics," manager John Russell said. "It's a multitude of everything."

It's a multitude of work that includes, but is not limited to, a variety of footwork drills, angles to balls, positioning and catching techniques. By all accounts, Milledge has taken to the instruction well and has been eager to participate. It has, though, led to an intense amount of defensive work that may have indirectly led to a slow start offensively.

After going 20-for-60 in 17 games for Triple-A Indianapolis after coming back from a finger injury, Milledge has hit just .250 with three doubles and one homer -- which came on Tuesday -- in 16 games with the Pirates.

"This kid is working on an awful lot right now," acknowledged Russell. "We're just trying to take it one small step at a time right now. In Lastings' case, it is continuing to work to get all his talent going in the right direction."

While Milledge's extra defensive work will continue, the Pirates have to be intrigued by the power Milledge finally showed on Tuesday when he lifted a pitch from Milwaukee's Manny Parra easily over the left-field wall.

Milledge has the bat speed and strength to put up decent power numbers, evidenced by his work during batting practice and the 14 home runs he hit in 138 games with Washington last season. So why hadn't it surfaced before Tuesday? Milledge admitted that a broken right ring finger, which sidelined him from mid-May until mid-July, likely had some effect.

"When you're out for two months, you kind of lose your swing a little bit," Milledge said. "It will come. Getting the first [home run] is always the hardest one."

After hitting Milledge almost exclusively from the second spot in the order, Russell has dropped the left fielder in the order for this entire series and, maybe not coincidentally, Milledge's results have been better. The move was made hoping Milledge would then relax more in his approach. Heading into Wednesday's series finale, Milledge had gone 3-for-8 in the series.

"He's working hard," Russell said. "He knows what people are saying about him. People are going to be watching, he knows that. The biggest concern is that he wants to play and he wants to get it right. He really wants to be a good player."

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

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