MIAMI -- The Pirates are not a fast team, to be generous, but neither are their ankles anchored to first base upon arrival.
Which makes it seem puzzling, perhaps, that their totals of 30 stolen bases and 42 attempts each ranks last in the National League. Only the Texas Rangers, with 28 steals and 39 attempts, rank lower in Major League Baseball.
Even Jason Bay, the league's most efficient thief last season by going 21 for 22 in steals, has only six in eight tries this year.
His most recent attempt?
Thirty games ago.
"The big thing, I think, is that we've been down a lot, and you can't really force those things," Bay said. "As for myself, I've just gotten away from it a little bit, I guess. And once you get away from it, you tend to forget about it. Last year, obviously, it was a big thing for me, and I'd like to get back to it a little more. But the situation dictates that."
That theory is commonly held, it seems.
"We do have guys who can take bases," said third baseman Freddy Sanchez, one for two in steals. "But we have been down quite a bit, and the last thing you want to do is kill a rally like that."
The Pirates are on pace for 49 steals, which would be their fewest since 1975, and 68 attempts, which would be their fewest since 1994.
Manager Jim Tracy, who came from Los Angeles with a reputation for caution on the bases, shared the view that being behind has hurt the stealing. But he also pointed to the Pirates' lack of elite runners.
"We've tried, for the most part, to force the game a little bit by putting runners in motion, having some run-and-hits," he said. "But outright stealing? We don't have a team full of Jose Reyes types."
Tracy said Bay has a green light to steal, as well as "a couple other players" whose names he did not divulge. But he also made clear there are situations when that light turns red.
Third base coach Jeff Cox, also the baserunning instructor, expressed optimism on the matter.
"Some people who we hope can become base-stealers are still getting familiar with the opposing pitchers," he said. "Nate McLouth and Jose Bautista, for example, are still learning. They've got a lot of notes we've given them so that they can steal more, but it'll take some time."
Trade winds blowing
With nine days to the non-waiver trading deadline:
Houston has interest in Pirates reliever Damaso Marte, a source close to the Astros said yesterday, but it is not believed to be intense.
The Pirates have talked to Texas about outfielder Kevin Mench, but the Rangers want immediate help for the rotation in return and, according to one source in Dallas, are not satisfied that Oliver Perez would be the answer. Texas had pursued Perez over the winter.
San Francisco's acquisition of Shea Hillenbrand to play first base scratched the Giants from the list of Sean Casey suitors.
Bullington shut down
Starter Bryan Bullington, the Pirates' first-round draft pick in 2002, was shut down for 10 days on the orders of Dr. Keith Meister, the Rangers' team physician who performed the surgery nine months ago to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder.
Bullington has been limited almost exclusively to long-tossing since the spring, and there is no timetable for his return to action.
Starter Paul Maholm has assumed Bay's role as the Pirates' union representative, as per a player vote. He had been the alternate.
Maholm, winner of one start in two months, was out on the field yesterday afternoon -- in the rain -- to work out issues with his delivery with pitching coach Jim Colborn.
A sign of hope? Indianapolis leads the Class AAA International League with 122 steals, and Chris Duffy is 10 of 13 in 18 games since his return.
The Pirates' stolen bases, number of tries and National League rank since moving to PNC Park:
INDIANAPOLIS (54-44) lost at Richmond, 4-1. LHP Sean Burnett (7-7, 5.18) allowed four runs and five hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out two, walked two and threw 47 of 87 pitches for strikes. RHP Josh Sharpless (2.17) pitched 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. CF Chris Duffy (.306) went 2 for 2 with a double.
ALTOONA (57-41) lost at Bowie, 4-0. LHP Mike Connolly (6-5, 4.30) allowed two runs, one earned, in three innings. He was forced out early by a rain delay.
LYNCHBURG (40-56) lost to Wilmington, 4-2. RHP Nerio Rodriguez (0-2, 6.00) allowed three runs, two earned, in five innings. C Neil Walker (.254) went 0 for 4.
HICKORY (47-52) lost to Lakewood, 6-4. RHP Luis Valdez (5-3, 3.66) allowed four runs in five innings. 2B Euvi Solano (.256) hit his first home run and went 2 for 3 with two walks. CF Andrew McCutchen (.282) went 1 for 5.
WILLIAMSPORT (9-19) was rained out at Hudson Valley.