Hot Stove: GM wants to see 'hunger, fire' from Paulino

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To fully understand the Pirates' approach heading into the winter meetings tomorrow in Nashville, Tenn., this should be clear: General manager Neal Huntington is not looking for immediate upgrades to his everyday eight.

No, not even at catcher.

Although Ronny Paulino took a sizable step backward at the plate, behind the plate and pretty much everywhere in terms of effort, Huntington and everyone who answers to him are focused not on replacing him but on reinvigorating him.

"We see Ronny as a guy who needs to return to where he was in 2006," Huntington said. "We need to see the hunger, the fire, a guy who's in better condition, a guy who has better motivation. We need Ronny Paulino to be our guy."

Paulino's second season saw his average dive from .310 to .263, largely because -- in the eyes of many baseball insiders -- he stayed far enough away from pitches that he needed an airplane wing to reach them. He also regressed defensively, allowing passed balls and stolen bases and, in the facet that most seemed to frustrate fans at PNC Park, runners to score at home when he dropped routine throws from the outfield.

Huntington expressed optimism that his new staff, including hitting coach Don Long, catching instructor Luis Dorante and manager John Russell -- a catching instructor most of his career -- will be able to address all of the above.

"We see a player who did some very good things in 2006, and our job is to get him back to that level," Huntington said. "I'm confident we have the people to do that."

Those people also will be working with Ryan Doumit. Huntington seems to like Doumit's work in the outfield, based on studying videos, but he already has planned that Doumit will see "some time" behind the plate in spring training with a possible aim of backing up Paulino when he is not in the outfield.

"We need Ryan Doumit to improve to the point he can be a backup catcher and can get his bat in lineup more often."

Third base, the other position some might see as a problem area, is no such thing to hear Huntington tell it. His praise for Jose Bautista, who batted .254 with 15 home runs with a good glove in his first season as an everyday player, ranges from glowing to effusive.

So, what is left?

"I see us needing depth in the bullpen and in position players," Huntington said. "We have some good pieces in place, but if we have an injury, all of a sudden ... lacking that second- and third-level piece."

Buried treasure

• Members of previous management not known to have found new jobs yet include former general manager Dave Littlefield, manager Jim Tracy, pitching coach Jim Colborn, bench coach Jim Lett and director of baseball operations Jon Mercurio.

• Only two candidates were interviewed for the hitting coach vacancy, Huntington said. In addition to Don Long, who got the job, the other was the Pirates' existing minor-league hitting coordinator, Gregg Ritchie.

• By all accounts, Nate McLouth will be given a genuine chance to win starting outfield duty.

• Shane Youman, waived by the Pirates and claimed Wednesday by Philadelphia, sounded surprised: "I'm not really sure what happened or why," he said from his Louisiana home. "But I'm thankful for the chance and looking forward to getting another one with the Phillies." The Pirates might have been surprised, too: They are thought to have been expecting Youman would pass through waivers.

• Brad Lincoln, the Pirates' No. 1 pick in 2006 coming off elbow surgery, was able to long-toss in the Florida Instructional League and remains on pace to pitch in January. He is targeted to open next season at Class A Hickory or Lynchburg.

• No decision has been made yet about the future of Kent Tekulve, the Pirates' advance scout the past two years, as much in the team's front office remains fluid.

• Only 74 days until pitchers and catchers report.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at .


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