Spring Training: Russell to stress 'attention to detail'

New manager takes field for first workout tomorrow

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John Russell has been managing and coaching in professional baseball since 1995, across all levels and across the continent, from Elizabethton to Edmonton.

Today, the Pirates' pitchers and catchers report to Bradenton, Fla.

And tomorrow, they have their first workout, affording Russell his first opportunity to don a uniform as a major-league manager.

He answered questions yesterday after a morning meeting with general manager Neal Huntington and the rest of the coaching staff at Pirate City:

Pirates camp
  • Today: Pitchers and catchers report.
  • Tomorrow: First workout.
  • Tuesday: Position players report.
  • Feb. 28: Major-league exhibition opener vs. the Philadelphia Phillies.

Q: How will it feel to take the field for that first workout?

A: It's something I'll be very proud of, honored to do, right from day one. I had some of that feeling with minicamp last month, but this will be different.

I'll never forget a lot of the things I was taught about baseball growing up, about respecting the game, respecting the uniform. This time, though, it'll mean a little more. Believe me: I'll be thinking about a lot of things when I get dressed Friday morning.

Q: With your everyday eight and starting rotation mostly set, will that present more of a chance to focus on fundamentals, as opposed to competition and the like?

A: I wouldn't say that, because what's expected of the 25 players we take out of here will be the same that's expected of the guys that get sent down. The teaching and evaluating always will be the same. I don't know any other way to have a spring training than the way we're going to do it, and that involves teaching, evaluating and all kinds of hard work. Everything will be part of it.

Q: Some managers are more hands-on than others with fundamentals. How will you approach a situation when you see something you do or do not like, especially early in camp?

A: Depends on the situation. I'm not going to show anybody up. There's a respect you have for everyone, and that includes your staff doing their jobs. I don't want to overshadow that.

But I have talked to the staff, and attention to detail is the most important tool we have. I've told them that, if a player makes a mistake, it's got to be addressed. There's no need to be nitpicky, no need to kill a whole drill to do it right there. There can be a one-on-one situation with the player the next morning. Or you can just pull the player aside.

But we have to be accountable. Attention to detail means making sure we're doing things right.

Q: With the team setting up a spring competition between Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan for center field, how will you go about giving each a fair shot?

A: Well, you don't want one guy to play 25 games and the other four games, but there's more to it than numbers. We want to give each of them a chance to show what they're capable of doing.

It could be how they handle certain situations, how they handle the mental side of the game. They both bring special things to a club, I think. For me to sit here and say, 'Well if Nate hits .450 and Nyjer hits .320, I'm going to start Nate,' that's not what I'm looking for. I'm looking for someone to take charge, someone who does the little things right, the type you can count on to be that steady player.

Q: Are your starting positions, including the pitchers, really set? Nothing can change shy of injury?

A: As I'll tell the players, I'm not worried about positions being engraved in stone.

You know, people talk about competition. Well, there are different kinds of competition. Competition can be getting prepared to play because you never know what can happen in baseball. I'd hate to say there are opportunities for everybody when you see some of our guys --Jason Bay, Jack Wilson, Freddy Sanchez, Adam LaRoche -- and what they've accomplished. At the same time, the guy who's going to take their spot if something happens to those guys is the one that's most prepared. They shouldn't worry right now that Jason Bay is ahead of them.

Looking at it on paper, though, yeah, we have some guys who have established themselves. And we need those guys to do well.

Q: Aside from the leadoff spot, which you have said will go to McLouth or Morgan, how might the Nos. 2-5 spots in your lineup look?

A: Honestly, I've kicked that around and have five different lineups, depending on which day you ask me.

The center fielder will be first, then Jack or Freddy. Then, Bay will be in there, I suspect. And LaRoche. And Xavier Nady or Jose Bautista after that.

I can say that what you've seen in the past is probably where most of our guys fit best. But we'll be open to seeing how it plays out. I'm not going to make decisions until I see more.

Q: You and everyone else in management have spoken of changing the Pirates' culture, of creating a winning environment. How can you begin doing that in spring training?

A: That started with ownership, I think, with Bob Nutting giving us the opportunity to do some good things. Look at the changes that have been made in our facilities to our management to our scouting and development. The outlook is very bright. They want to make things better, and the resources are there, without being stupid. We're not just going to do things to do them.

The culture then goes to the players, the way I see it. You're a major-league player, and you're expected to do a job. We'll set the accountability, we'll have the attention to detail, but you as the player have to run with it. We have to approach every game like we have a chance to win it, and that comes from doing things right.

And we don't want to just talk about that. We're going to get out there, work hard and make sure we're prepared.

Now, does this all happen overnight? I don't know. Usually, it doesn't. But I truly believe that these guys, by the time we're done with spring training, will understand where we're headed.

NOTES - The Pirates have heard of no new injuries among any of the 44 pitchers and catchers due to report today, Russell said. The three players certain to have a slow start to spring training are outfielders Chris Duffy and Kevin Thompson, and starter Adam Bernero. All three had limited activities in the January minicamp, too. ... Second baseman Freddy Sanchez, coming off September shoulder surgery, will report in the next day or two, a week before position players are required. ... Little happens on reporting day. Russell, Huntington and all coaches, including the minor-league staff, will meet this morning. Players only need to notify the Pirates that they are in town upon reaching Bradenton. The first workout is at noon tomorrow.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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