Spring Synopsis: Duke gets extra attention

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Notes, quotes and anecdotes from the Pirates' spring training ...

Day 4:

The Pirates' three-hour workout yesterday, under mostly cloudy skies and 75-degree temperatures at Pirate City, included the second bullpen sessions for 18 pitchers. Among them: Paul Maholm, Matt Morris, Zach Duke and John Grabow.

Pitching coach Jeff Andrews spent the most time with Duke, stressing early in the session that he wanted to see more purpose to his pitches and stopping him to push the point. By the end of it, Andrews was shouting, "Yes!" after nearly all of Duke's offerings.

Today: Position players are required to report to Bradenton, with the first full-squad workout tomorrow. The pitchers get a break with no bullpen sessions the next two days.

Camp roster: 65, with 37 pitchers, 6 catchers and 12 position players in the fold. Catcher Carlos Maldonado, delayed by visa issues, participated in his first workout. Third baseman Jose Bautista reported a day early.

Injury updates: Reliever Damaso Marte (flu) stayed off the field a fourth day but described himself as feeling "better." ... Minor-league starter Olivo Astacio (shoulder) had a 60-foot long-tossing session, a sign that his injury is not serious.

Battle lines: Ryan Doumit continues to wear his catching gear, as had been the Pirates' plan heading into this spring. How much longer it stays on remains to be seen.

Management remains flexible to using Doumit as an outfield reserve and keeping his bat in the lineup more often, but that flexibility also includes using him as an active backup catcher, part of a semi-platoon with Ronny Paulino, or even pushing Paulino for starting duty if he can prove himself defensively.

It will be just one variable among many moving pieces related to how the bench comes together and, more important, where Doumit is most valuable in the long term.

Fun in the sun: One new wrinkle at Pirate City this spring is a virtual pitcher added to one of the batting cages.

When it is off, it is a 10x10 white screen with a circular hole near the top, planted behind a mound. When it is on, it features the image of a pitcher, complete with stadium backdrop, and the pitcher's delivery culminates with the release point at the hole. A ball spits out toward the hitter.

Most of the Pirates have stuck with the standard variety of virtual pitcher, that being a coach standing behind an L-shaped screen.

Overheard: Bautista, describing the atmosphere of his Licey team winning the Caribbean World Series last week in the Dominican Republic: "There are 15,000 people there, but it feels like 70,000. They live on every pitch, they're singing, shouting, shaking noisemakers ... it's a big part of why I love playing there every winter."

Countdown to Atlanta: 42 days.

First Published February 19, 2008 5:00 AM


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