Pirates minicamp preview: Gorzelanny lightens load

Left-hander loses 15 pounds, ready to discard poor 2008

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- When the Pirates' pitchers report for minicamp this morning, perhaps no one will have shed more weight than Tom Gorzelanny.

Physically and mentally.

"I cleared everything out, threw the whole year out of my mind," he said of 2008. "I wasn't in the best form. My body wasn't there from the start, and I had a lot of catching up to do. I tried to struggle through it, kept thinking it would be OK, and it just never was. But this offseason, I've started over. I haven't taken any time off. Nothing but working out, getting my arm and shoulder in shape."

He started with the body.

Fulfilling a pledge made near the end of a season in which he went 6-9 with a beastly 6.66 ERA and spent nearly two months in the minors, Gorzelanny abandoned his usual regimen and committed first to losing weight. So, rather than weightlifting, he spent his afternoons at PNC Park running laps alongside Frank Velasquez, the Pirates' strength and conditioning coordinator.

The result: 15 pounds lost.

"I feel great," he said.

There is more to it: He has done exercises targeted at strengthening the left shoulder that gave out on the opening day of the 2008 Grapefruit League schedule and set the tone for a summer of ailments. And, in what might sound striking for a professional pitcher, he has worked on his posture.

"If I had better posture -- just that -- a lot of things would have been a lot better for me for a long time, and it's something I've really been working on," Gorzelanny said. "It's amazing the difference it can make."

The Pirates still see Gorzelanny as a potential difference-maker despite his 2008, and it does not require a deep dive into history to see why: In 2007, his 14-10 record and 3.88 ERA made him one of the National League's most effective -- and consistent -- starters. And he is only 26 years old.

"I see an opportunity to show everyone I can pitch the way I did in 2007," Gorzelanny said. "And I know that I will again. That's my goal, to be ready for the season and get back to where I was."

Still, it is clear management is making no promises.

General manager Neal Huntington has expressed regret over entering last spring with virtually no competition for the starting rotation -- "When you have five jobs and five pitchers, that's no longer a competition," he said last week -- and sounds heartened enough by the eight who will compete this year that Gorzelanny's name shows up among the uncertainties.

"We've got legitimately better numbers this year," Huntington said. "But does that mean everybody's got the same chance to make the rotation? No. Paul Maholm would need to show up 20 pounds overweight, and that's not going to happen. He's a lock. Ian Snell and Zach Duke, they've obviously got an inside track. From there, it's Ross Ohlendorf, Gorzelanny and Jeff Karstens, with Jimmy Barthmaier and Daniel McCutchen after them. And, overall, we see that as a great group to draw from, not just on April 6 but all season long."

That will depend far more on performance than potential, of course, and Huntington frequently has expressed confidence that new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan, who will get his first hard look at the staff this week, can help.

"I don't want to make Joe out to be a miracle worker," Huntington said. "But I am a believer that good coaching makes players better. We expected improvement on this staff -- with certain guys in particular -- whether he made a change or not. It might not happen overnight. To say it's definitely going to happen with Snell or Gorzelanny, I think that's misrepresentative. There are certain guys we're going to be able to reach, certain guys we won't. But I think Joe Kerrigan gives us the best chance."

NOTES -- The Pirates yesterday agreed to terms with veteran outfielder Craig Monroe and catcher Miguel Perez on minor league contracts with invitations to spring training. Monroe, who will turn 31 next month, has a .253 career average and 112 home runs over eight seasons in Major League Baseball. That includes a .202 average and eight home runs in 2008 with the Minnesota Twins, who released him Aug. 8. He has topped 20 home runs three times -- 2003, 2005 and 2006 -- all with the Detroit Tigers. Last week, Huntington hinted at acquiring a "bounce-back" type of player to address the need for right-handed power in the outfield. Perez, 25, spent all of last season with the Pirates' Class AA affiliate in Altoona and batted .281 with two home runs and 22 RBIs. ... There now are 14 non-roster invitees. ... Manager John Russell will oversee all four days of minicamp, beginning with a meeting at 9 a.m. today. ... Kerrigan has been catching some of his pitchers in the offseason to get a feel for their stuff, and that will continue here.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Pirates updates, your comments and more ... join the conversation at PBC blog .


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