Meek is ready to close

Pirates Spring Training


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BRADENTON, Fla. -- A lot of guys take their time getting ready for April, easing their way through spring training to make sure they are mentally and physically prepared for the everyday grind of a long baseball season.

Not relief pitcher Evan Meek. He could be ready Tuesday -- or at least by the end of the week.

"It's exciting to get things started again, but spring training is like a month-and-half long, too long. I'd be fine if it lasted a week," Meek said Sunday after a workout at Pirate City, where pitchers and catchers officially open with new manager Clint Hurdle today. "Let's get it started."

Meek was one of 40 Pirates who were checked in by late Sunday afternoon -- pitcher Jose Ascanio was due in late Sunday night -- and everyone was brimming with the confidence that every new season brings. He was relaxed and refreshed, itching to get started again.

And with good reason.

Despite yet another losing season for the Pirates, Meek is coming off his finest year. He was a National League All-Star in his first full major league season and is setting his sights on a bigger role with the Pirates.

He arrived from his home in the Seattle area, intent on winning the job as the team's closer, the same job pitcher Joel Hanrahan wants. Hanrahan finished 2010 as the Pirates' primary closer, coming on after Octavio Dotel was traded to the Dodgers just before the deadline.

"Joel and I would both like that role [as closer]. We've talked about it," Meek said. "But either way would be fine with me, however it comes out. It's really not important when you look at the overall picture."

Regardless of who is finishing games when the Pirates open the season April 1 in Chicago, both will have prominent roles in the bullpen, giving the Pirates a late-inning, hard-throwing twosome that has the potential to be as good as any in the National League. The bigger issue this spring is finding more capable relievers to fill the gap between starter and closer.

Hanrahan (4-1, 3.62 ERA) had six saves last season, striking out 100 batters in just 692/3 innings. He established a career high in appearances (72) and strikeouts in his first full season in the Pirates' organization.

Meek (5-4, 2.14 ERA) had four saves, striking out 70 in 80 innings, covering 70 games. He was fourth among all NL relief pitchers in innings pitched and his ERA was seventh best.

It was his selection to the National League All-Star team that set him apart. He was 4-3 with a 1.11 ERA in 40 games before the break. He was scored upon just once in his first 13 games and took a streak of 15 consecutive scoreless innings into May. He also went through a stretch of 13 games in which he was not charged with an earned run, lowering his ERA to 0.66. His efforts after the All-Star Game were not as impressive.

"The All-Star Game was great. It was awesome, but this is a new slate, a new year, and I've got to put what happened behind me," he said. "No one gives you anything now just because you were at the All-Star Game. It's seeing if you can repeat what you did. That's my goal."

NOTES -- Ross Ohlendorf was one of 20 pitchers and catchers who worked out informally Sunday at the complex. As much as anyone, he is excited about washing away last season's disaster. His year was marred by injuries at both ends, and he finished 1-11. "I know I can pitch better than I did last season, and I'm excited to show I can pitch better," Ohlendorf said. He also was impressed with what he had seen of new manager Clint Hurdle, after working with him at mini-camps this winter. "He has a lot of energy, and positive energy, which makes it easy to believe in ourselves," he said.

• When the pitchers and catchers work out today, they will be wearing the new gold/yellow jerseys for the first time. Once the season begins, they will be used as batting practice warm-ups. "We'll look like bumblebees," Meek said, joking.

• Pitchers and catchers will undergo their annual physical exams today. The first official workout is scheduled for noon. ... Even though position players don't officially start until Saturday, 49 of the 62 already are in camp. ... The Pirates scoreboard crew is in Bradenton for the start of spring training. They will be filming various segments to be used throughout this season at PNC Park. ... Although Hurdle was not expected to arrive in Bradenton until late Sunday, his coaches and minor league managers met for four hours Sunday.

SPRING TRAINING

2011

Dates to know:

TODAY First workout for pitchers and catchers

SATURDAY: First full-squad workout

FRIDAY, FEB. 25: First exhibition game vs. State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, 12:05 p.m., McKechnie Field, Bradenton, Fla.

SATURDAY, FEB. 26: Grapefruit League opener, at Tampa Bay Rays, 1:05 p.m., Port Charlotte, Fla.



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