BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates were the worst team in the National League at allowing stolen bases last season.
So, what steps are being taken to rectify the problem? Simple -- slide steps.
"We have all been working on that stuff a lot down here [at spring training]," Pirates right-handed reliever Chris Resop said of the shorter, quicker delivery to the plate when a runner is on base. "We have to give our catchers a chance. We don't want to be known as a pitching staff you can run on. Nobody wants that."
Last season, the Pirates gave up 116 stolen bases, most in the National League; they caught only 22 percent of the runners, which was 15th out of the 16 NL teams; and the 32 runners they threw out was 12th in the league.
"I think if you look at it, it can get embarrassing," said left-hander Paul Maholm, who cut down from 15 players stealing off him in 2009 to eight in '10. "Everyone on the staff, it doesn't matter if you are a righty or a lefty, you need to do what you can to stop it. You need to just realize that this is something that is important if we want to win ballgames."
Important enough that pitching coach Ray Searage has added an extra training session dedicated to holding runners on and constructing a faster delivery to the plate from the stretch. Most pitchers elect to take part.
Part of the training is to strike a balance between paying attention to the runner on base and paying too much attention and risk losing focus on the hitter.
A number the pitchers want to hit is 1.3 seconds, which would be the amount of time to elapse between the first movement after coming to the set position and when the ball hits the catcher's mitt. Anything longer than that decreases the chances of the catcher throwing out the runner.
Last season, right-hander Ross Ohlendorf had 16 bases stolen against him with only one runner caught when he was on the mound. Wednesday, he said there were instances last season when his time to the plate was as high as 1.7 seconds.
"I was probably the worst," Ohlendorf said of last season. "I think some guys did a decent job, I did not. My plan is to be quicker to the plate, consistently. ... I have been working on slide steps, but I think that I can consistently be faster than I was. That is my main focus."
For right-handed starter James McDonald, his main focus is keeping a double focus.
"I like to be right at 1.3 when I slide step," McDonald said. "I don't want to get too fast, though. If I get too fast, down around 1.2, I am not as effective to the hitter. You have to be aware of that runner, but you can't let it take away from getting the hitter out. You really have to have a focus on both places."
Jose Tabata, batting leadoff again, went 3 for 3 with an RBI as the Pirates lost to the Twins, 4-2, Wednesday at McKechnie Field. Tabata has hits in his past four at-bats in spring training.
Ohlendorf struck out four batters and gave up two hits and an unearned run in his 12/3 innings to start the game. Ohlendorf was replaced before getting out of the second because he reached his pitch limit before retiring six batters.
"I felt really good with how I was throwing," Ohlendorf said. "My arm feels really good. Right now to me, that is the most important thing. There are other things that are important, too. But I was really happy with today."
Left-handed reliever Joe Beimel went for an MRI on Tuesday but couldn't finish the exam because his arm kept going numb inside the MRI tube.
Beimel said Wednesday morning that he likely would not have another MRI because the one Tuesday was a precautionary step.
Later Wednesday, the Pirates said in a statement that the results of Beimel's MRI showed no acute injury to his elbow. Beimel is scheduled to begin throwing again today.
Colin Dunlap: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published March 3, 2011 5:00 AM