Pirates' Michael McKenry hopes to catch on for 2012

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MILWAUKEE -- Michael McKenry played for multiple hitting coaches in three organizations this season before settling with the Pirates.

After the season, he will attempt to gain some stability at the plate.

McKenry will play in the instructional league this fall and get one-on-one instruction from manager Clint Hurdle to remove the clutter from his swing.

"We presented it to each other," McKenry said. "It's something I want to improve. I had a vast array of knowledge and stuff coming in and I just kind of want to narrow it down and focus on one thing."

McKenry, who joined the Pirates from the Boston organization in June, hit .195 in his first month, but .289 in July. When Ryan Doumit returned from injury and Jason Jaramillo joined the team after rosters expanded, McKenry's playing time decreased. He has only 17 at-bats in September, but said the time off has benefited him.

"This whole year is just a great learning process," he said. "If I just take all that information and bottle it up and grow with it and then hone in my skills and, hopefully, get everything I can out of my body, I think some good things can happen for me."

Doumit hit .331 since coming off the disabled list Aug. 3 and .411 in 21 September games. The Pirates have a two-year, $15.5 million club option on Doumit, though Doumit said he did not know whether the team planned to exercise it.

"I'd always be open to that," he said about returning to the Pirates. "I really haven't put too much thought into it."

Hurdle said he was pleased with Doumit's production when he was healthy, but the missed time was an issue.

"He worked so hard in spring training, focused on coming in, knew the challenges, he knew what role would have to be filled," Hurdle said.

"We don't want to close any doors on anybody," said Hurdle, referring to Chris Snyder and Paul Maholm, other players with club options, as well as Doumit. "We just see which direction we need to go and economically what things can happen for the best of both parties. These guys could get an opportunity to go out and people could make big plays for him."

The catcher position is uncertain for 2012 because of the options attached to Doumit and Snyder, who has a $6.75 million club option. McKenry saw the chance to work with Hurdle as an opportunity to improve to the point where he can contribute next season.

"Let's see how good we can get, redefine me as a hitter," McKenry said. "Hopefully, make me way better than I am right now and help this ballclub win daily."

McKenry's biggest contribution came on defense, where he immediately served as a solid receiver and blocker behind the plate and played a large role in Charlie Morton's progression throughout the summer.

"It's just pride," he said. "I have a ton of pride when it comes to catching. I don't want to be just OK, I want to be the best.

"I love it. I like it when the ball hits me in the face mask. I like having bruised thumbs and bruises all over my chest. I eat it up. I couldn't imagine playing any other position."

He has a bruised thumb right now, courtesy of a Joel Hanrahan slider that McKenry instinctively tried to barehand.

Hair on fire

Entering the final game of the regular season Wednesday, neither the American League nor National League had determined its wild-card playoff team. The possibility existed for both leagues to have one-game playoffs.

Hurdle, whose Colorado Rockies won a one-game playoff in 2007 and went to the Word Series after winning 14 of the final 15 regular-season games, referred to the one-game playoff experience as hair-on-fire survival.

"It was, win the game we're playing that day and whatever pieces you have the next day, that's what you go with," he said.

The Rockies started former Pirate Josh Fogg, who Hurdle said earned the nickname "Dragon Slayer" that year for taking down the game's best opposing pitchers, and won in 13 innings.



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