Winter ball strongly suggested for some Pirates players

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The Pirates organization believes in the value of winter ball, and the push to send players there has started.

Manager Clint Hurdle said Sunday that he encouraged several players to play winter ball to get more at-bats and gain experience.

"We've had conversations, very blunt conversations," Hurdle said. "There's some guys we absolutely think should go to winter ball."

Hurdle would not identify the 6-10 players he suggested should play, but candidates for winter ball are usually players who did not receive consistent major league playing time, such as Jordy Mercer or Josh Harrison, or who missed time to injury.

"It's guys who could use the experience of playing in must-win situations," general manager Neal Huntington said. "In the Dominican Republic, it's a must-win situation or the American may get sent home, or the manager may get fired. It's hard to replicate that. We replicated that up here until about two weeks ago."

Hurdle, who spent four offseasons playing in warmer climates, knows the benefits of winter ball.

"More at-bats, especially for some guys that might be challenged by spin and soft stuff," he said. "Go to Mexico. You want to be challenged by changeups and breaking balls?"

"I'm a big advocate of an American player getting out of his comfort zone and going to another country. They don't really care where you're from. You've got to do a lot of things different."

Chase d'Arnaud, Starling Marte and Chris Leroux, along with several Pirates minor leaguers, each played winter ball in the offseason.

Huntington said the Pirates had "a handful" of players that they were attempting to find a spot for in a winter league.

"Winter ball is different than it used to be," Huntington said. "Winter ball used to be a second paycheck. The money in the game has gotten to a point where they don't really need the second paycheck anymore."

Karstens' fitness

The Pirates weigh the fit of all players in their organization, Huntington said, and Jeff Karstens may prove to be an interesting case this offseason.

"He's doing everything he can to get the best out of his abilities," Huntington said. "Unfortunately at times, his body lets him down, and it's been various body parts."

Karstens missed two months because of a shoulder injury and later missed time because of a hip problem. He was moved to the bullpen and has not started since Aug. 31.

Karstens made $3.1 million this year and is eligible for salary arbitration for the final time this offseason, which will earn him a raise. He is 5-4 with a 4.01 ERA and has pitched only 892/3 innings this season.

"As we do with every player in the organization, we're going to do a thorough analysis and explore the fit on the team going forward, explore the role and how he fits in the big picture," Huntington said. "Right now it's a little too early to talk about that publicly."

Clemente anniversary

Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of Roberto Clemente's 3,000th career and final hit.

Clemente went 1 for 2 with a double off New York Mets starter Jon Matlack in a 5-0 Pirates win Sept. 30, 1972 at Three Rivers Stadium.

Members of Clemente's family took the field before the game for a ceremony and video.

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