Pirates notebook: Now is time to make needed improvements

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- On the wall in the clubhouse hallway at Pirate City, pinned to the corkboard near the day's practice schedule, is a picture of a watch. Proclaimed by the caption to be the "most accurate watch," the face of the timepiece reads "Now."

The notion of "now" seemed to be a guiding aspect on day one of spring training, when pitchers and catchers held their first official workout after the Pirates' most successful season in two decades.

"As I shared with them earlier today, it's not about maintaining or sustaining anything," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's about us continuing to work hard to improve. All the questions were, 'When are you going to win?' Well, we've won. Now -- now -- you've got to take another step forward, and I think the men are embracing that and definitely looking forward to that."

The 94 wins and National League Division Series appearance are in the rearview mirror, although that loss to the St. Louis Cardinals seems to have stuck with them.

"I think with guys leaving St. Louis, there was a feeling that we need to work a little bit harder, do a little bit better," general manager Neal Huntington said. "I've been around some environments when it felt like the end of the world when you lost the postseason game because they weren't sure they were going to get back."

Russell Martin, whose defense and handling of the pitching staff were big reasons the Pirates performed as well as they did last season, echoed Huntington's sentiments.

"I think we're still hungry," Martin said. "We did some special things last year, but everybody was disappointed in the way we finished."

The hitters will focus on improving, a directive from Hurdle and the coaching staff. Through positive reinforcement and a teamwide mentality coupled with individual assessments, the Pirates hope to increase their offensive efficiency.

"It's about getting things done now," Hurdle said. "Not trying to hold on and thinking, 'OK, we just do the same thing.' We've got to get better in some areas. They've accepted every challenge that we've put in front of them.

"They want more, and they know that, if you want more, then you got to do more. And they're out here doing things now that are going to make them better at the end of the season."

The players understand their position entering the season: out of the cellar, but with more to prove and higher expectations of themselves.

"The guys in here are ready for the challenge," pitcher Jeff Locke said. "We're not bottom-feeding Pittsburgh Pirates. We're on the radar."

Rodriguez update

Wandy Rodriguez, who missed the final four months of 2013 due to an injury to the flexor tendon in his left forearm, will throw a bullpen session today, Hurdle said.

"We're going to take it slow with him this spring and do everything in our power to put him in a position to be successful," Huntington said. "He's kind of on a different program than the other guys."

Minor league signing

The Pirates signed left-hander Yao-Hsun Yang to a minor league contract that includes an invitation to major league spring training.

Yang, 31, spent his entire career with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of Nippon Professional Baseball. He struck out 45 batters in 422/3 innings over nine games, seven starts, in 2012 and had a 1.48 ERA. He pitched in the Japanese minor leagues last season.

In camp and healthy

With the exception of Yang, all pitchers and catchers reported to camp on time. To Hurdle and Huntington's current knowledge, everyone is healthy except Kyle McPherson, who is recovering from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.

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