BRADENTON, Fla. -- In his backyard, as a boy, Josh Kinney always pitched for the Pirates.
His imagination carried him the three hours south from rural Port Allegany, Pa., to Three Rivers Stadium with Andy Van Slyke and Jose Lind. His Wiffle ball and bat did the rest.
Somehow through life's twists and turns -- through Tommy John surgery, elbow reconstruction and 6452/3 minor league innings -- Kinney is in Pirates camp at age 34.
He is a non-roster invite with a minor league deal, and likely to provide depth for Class AAA Indianapolis by the time April rolls around.
"I never come in with a spot. I never make the team out of spring. I'm always a fringe guy," Kinney said. "I've got to work my butt off. But I've always been up. And this is a point in my career I never thought I'd be. Playing for a team I watched as a kid. I'm excited."
Kinney throws a fastball, sinker and slider, and is working on a split changeup this spring.
Pitching coach Ray Searage said Kinney was signed to provide bullpen depth -- an area of need that was identified in the offseason.
"He's got experience. He's been there," Searage said. "We've got depth in the rotation. We needed some depth in the bullpen, especially some guys with experience and he fits that role."
Kinney's winding career began when he signed with an independent Frontier League team in 2001. Two weeks later, his contract was purchased by the St. Louis Cardinals and by 2006, he worked his way to the Cardinals postseason roster.
In the fall of 2006, he pitched an inning in the World Series and won a ring.
By 2007, Kinney needed Tommy John surgery after tearing the ligament in his elbow. While rehabbing his arm, he broke a bone in his elbow that required reconstructive bone surgery. That set him back another year.
"I got back to my form. It's been a little different than, I guess, before [surgery], to answer that honestly. But effective," Kinney said. "I've had a career after my surgery. It didn't take me out of the game. If anything, it made me stronger. When you go through all that, you learn so much about yourself. It takes a lot of effort to get back on the field and compete at the highest level."
Kinney has gotten four innings of work this spring and compiled a 4.50 ERA with four strikeouts. He has given up one walk and a home run.
"The biggest thing, right now, his slider is good. Right now, his fastball is up in the zone so he's working hard to get that back down," Searage said. "It's just getting comfortable out there, so this way he can utilize those weapons. Try to get him enough work so he can get back into feeling like himself."
Kinney said he's used to hard work and is relishing the opportunity to be with the Pirates, a team he fondly remembers winning when he was younger.
"This has been a breath of fresh air for me to come over to this organization, especially being close to home. It's exciting," Kinney said. "It was a priority to play for a club that wanted to win. I thought it was pretty cool when the Pirates called. I can look and say they're a winning team now."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said pitchers should expect to start taking at-bats in games after Tuesday's off day, likely starting Wednesday on the road.
Left-hander Jeff Locke is still struggling with right side tightness that is keeping him from throwing off a mound. Locke is day-to-day, but the club does not seem to be overly concerned at this point.
"It seems to be minimal. It seems when he's playing long toss, it seems to grab when he's on the slope and you've got to use that front side a little bit more on the slope," Searage said. "We're going to have to wait and see, and hopefully we can get him back on that bump again and go from there."
Easing back in
Phil Irwin will throw a 20-pitch bullpen session today, Searage said, and if all goes well will get an inning by Thursday.
"Like an inning, a simulated. We'll have two hitters up there, and will face four with 20," Searage said. "We'll see how he bounces after that one."
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez. First Published March 9, 2014 10:45 PM