Pirates' Milledge is a man on a mission
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- When Lastings Milledge showed up, a half-dozen large boxes awaited in front of his clubhouse stall.
What, did his parents kick him out of the house nearby the Pirates' training facility?
"No," outfield and clubhouse neighbor Andrew McCutchen said, "Washington did."
The Nationals shipped Milledge to the Pirates in June, then they shipped the rest of his baseball belongings to Pirate City this month. Once he discovered the boxes' contents, he had them carted to his car to stow somewhere later. It was symbolic: no more need for his Nationals jacket, his major league past.
It takes roughly five turns and 7 1/2 miles for Milledge to drive from his parents' Palmetto home across the Manatee River to Pirate City; it has taken him a second trade in two years' time -- by age 24 -- to find himself at this career crossroads.
"He prepared well. He's prepared hard," McCutchen said of the buddy with whom he occasionally visited in suburban Tampa, where Milledge resides. "He's worked out hard this offseason. I've been alongside with him. Hope for him to come up and show [everyone] what he's made of."
"Yeah," added Milledge, who turns 25 on opening day, "I wanted to be in better shape and more prepared than I've ever been. Because this is probably the biggest year I'm going to have."
He was the 12th selection in the 2003 draft, shortly after the Pirates' Paul Maholm and Colorado's Ian Stewart. Milledge arrived in the majors at age 21, but high-fives at Shea Stadium amid a home-run victory lap, a profanity-laced rap song and more helped to contribute to the New York Mets trading him in 2007. One stall away at Pirate City is the outfielder for whom he was first traded -- Ryan Church.
Milledge arrived in Pittsburgh from Washington 19 months to the day later, along with Joel Hanrahan, in the June 30 Nyjer Morgan-Sean Burnett deal. Milledge was recuperating from a broken right ring finger, an injury that occurred May 11 while bunting for Class AAA Syracuse against Indianapolis in an International League game.
"I think you can go all the way back to last year when we got him," manager John Russell said. "When he came over, Neal [Huntington, the general manager,] talked to him. He came down here to Bradenton and did some work. He went to the minor leagues and got ready. Came up and continued to work.
"I think you've got to give Lastings a lot of credit. He took it upon himself that he needed to change and start working a little bit differently. He made the commitment to do it. ... He's on a good path right now."
At PirateFest a month ago, when a fan asked politely at a question-and-answer session about his prior path, Milledge responded: "I brought a lot of stuff on myself with previous organizations. I didn't take the game very seriously. Once I got traded here, it was a clean slate."
After playing on 17 teams in nine leagues over the previous seven pro seasons, Milledge seemed to find a fit with the Pirates in left field and low in the batting order, batting .291 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 58 games late last season. In his only full season to date, 2008 in Washington, he hit 14 homers with 61 RBIs, 24 steals and a .268 average.
"I think he was on a mission; he's still on a mission," Russell said. "He's going to be able to do what he's capable of doing. I expect him to do very good things for us."
"He's focused," added Tony Milledge from behind Field 1, where his son was taking live batting practice Thursday. "He's happy to be here, that's the biggest part. When he's happy, he plays better."
"He's got all the potential in the world," continued Hanrahan, a Washington teammate. "There's a reason why he was a first-rounder. He's just got to prove it."
Right-hander Hanrahan was cleared Thursday by physician James Andrews to resume work next week with his previously ailing throwing arm, which means this member of the anticipated bullpen final four may well be ready to pitch by season's start April 5.
Hanrahan, diagnosed with a flexor-pronator strain by Pirates team physician Patrick DeMeo after being shut down in minicamp last month and again last week, is scheduled to start playing catch next week. He then must progress through a throwing program to tosses from 120 feet, whereupon he can return to pitching off a mound. Initially, Hanrahan was expected to go on the disabled list, though a steady rehab might avoid that.
Sure, it's difficult to talk weather between Florida's central Gulf Coast and Western Pennsylvania. But wind gusts off the ocean of 28 mph-plus coupled with 55 degree temperature made the feel-like temperature dip into the high 30s. It was not conducive to catchers working on pop-ups or batters hitting in the cages.
Russell said the advice staff gave to the players was: "Stay warm, especially the pitchers. Move around a little bit more. ... A day like this, you really like them to keep moving."
First Published February 26, 2010 12:00 am