Spring training: Milledge's maturity shows
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- There is talking about maturity, and there is showing it.
Lastings Milledge has spoken of wanting to show he has "grown up," to use his term from this winter, and he might have illustrated that best with one sweet, scientific swing of the bat Monday in the Pirates' 5-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at McKechnie Field ...
It was the second inning, and Ryan Doumit had just doubled off Philadelphia ace Roy Halladay.
As hitting coach Don Long lays it out, "You've got a runner at second, a good pitcher on the mound, and runs are at a premium. At that point, what you want is to hit the ball anywhere from the point where the runner takes his secondary lead, all the way over to the first-base line."
Game: None. The Pirates have the first of two off-days this spring.
Camp roster: : 53 players, including 28 pitchers, five catchers, 11 infielders, nine outfielders.
Injuries: RHP Octavio Dotel (oblique), RHP Joel Hanrahan (elbow).
Of note: 20 days until the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park.
In baseball parlance, that is called hitting behind the runner.
"You're looking to advance him to third. If you bring him home, that's a bonus."
Milledge struck the bonus by fisting off Halladay's first-pitch sinker through the right side for a 1-0 lead.
"I'm controlling the bat little bit better, definitely more confident than I've ever been," Milledge said. "In that situation or any other, I just visualize what I want to do, and that's what I try to execute. The results aren't always going to be there, but the mental side always has to be there, 100 percent."
There has been more: In a March 3 game, Milledge came to bat with a runner at third and one out, the infield back and simply put the ball in play for an RBI groundout. As Long put it, "He didn't try to do too much." On March 9, he had runners at second and third, CC Sabathia on the mound, and he singled through the right side. One runner scored, the other advanced.
"It's team offense, the type of thing winning teams do," Long said. "He's been really good not only with that but with his approach in general."
The numbers back that: Milledge is batting .381, tops among the Pirates' regulars, with a double, four walks and four RBIs. This after batting .291 in the 58 games after being acquired from the Washington Nationals last summer.
Combine the average, some power and good speed, then sprinkle in situational hitting, and it sure sounds like a No. 2 hitter rather than No. 5, his current spot behind the cleanup man Doumit.
Is he interested?
"I was always thrown in the fifth or eighth or third spot. I never really had a chance to work on hitting behind the runners, giving myself up, that kind of thing," Milledge said. "This year, I want to be able to give the team more options. Anywhere they need me in the order, I'm there."
Milledge arrived with a trail of negatives from New York and Washington, but manager John Russell has described him as being "on a mission" since joining the Pirates, and there is little apparent that suggests otherwise: From conditioning to attitude to performance, the reviews have been glowing.
"I just want to be in a certain spot for a long time. I want to be here for a long time," Milledge said. "However I've got to get that done, that's what I want. These guys gave me a chance to play, great instruction ... I'm a totally different ballplayer. I want to do everything I can do to stick."
Zach Duke settled after two subpar starts and held Philadelphia to one run on two hits over 3 2/3 innings. He struck out four, walked three, and his only run came on John Mayberry Jr.'s sacrifice fly in the fourth, an inning in which Duke threw a large number of curveballs as part of a plan.
"That got him into a little trouble," Russell said.
More important, Duke's sinker looked sharper and brought four groundouts.
"Overall, I felt pretty good," he said.
The Phillies broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth with three runs off Evan Meek, including three RBI hits in a row by Wilson Valdez, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth.
The Pirates cut seven more players, including top pitching prospect Brad Lincoln, to reduce the spring roster to 53.
Lincoln and pitcher Donnie Veal were optioned to Class AAA Indianapolis. Pitcher Bryan Morris was optioned to high Class A Bradenton. Catcher Tony Sanchez, the first-round draft pick, was reassigned to minor league camp, as were pitchers Virgil Vasquez, Jeff Sues and Justin Thomas.
Lincoln and Veal will be in Indianapolis' rotation, Morris in Bradenton's rotation. The other three pitchers will "battle" to make Indianapolis' roster, general manager Neal Huntington said.
Huntington stressed that the early cut of Lincoln was made so he can get regular innings.
"He made a really good impression," Huntington said. "He's going to be a phone call away."
• Closer Octavio Dotel (oblique) threw his first live batting practice, 25 pitches, mostly fastballs. Next will be an inning in a minor league game Thursday.
• Reliever Joel Hanrahan (elbow) advanced from long-tossing to a 25-pitch bullpen session.
• Daniel McCutchen, vying for starting duty, pitched four scoreless innings -- three hits, no walks -- in a minor league intrasquad game at Pirate City.
• Ramon Vazquez, on the trading block as the Pirates look for a suitor to take his $2 million salary, started at shortstop Monday and fielded the position cleanly.
• Shortstop Ronny Cedeno reported no worsening of his lacerated right hand, and he is expected to be available Wednesday.