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Extending Russell is the right move

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Behind closed clubhouse doors, manager John Russell is not a screamer when things go wrong.

“So you think,” Russell said, with a wink.

Russell may appear to be stoic, but the players know how much the game means to him. More importantly, they know to listen when he speaks.

“He’s brought a calm demeanor,” second baseman Freddy Sanchez said. “Guys know what he expects and what he wants to get done, and everyone does it. He doesn’t do a lot of talking or yelling. He feels like he doesn’t need to.”

Baseball is game where strange twists and turns — a certain play or event may only happen once or twice a season, or even a decade — are part of the appeal. But Russell is analytical and always well prepared. He rarely is caught off guard by an unexpected situation.

He also studies the players in the clubhouse to get a sense of how they will react.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned through the years is, you’ve got to get to know your players,” Russell said. “I think my staff and myself do a good job, not only knowing what our players are like on the field, but we get to know them as persons. That’s important. It helps us with the daily routines, it helps us going through the season.”

Those are big reasons why GM Neal Huntington didn’t lose any sleep when he decided to pick up Russell’s contract option for 2010, even though the Pirates lost 95 games in the skipper’s debut season.

In the Pirates’ 122-year history, only three of the 38 managers — Fred Clarke (16 seasons), Danny Murtaugh (15 seasons) and Jim Leyland (11 seasons) — have spent more than a decade on the job. Huntington hopes to see more continuity in the future.

“There’s been a lot of change here in the past couple of years,” Huntington said. “We’re excited about the direction we’re going and we feel good about the people who are leading us in that direction. J.R. is a big part of that.”

• There was some frost on the orange groves this morning, as the temperature dipped to 31 degrees overnight. Things heated up to the low 70s by the time the Pirates finished their 2 1/2-hour workout.

• Eight pitchers threw live batting practice. Paul Maholm and Tom Gorzelanny, who led off the session, both seemed sharp. Each pitcher threw two rounds of 14-17 pitches.

• Players worked on rundowns on the two newer fields next to the indoor batting cages. Third baseman Andy LaRoche (back spasms) sat out for the third day in a row.

• This is about the point in spring training when strains, bumps and bruises begin to pop up. That’s why Russell will ease back on the throttle for Sunday’s workout — no pitchers will throw off the mound — then ramp it back up heading into Wednesday’s Grapefruit League opener against the (ugh, it kills me to write this) World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

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