LaRoche out with sore back

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Third baseman Andy LaRoche did not participate in today’s workout at Pirate City because of lower-back stiffness.

“It locked up on me yesterday as I was taking grounders,” LaRoche said. “But it’s nothing big. I’ll be good to go tomorrow.”

LaRoche did some rehab work with the athletic trainers while the rest of the squad work on drills.

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Sunny day for McLouth, Pirates

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BRADENTON, Fla. — The sun was shining, literally and figuratively, this afternoon on the team offices at Pirate City.

In a third-floor conference room, GM Neal Huntington said Nate McLouth’s three-year contract made it “yet another great day for the Pirates organization, not just a beautiful day in Bradenton.”

Two hours earlier, the players wrapped up a short workout on a warm, breezy day. Many of the players showered quickly and bolted from the clubhouse to participate in the Pirates’ Charities annual golf outing.

McLouth stuck around a while for a press conference to re-announce his three-year, $15.75 million deal.

Some input from Huntington:

&#149 “These deals are an important part of our plan, going forward. It gives us cost certainly. In the right situation, it gives us the ability to build around these players. We know what their dollar figures are and we can allocate our resources accordingly to bring in additional players.”

&#149 General counsel Larry Silverman negotiated with McLouth’s agents the past few months. McLouth’s camp put up quite a fight — “probably a stronger one than we’ve had in most cases,” Huntington said. When the two sides met for a final time Monday night, it was president Frank Coonelly who pushed the deal to completion. “Frank ultimately came in and closed out the game in the ninth inning,” Huntington said.

Coonelly is in Bradenton, but did not attend today’s press conference. Tuesday, when he arrived from Phoenix, Coonelly did not return an interview request from the Tribune-Review.

Some input from McLouth:

&#149 “It is a dream to sign a multi-year deal. What makes it even better for me is I’m signing with the team that drafted me when I came out of high school. For them to allocate part of the future to me, these resources they’ve allocated to me, it means a lot. I’m proud to be a Pirate for at least three more years, hopefully longer. I’m humbled by the confidence they showed in me.”

&#149 McLouth admitted there is risk for both sides. Then he quickly turned to Huntington and quipped, “Did I pass my physical?”

“I went out to Arizona (on Monday) not to show them that I would take it to a hearing, but just because that’s where I thought it was going to end up. Doing a multi-year (contract) never crossed my mind. It came together at the last minute, but it came together well.”

&#149 McLouth theorized the last round of talks with the Pirates was ignited “when another player agreed to terms out in Arizona right before his arbitration hearing was supposed to start.” That player was most likely Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier, who Monday signed a one-year deal for $3.1 million.

&#149 McLouth played an active role in the negotiations. “Every e-mail that was sent back and forth, I was copied on it. It was important for me to know what (the Pirates) were saying and where they stood.”

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Jamie Dixon visits Pirate City

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Two days after knocking off top-ranked UConn, it was back to business as usual for Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. “We’re already working on the next game,” Dixon said.

Dixon’s making plans for next season, too. This morning, he stopped by Pirate City before making a recruiting stop at the nearby IMG sports academy. “The trip’s been perfect so far,” he said. “The flight was on time, the rental car was ready and waiting for me, the weather’s great, no traffic.”

All he had to do to make the trip a total success was coax a player or two to sign with Pitt. “That would do it,” Dixon said, with a laugh.

Dixon, a big Pirates and baseball fan, watched fielding practice and bullpen sessions for about two hours. First baseman/outfielder Steve Pearce instantly recognized Dixon, and stopped to shake his hand. Dixon also spoke with third baseman Pedro Alvarez and manager John Russell.

Russell is an Oklahoma grad, and the Sooners are poised to take over the top spot in the polls next week. What if OU and Pitt clashed in the Final Four?

“I told (Dixon) I don’t know who I’d pull for,” Russell said. “But it’s tough to go against your roots.”

• Donnie Veal and Craig Hansen, two of the biggest power arms in camp, threw their bullpens with plastic dummies positioned at the plate. Both looked sharp — especially Veal, who mixed in a nifty changeup that dove as it crossed the plate. The only time Veal, a left-hander, looked a bit out of sorts was when he threw fastballs away against the lefty-batting dummy.

• Veal did hit the dummy with two pitches, once from each side of the plate. “That’s OK,” Russell said. “You’ve gotta hit ‘em every once in a while.”

• At 8:30 this morning, second baseman Freddy Sanchez and shortstop Jack Wilson had a private session with infield instructor Perry Hill on the half-field at the rear of Pirate City. Hill went over his signs with the two veteran infielders, and talked about positioning for various types of plays in games.

• Phil Dumatrait threw his bullpen session at 8:45 a.m., more than an hour before the regular practice session began. It was his first time throwing off a mound since July 7, before he had shoulder surgery.

Dumatrait threw 25 pitches, all fastballs. “It was great,” he said. “I was not too worried about where the ball was going. I was worried about mechanics. It felt a little different at first, but about halfway through, it felt all right.” Dumatrait is scheduled to pitch again Friday.

• Speaking of Friday, that will be the first time batters take live b.p. against the pitchers on the four fields at Pirate City.

• Center fielder Nate McLouth slated a press conference to discuss his new, three-year contract. Highlights from that will be posted later this afternoon.

Pitt men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon (left) talks with Pirates manager John Russell Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009, at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. Dixon was in Florida on a recruiting trip. (Photo: Christopher Horner/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

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Jack’s back!

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BRADENTON, Fla. — It feels like spring training, now that Jack Wilson has checked into Pirate City.

Wilson was at his locker in the far corner of the clubhouse at 7:30 this morning, with a bat in his hand, dressed and ready to go. I asked him if the first full-squad workout is the best day of the year.

“In one way it’s tough, because it means the offseason is over and you enjoy the offseason,” Wilson said. “But getting back here, getting your (game) pants on again, it’s always a thrill. It’s little things that get you back in the spirit of things. I’m excited.”

Wilson talked a bit about whether this will be his final spring with the Pirates, but you’ll have to wait until Wednesday’s Trib hits the newsstands (or pops up here online) to read about that. He had a few other observations:

• He’s healthy. The calf injury is ancient history. The fractured finger healed nicely. Both he and second baseman Freddy Sanchez are pretty much full-go.

• He was genuinely happy to hear Nate McLouth had signed a multi-year contract. “That’s awesome,” Wilson said. “I think it’s important that we get these guys, especially Paul (Maholm), Ryan (Doumit) and Nate. Those are young, upcoming players. It’s good to get them locked down early and give them some financial comfort, so they can just go out and concentrate on being good baseball players.”

• He had been in regular contact with McLouth over the past week or so, giving lessons in Arbitration 101. Wilson took the Pirates to a hearing in 2004 and won. Looking back, he said listening to management argue against you can be an ego-buster..

“It’s pretty nasty,” Wilson said. “I had a hard time with it afterwords. It’s hard, being a younger guy when you go through it. You take it personally because it is personal.

“But, I’m glad I went through it so I could help Nate. I told him, Yeah, it sucked. But at least something positive came out of it. But it’s great he doesn’t have to go through it.”

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McLouth’s deal worth up to $26.4M

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Outfielder Nate McLouth’s new contract is a three-year deal worth a guaranteed $15.75 million. There also is a club option for 2012, which would boost the total value to at least $26.4 million.

This year, McLouth will make $3.5 million, which includes a $1.5 million signing bonus. He’ll get $4.5 million in 2010 and $6.5 million in 2011. The club option for 2012 is worth $10.65 million or a $1.25 million buyout.

The deal also includes performance bonuses for All-Star Game appearances and for winning the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awwards. Those bonues increase to $500,000 in 2010 and 2011. If the option is exercised in 2012, those bonuses can be up to $750,000.

As has become standard in long-term contracts with the Pirates, McLouth will make an annual donation to Pirates Charities.

The Pirates and McLouth had a breakthrough in contract talks late last night. The two sides came to terms just hours before McLouth’s scheduled arbitration hearing in Phoenix.

McLouth is en route to Pirates spring training camp from Phoenix. He is expected to hold a press conference later this evening at Pirate City.

McLouth was the last unsigned player in camp. Last season, he hit .276 with 26 home runs and 94 RBI.

Over the winter, the Pirates signed two other arbitration-eligible players — lefty Paul Manholm and catcher Ryan Doumit — to multi-year deals.

“I think it shows they see the guys they want, who they can hopefully build around and turn it around,” Maholm said.

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McLouth gets $15.75M

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Outfielder Nate McLouth’s new contract is a three-year deal worth a guaranteed $15.75 million. There also is a club option for 2012.

The breakdown of the contract was not immediately available.

The Pirate and McLouth had a breakthrough in contract talks late last night. The two sides came to terms just hours before McLouth’s scheduled arbitration hearing in Phoenix.

McLouth is en route to Pirates spring training camp from Phoenix. He is expected to hold a press conference later this evening at Pirate City.

McLouth was the last unsigned player in camp. Last season, he hit .276 with 26 home runs and 94 RBI.

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Pirates sign McLouth to multi-year deal

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BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates have signed outfielder Nate McLouth to a multi-year contract, avoiding arbitration.

No details were immediately available.

McLouth is in Phoenix, where his arbitration hearing was scheduled for later today. He is expected to return to Pirate City this evening.

McLouth was the last unsigned player in camp. Last season, he hit .276 with 26 home runs and 94 RBI.

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Present and accounted for

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BRADENTON, Fla. — The player countdown was at eight when this morning’s workout got under way at Pirate City. By mid-afternoon, Jack Wilson, Jose Tabata, Shelby Ford and Freddy Sanchez had checked into camp. As of 3:30 this afternoon, the only missing player is non-roster infielder Pedro Lopez.

All 57 invited players will gather at 9 a.m. Tuesday for a meeting with manager John Russell, then take the fields for the first full-squad workout.

• Owner Bob Nutting and team prez Frank Coonelly will address the team Thursday morning. Coonelly is in Arizona for tomorrow’s arbitration hearing with Nate McLouth.

• GM Neal Huntington hopes there are no hard feelings after McLouth’s arbitration hearing. “Nate had a quality season last year and he’s a good person,” Huntington said. “I think if we go about it the right way, we can avoid some of the bitterness that comes out of some of these hearings.”

The Pirates, of course, will concede that McLouth had a stellar season last year. But, they will argue that their offer of $2.75 million is comparable for other first-year starting outfielders who are in their first year of arbitration eligibility.

• Too bad the McLouth’s hearing — or any arby hearing, for that matter — isn’t televised on MLB.tv or Court TV. The process is mostly shrouded in secrecy — teams try to keep even the hearing dates secret, little is revealed about each sides’ arguments, and the arbitrators announce their decision without comment or explanation. It would be fascinating to get an up-close look at how it all works.

• Today’s workout lasted the usual 3 1/2 hours under sunny skies and temps in the low 70s. A stiff, chilly breeze blowing out to right field made things interesting at Field 3.

Beyond the fence in right is a parking lot used by Pirates fans and golfers at an adjacent course. During batting practice, Adam LaRoche and Eric Hinske mashed several balls toward the cluster of cars. The day’s best — or worst, if you’re an insurance adjuster — blast was hit by non-roster outfielder Jeff Salazar. The ball cleared the fence easily and crash-landed on a windshield, drawing a long Oooooh! from the players shagging flies in center field.

• Eighteen pitchers, including Ian Snell, Ross Ohlendorf, Matt Capps and Sean Burnett, threw in the bullpen for about 10 minutes apiece.

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Arbitration in Arizona

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Barring some last-minute breakthrough in contract negotiations, the Pirates and outfielder Nate McLouth will go to an arbitration hearing Tuesday in Arizona.

McLouth will leave spring training camp today to catch a flight to Arizona. Team president Frank Coonelly will represent the Pirates at the hearing.

McLouth’s camp has requested $3.8 million. The Pirates have offered $2.75 million. Given all that he accomplished last season — including an All-Star bid and a Gold Glove — McLouth has a strong case to put before the three-person board of arbitrators. The Pirates will counter with reams of statistical data, some of which could show that McLouth’s range in center field is actually a bit sub-par.

If a hearing occurs, it will be the first for the new front office team — although Coonelly was a consultant for teams in several arby hearings when he worked in MLB’s main office — and the first for the Pirates franchise since 2004, when Jack Wilson won his case and received $1.85 million.

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Kerrigan is no dummy

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BRADENTON, Fla. — This offseason, pitching coach Joe Kerrigan watched game film of every Pirates pitcher. One thing he noticed was none of the pitchers worked on the inner part of the plate often enough.

That’s why Kerrigan arranged for two dummies — life-sized cutouts of batters — to be shipped to Pirate City. Using the dummies in drills, Kerrigan hopes to make his pitchers more aggressive and more willing to come inside.

Pitchers work with the dummies a day after throwing a sideline session in the bullpen. Sunday morning, there were 18 pitchers, including Ian Snell, Ross Ohlendorf, Sean Burnett and Jimmy Barthmaier, at work.

“They’ll play catch with the dummy from about 55 feet, so they train their eyes to get that hitter out of the picture when they throw inside,” Kerrigan said. “It’s a visual training, making it comfortable to throw inside. We want to get them used to that as much as we can.”

A pitcher’s first three bullpen sessions of spring training are important because they condition the arm to the rigors of frequent throwing. After throwing three sides, a pitcher will toss three batting practices.

“After that, we’ll start doing the dummy work every time they throw a side from 60 feet,” Kerrigan said. “We have to introduce them to it slowly.”

• Nine pitchers — John Grabow, Jeff Karstens, Paul Maholm, Denny Bautista, Jason Davis, Zach Duke, Tom Gorzelanny, Daniel McCutchen and Dave Davidson — threw side sessions in the bullpen. Also, Phil Dumatrait made 75 long tosses from 150 feet.

• The most dangerous place to be was anywhere around Field 2, where catchers were working on pop-up drills. A couple of balls landed behind the backstop, where a dozen or so fans looked on. With plenty of clouds and a high sky, it was difficult to track the balls in the air.

Manny Sanguillen chided Ryan Doumit for not tossing away his mask as he made a one-handed catch. But later, when Doumit chased down a towering pop at the backstop, Sangy let out a cheer.

Sangy also praised Steve Lerud, who sprinted out to snag a particularly tricky pop-up near the catcher’s mound. “You got it, Speedy!” Sanguillen said, with a laugh. Overall, it was a far different scene than a year ago, when Sanguillen was visibly frustrated and a bit agitated while working with Ronny Paulino.

• Outfielder Eric Hinske reported two days early, and immediately went to work. Hinske and Andrew McCutchen were among six position players who took optional batting practice on Field 3. Andy and Adam LaRoche took some swings in the indoor batting cages.

• On the new field next to the Pirate City dormitory, pitchers worked on bunting. Ross Ohlendorf, who arrived from the Yankees via a trade last year, looked a bit like an American League pitcher — he failed to make contact on his first two bunt tries. After fouling off his next attempt, Ohlendorf dropped down two pretty bunts toward third base.

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