Pitchers take the mound

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BRADENTON, Fla. — After a morning of physicals and meetings, pitchers and catchers worked out for two-plus hours this afternoon at Pirate City.

At the end of the day, 18 pitchers threw bullpen sessions. Among the group were Ian Snell, Matt Capps, Tyler Yates, Donnie Veal, Ross Ohlendorf, Sean Burnett and Evan Meek.

The catchers laid 4-inch-wide white strips across the plate as targets — outside edge, inside edge, low and down the middle. Capps looked very sharp, as did Ohlendorf. Veal and Meek flexed a little muscle and made some of the loudest pops in the catchers’ mitts.

• Jeff Karstens, who sat out minicamp with elbow pain, is slated to throw off the mound Sunday morning. It will be his fourth sideline session. “I’m throwing 25 pitches (per session) and the other guys are throwing 35,” Karstens said. “So I’m not that far behind.”

• Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus released his top 100 minor league prospects. The list includes three Pirates farmhands: Pedro Alvarez (No. 4), Andrew McCutchen (No. 25) and Jose Tabata (No. 91). The top three are Orioles catcher Matt Weiters and left-handers David Price of the Rays and Madison Bamgarner of the Giants.

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Checking in and working out

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BRADENTON, Fla. — At some big league spring training camps, reporting day is a mere formality. Players arrive in town, move into their apartments and call the team to check in.

However, all the fields at Pirate City were bustling with activity this morning. All 34 pitchers and catchers, including 25 who are on the 40-man roster, checked in. Instead of enjoying a final day off, many of them put in an hour or two of running drills and long toss. Also, several position players, such as infielders Brian Bixler, Andy LaRoche and Pedro Alvarez and outfielder Steve Pearce, worked out under sunny skies.

The entire starting outfield — Nate McLouth, Brandon Moss and Nyjer Morgan — already is in camp. “Workin’ hard,” grinned Morgan, who will have to hold off a challenge from free-agent signee Eric Hinske. First baseman Adam LaRoche is another early arrival. If LaRoche has another April-May slump, he could lose some at-bats to Hinske.

Paul Maholm, the hardest working pitcher in the game, was on the fields early for his usual, intense workout. Ian Snell was around for the morning session. Zach Duke arrived around lunchtime to drop off his gear.

Pitchers will have their first official workout at noon today. The first full-squad workout is 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Other news and notes:

Left-hander Phil Dumatrait threw his second session this week of long toss from 150 feet. Dumatrait sat out minicamp last month after have another setback in his surgically repaired shoulder. “It’s frustrating because this was supposed to be a minor (injury), but it’s taking so long,” Dumatrait said. There is no timetable for when Dumatrait will throw from a mound. He likely will begin the season in the bullpen.

Alvarez, who reportedly came to minicamp out of shape, did not appear to be bulky during today’s workout.

I got a sneak peek at the Pirates’ new media guide, which reveals manager John Russell is signed through the end of this season with a club option for 2010.

Catcher Jason Jaramillo, who arrived Dec. 10 in a trade for Ronny Paulino, has made a smooth transition to his new clubhouse. Jaramillo’s locker is next to those of Bixler and Andy LaRoche, two of his former teammates on Team USA in the 2007 World Cup. “It helps, coming in and knowing guys right away,” Jaramillo said.

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McLouth, Pirates on collision course

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According to president Frank Coonelly, the Pirates have given up — for now — on trying to sign outfielder Nate McLouth to a multi-year contract extension. Yet, even a one-year deal is proving difficult to achieve, and the two sides appear to be on a collision course for an arbitration hearing.

“Unfortunately, there are times when the differences just seem large enough that it’s not going to get done without a hearing,” general manager Neal Huntington told me tonight. “I think both sides recognize that it’s in our best interests to do something without a hearing. But if we need to go there, they’ve stated they’re ready to go and, obviously, we are ready to go, too, if we have to.”

There is a huge gap between what McCouth’s camp has requested ($3.8 million) and what the Pirates have offered ($2.75 million). Unless a deal can be brokered, McLouth’s hearing before a three-person panel of arbitrators is slated for Feb. 17 — the same day as the Pirates’ first full-squad workout of spring training.

The Pirates have not gone to an arbitration hearing since 2004, when Jack Wilson won his case and received $1.85 million.

Also, today, the Toronto Blue Jays claimed right-hander T.J. Beam off waviers. The Pirates had designated Beam for assignment last week to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for outfielder Eric Hinske. Beam, 28, went 2-2 with a 4.48 ERA in 32 relief appearances last season.

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