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LaRoche reassures Alvarez

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It won’t be long before Pedro Alvarez takes over at third base, which will force Andy LaRoche to either find a new position — second base remains very much a possibility, even with Akinori Iwamura on the roster — or accept a greatly reduced role.

Last month, while they both were at Instructional League in Bradenton, Fla., LaRoche pulled Alvarez aside for a private chat.

“I (told him), ‘don’t feel uncomfortable around me. If you’re ready, we need you in the lineup. I’ll go play another position,’ ” LaRoche said. “I don’t want him to think I have any animosity toward him.”

LaRoche got only a brief look at Alvarez at third base, but said the former first-round pick appears trim and athletic enough to handle the position.

“He looks smooth over there,” LaRoche said. “He’s got a good, accurate arm. And, obviously, he rakes. Even if he’s not a Gold Glove-caliber third baseman, his offense more than makes up for it. I’m sure, as a worst-case scenario, he’ll be (like) Ryan Braun at third base. If he puts up numbers like Ryan Braun did, that’s great.”

· LaRoche and a few other players are in town this week for routine physical exams and light workouts at PNC Park.

· LaRoche looked grim when he was asked about the departure of former infield instructor Perry Hill.

“No comment on that,” LaRoche said. LaRoche added he would like to work out this winter with Hill, if the Pirates will permit it.

· According to the Palm Beach Post, the Florida Marlins wanted to re-hire Hill, but the Pirates would not give permission for Hill to interview for the job. The Pirates exercised Hill’s contract option for 2010, which means they can block him from working for another major-league team next year.

· After he was traded to the Pirates, Jeff Clement played only first base for the first time in his career.

“I’m not sure what the plan is, going into next spring,” Clement said. “But I’m hoping I still have a chance to catch. That’s where I’d like to be the most.”

That could be an option if Ryan Doumit is traded, but it also would depend on Clement’s knees. Clement has had two minor surgeries to repair the meniscus.

“If my knee can hold up, I’d love to catch, whether it’s as the everyday catcher or the backup,” Clement said.

· Wednesday, the Pirates will release their 2010 spring training schedule. Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 18.

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