How will Bucs honor Tanner?


BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates are making plans to honor former manager Chuck Tanner, who will be buried today.

“I can say at this time that we will honor and recognize Chuck on Opening Day and (it’s) likely that we will wear a patch honoring Chuck,” president Frank Coonelly told me via e-mail.

Before putting a patch on their uniforms, the Pirates must get approval from MLB. They have not yet submitted a design for a patch, so they haven’t received such approval.

In my e-mail to the prez, I asked if the Pirates are considering retiring Tanner’s uniform No. 7. Coonelly did not reply to that query.

»»» Pedro Ciriaco and Matt Diaz checked into camp this morning. That leaves four position players and one pitcher still to arrive.

»»» Special instructor Kent Tekulve also has arrived. Yesterday morning, Tekulve attended the private viewing for Tanner in New Castle. “Walking in there, I didn’t know what to expect,” Teke said. “Yes, Chuck’s gone and we’re all sad. But then we all got to talking about him, sharing memories, and it became a celebration of the man.”


Heredia eyes big leagues


BRADENTON, Fla. — Right-hander Luis Heredia, ranked the fifth-best prospect in the farm system, went on his own this morning to watch the big leaguers work out in spring training camp.

Heredia has size, strength to be successful
Heredia has size, strength to be successful

“I like watching the team,” Heredia said. “I like the guys. I feel good. I am excited.”

Heredia, 16, has been living and working out at Pirate City since late November, when he returned from Instructional League in the Dominican Republic. The Pirates signed the hard-throwing Mexican for a $2.6 million bonus last summer.

Tony Sanchez caught Heredia in Instructs and came away impressed by Heredia’s size (6-feet-6, 205 pounds) and three-pitch arsenal.

“If I was 16 in high school facing him, I wouldn’t have much success,” Sanchez said. “You can tell he’s got the tools and the potential. He’s just out here having fun. He really has a big presence on the mound. It’s like he’s coming downhill every time. It’s not easy to hit, and that’s why he’s going to have success.”


No strings attached


BRADENTON, Fla. — There’s a scrap of former pitching coach Joe Kerrigan’s legacy in the bullpen at Pirate City. Pitchers will again this year use the life-sized batter dummies during bullpen sessions — but only sparingly. New coach Ray Searage also has done away with the strings which marked the bottom of the strike zone, a teaching tool used by Kerrigan.

“If you need a visual to get the ball down, then you need to go back to the minor leagues,” Searage said. “This is the can-do league. This is the majors leagues. Get the ball down. Make it happen. What I’m trying to get them to concentrate on is the execution of the pitch and not so much on how you’re doing it. We can take care of that later if we need to. In the game, you need to focus on executing the pitch — not where your front shoulder is or anything else. Get the ball to where you want it to be”

Who better to mentor the catchers than Sangy?
Who better to mentor the catchers than Sangy?

»»» Searage said three pitchers — Evan Meek, Tyler Yates and Mike Crotta — really stood out in their first bullpen sessions. “Yates looks like he could pitch (in a game) tomorrow,” Searge said. “Meek, good gosh! He was solid. Crotta, a young kid, looked sharp.”

Crotta, 26, is a bit ahead of everyone else because has been working out at Pirate City for a while already. “We want to make sure we keep him intact because he’s a big, tall guy (6-feet-6, 235 pounds),” Searage said.

Searage is pleased with the entire group of pitchers after the opening round of side work.

“I’m really happy,” Searage said. “Not that I’m going to go out and buy a case of champagne, but I’m very happy with the progression and what transpired during the winter (throwing) program.”

»»» Pedro Alvarez put on another bombs-away show during batting practice on Field 3. Alvarez swatted homers and dinged two cars in the parking lot beyond the outfield wall.

Infielders worked out on Field 5 in the morning. They used half the field for a double play drill, and Alvarez took throws at first base. But when the workout expanded to the full field, Alvarez and Josh Fields split time at third base.

»»» The Pirates have chosen not to reveal who from the club will attend Chuck Tanner’s private funeral and burial Wednesday in New Castle. Among those at the funeral home Tuesday were team president Frank Coonelly, Bob Friend, Dave Giusti, Steve Blass, Greg Brown, Kent Tekulve, John Candelaria, Grant Jackson, Rick Donnelly, Ken Macha and former Cincinnati Reds GM Wayne Krivsky.

»»» Kevin Hart was shut down the past few days after getting another cortisone shot in his shoulder during a checkup with Dr. James Andrews. “It was just some time to recover,” Hart said. The right-hander played catch today as he re-started his post-surgery rehab.

»»» James McDonald got engaged Monday night. He took his fiance out to dinner and had the ring delivered as part of the desert. “We were almost finished eating, and I still didn’t see the ring,” McDonald said. “Finally, she saw it and was so (excited) that it took her a few minutes to say yes.”

So, mission accomplished, right?

“Yeah,” McDonald said. “But I can’t believe we almost at the ring!”


Maholm wants to stay with Bucs


BRADENTON, Fla. — Hoping to avoid a repeat of last season’s struggles on the mound — and possibly extend his stay in Pittsburgh — left-hander Paul Maholm made some minor adjustments to his offseason workout routine.

“The workouts were different,” Maholm said. “There were the same goals. But with my (personal) trainer, I never know going in what we’re going to do. It was different, but the main part was just trying to make sure everything felt good and I felt strong. So far, so good.”

Last season, Maholm went 9-15 with a 5.10 ERA. He is entering the final year of his contract and will make $5.75 million. There’s a club option for $9.75 million (plus up to $1.1 million in incentives) or $750,000 buyout.

Maholm also has been mentioned in trade talks. Last season, the Dodgers were highly interested. This spring, the Yankees may be sniffing around.

“That’s part of it,” Maholm said with a shrug. “I’m coming to the end of my contract, so I’m sure there’s going to be more (rumors). We’ll see. I expect to be here and pitch well. It’s up to those guys (in the front office). I look forward to getting to work with (manager) Clint (Hurdle), Ray (Searage, pitching coach) and all those guys. Hopefully, I’ll have a great year and get to stay around for a while.”

»»» Kevin Hart was shut down the past few days after getting another cortisone shot in his shoulder during a checkup with Dr. James Andrews. “It was just a break, some time to recover,” Hart said. The right-hander will play catch today as he again ramps up his post-surgery rehab.

»»» First baseman Lyle Overbay has checked into camp and will work out this afternoon.

»»» Four groups will throw bullpen sessions this afternoon. Charlie Morton, Brian Burres, Fernando Nieve and Chris Resop will go first, followed by Tony Watson, Tyler Yates, Sean Gallagher, Cesar Valdez, Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Brad Lincoln, Chris Leroux, Ramon Aguero, Dan Moskos, Justin Thomas and Bryan Morris.


Large turnout on Day 1


BRADENTON, Fla. — By my count, 47 of 55 players have already checked in to camp and were on the practice fields this afternoon under warm, sunny skies. The seven exceptions were Jose Ascanio (visa problems), Brian Friday, Pedro Ciriaco, Ronny Cedeno, Alex Presley, John Bowker, Matt Diaz and Lyle Overbay.

Garrett Atkins watches Pedro Alvarez take b.p.
Garrett Atkins watches Pedro Alvarez take b.p.

Position players are not required to be here until Saturday, but just like with minicamp, that didn’t stop a lot of them from showing up. “We were getting rumblings that a bunch of them were going to show up and they did,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s another sign of them taking accountability and responsibility for what’s in front of us.”

»»» GM Neal Huntington indicated a decision is near — in fact, it might already have been made — about whether Joel Hanrahan or Evan Meek will be the closer. “We’ve got to sit down with the people involved and let them know,” Huntington said. “As soon as we do that, we’ll let you guys know. It won’t be something that goes through spring training.” Hurdle said the decision will be finalized before the first Grapefruit League game.

»»» Huntington met with the players for about 20 minutes this morning before the start of the first workout. “It was more of an informal meeting,” Huntington said. “A good opportunity to hear what the trainer has to say and cover the logistics of spring training. Clint also took the opportunity to welcome them to camp and let them know the expectations.”

»»» Injury updates: Donnie Veal (elbow surgery) won’t be on the fields much this spring. Kevin Hart (shoulder surgery) is in “no-throw” mode for a while, but Huntington said he still has to chance to be game-ready by the end of spring training. Tyler Yates (elbow surgery) will compete for a big league bullpen job.

Tony Sanchez takes a breather
Tony Sanchez takes a breather

»»» Four groups of pitchers threw bullpen sessions. The first ones on the mound were Paul Maholm, Jose Veras, Hanrahan and Kevin Correia. They were followed by Joe Beimel, Aaron Thompson, Justin Wilson, Ross Ohlendorf, James McDonald, Meek, Scott Olsen, Kyle McPherson, Rudy Owens, Mike Crotta and Jeff Locke.

»»» After throwing, each group moved to Field 2 for fielding drills. Meek shook his head as he watched McDonald sprint smoothly from the mound to the first base bag. “It takes you like five strides to get over there,” Meek yelled. “It takes me 15 on my tiny, little legs!”


Doumit “not thinking” about future


BRADENTON, Fla. — Ryan Doumit has checked into camp for what likely will be his final spring training with the Pirates.

“Haven’t even thought about that,” Doumit said.

Ryan Doumit
Ryan Doumit

Doumit chose his words carefully during a 5-minute chat early this morning at Pirate City. His frustration about his situation is palpable, but he didn’t want to say anything controversial right out of the chute.

Doumit said he isn’t entire sure of his role this season.

“This is day one for me, too,” Doumit said. “I haven’t talked to them about that. We’ll see how it goes.”

GM Neal Huntington tried unsuccessfully this winter to trade Doumit, even offering to pick up part of the $5.1 million salary. The Pirates plan to use Doumit as a sometime right fielder and backup catcher this year — quite a dropoff for someone once regarded as a potential cornerstone of the club.

“I’m trying not to think about that because I don’t really care,” Doumit said. “No matter where they put me, I want to be the best I can be. I’m going to go out there and just try to play like I’m capable of playing, and let that speak for itself.”

»»» All but one of the pitchers has checked in on time. Jose Ascanio has visa problems in Venezuela, and is expected to arrive tomorrow or Wednesday. Many of the position players also are in camp, even though they don’t have to report until Saturday.


Chuck Tanner, RIP

Chuck Tanner was the soul of the Fam-a-lee (AP photo)
Chuck Tanner was the soul of the Fam-a-lee (AP photo)

More thoughts and memories in the wake of Chuck Tanner’s death yesterday:

»»» From Phil Garner: “Chuck had more leeway than most managers do today. In those days, he really was respected by ownership. Between Chuck and the GM, they ran the club. He was such a dominant personality. There’s always a player or two who you’re stuck keeping on the roster. But aside from that, Chuck made his own calls. You (as a player) knew that. You knew that if you were on the team, you were there because Chuck wanted you there. So there was a sense of, ‘I don’t want to disappoint Chuck.’ We talk about him being a great motivator, and he was because he was always positive and upbeat. But he never had to kick you in the butt to get you to do something. You wanted to do it for him.”

»»» Bill Madlock and I shared a laugh recalling how Tanner would physically pull you in during a conversation. “He had such strong hands,” Madlock said. “When he grabbed you, you couldn’t get away. When you had a face-to-face talk with him, it really was face-to-face.”

I recalled sitting with Tanner on a golf cart during spring training a couple of years ago. He put his arm around my shoulder and what I thought was going to be just a two-minute chat turned into a fantastic half hour of insight. Talking to Chuck, you didn’t want to leave. He had a half-century’s worth of stories to tell and knew just where to look around Bradenton, Fla., to spot the ghosts of Clemente, Stargell and other greats.

“Thank goodness he quit smoking those cigars, because he liked to get right close to you when he talked,” Garner said. “With that awful cigar breath, you’d keep backing up.”

Madlock said Chuck always seemed to get him after a big, Italian meal. “He’d come at you with all that garlic on his breath,” Madlock said, laughing again.

»»» Speaking of Italian food, Lee Lacy had never tried stromboli until Tanner’s wife, Babs, made it for him. “She used to bring it to the ballpark for me,” Lacy said. “She was wonderful. I loved them both dearly.” Barbara Tanner died in July 2006.

»»» Garner again: “He had a way of making you feel like you were the only guy on the planet and the best guy on the planet.”

And here’s an echo from Jim Leyland: “He made you feel you were the best manager who ever managed.”

»»» Visitation will be held from 4-9 p.m. Tuesday at Cunningham Funeral Home, 2429 Wilmington Rd., New Castle. The funeral service will be private. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, a contribution be made to the “We Are Family” Fund in care of Pirates Charities, 115 Federal St., Pittsburgh PA 15212.

»»» In Tanner’s honor, MLB Network will re-air “Baseball’s Seasons: 1979″ at 6 p.m. Saturday.

»»» One final, personal note: Thoughts and prayers to John Perrotto, a good friend and longtime Pirates reporter, who is hospitalized in Beaver County.


Arbitration aftershocks


This week’s showdown in Phoenix with Ross Ohlendorf was the Pirates’ first arbitration hearing since 2004, when Jack Wilson won his case and got $1.85 million.

The Pirates have worked hard in recent years to reach agreements with players rather than go to a hearing. One reason for that is the bumpy experience the club had with the arby process in the early 1990s.

In 1991, Cy Young winner Doug Drabek won his arbitration case against the Pirates. Drabek got a $3.35 million salary, which at the time was a record sum for arbitration.

Two days after Drabek’s hearing, Bobby Bonilla lost his case and got $2.4 million. A day later, Barry Bonds, the reigning NL MVP, also lost his hearing and got $2.3 million instead of the $3.25 he’d requested.

Bonds was insulted by the outcome of the hearing and by the fact that the Pirates chose to take it that far. Tempers flared during the hearing, which reportedly turned into a shouting match at one point.

Bonds’ relationship with the Pirates soured after his stormy hearing in ’91 — remember his spring training faceoff with Jim Leyland? — and that played a role in his departure after the ’92 season. Drabek and Bonilla also left as free agents, as their salaries escalated through the arbitration years to a point beyond what the Pirates were willing or able to pay.

It’s too soon to say what aftershocks, if any, will be felt from Ohlendorf’s hearing. So far, both sides are saying the right things.

“It’s part of the business,” GM Neal Huntington said. “It’s something you try to avoid. But when the decision of the panel is announced, you turn the page and move forward.”

“(The hearing) was something I spent a little time thinking about each day, but I wasn’t dwelling on it,” Ohlendorf said. “It would’ve been nice if we could’ve resolved it before (the hearing), but that didn’t happen. We had a difference of opinion. I understand where the Pirates were coming from and I hope they understand where we were coming from.”


Who goes to Indy?


A few minutes ago, Triple-A Indianapolis sent out a general press release touting the players who likely will be on its roster this season.

Among the players who are “projected to begin their 2011 campaigns” at Indy are eight top prospects: Bryan Morris, Rudy Owens, Andrew Lambo, Alex Presley, Daniel Moskos, Pedro Ciriaco, Matt Hague and Josh Harrison. All of them are ranked among the top 30 prospects in the Pirates’ farm system, according to Baseball America.


Pedro Ciriaco
Pedro Ciriaco

Ciriaco, Moskos and Presley are on the 40-man roster and will begin spring training in big league camp. Also, Ciriaco and Presley were late-season callups last year. All three are considered long-shots to make the Pirates roster for the season opener, with Ciriaco having the best chance.

If Ciriaco truly is “projected” to go to Indy, that would seem to give Rule 5 pickup Josh Rodriguez a better chance of sticking with the Pirates.

Morris, 23, also is on the 40-man, but his ETA for Pittsburgh is later this summer at the earliest. Still, he seems to be a fast-riser after starting last season at High-A Bradenton and moving on to Double-A Altoona.

Owens, 23, will be a non-roster invitee in big league camp. He was the Bucs’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2009 and ’10.


Ohlendorf goes to arby hearing


The Pirates and Ross Ohlendorf went to a salary arbitration hearing this afternoon, the first one of the year in MLB.

When salary figures were exchanged in mid-January, the Pirates offered $1.4 million and Ohlendorf’s camp asked for $2.025 million. The three-man panel will choose one figure or the other and announce its decision Wednesday.

Will 1 win = $2.025 million?
Will 1 win = $2.025 million?

It was the Pirates’ first hearing since 2004, when Jack Wilson won his case and got $1.85 million.

Last season, Ohlendorf made $439,000. Injuries to his back and shoulder limited him to just 21 starts, and the right-hander went 1-11 with a 4.07 ERA.

“It made for a season that wasn’t very fun, only getting one win,” Ohlendorf said. “But I don’t evaluate myself on the record so much as on other things. I’m really excited about (the 2011) season. I’m looking forward to getting back out there so the negative parts of 2010 can kind of go away.”

Ohlendorf, who has 2.135 years of service time, became arbitration eligible as a “Super Two” player — he ranked among the top 17 percent in service time among players with between two and three years’ service who were on the active roster for at least 86 days in the previous season.