MLB Insiders - Pittsburgh Pirates

Eric Hinske felt funny about missing nearly three weeks in his first spring training with the Pirates.

Thus, the infielder/outfielder was happy to get back into the lineup March 18 against Minnesota. He started in right field and 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a walk in six innings after not seeing action in a major league exhibition game since Feb. 26 because of a bruised left ribcage. He had played in minor league exhibitions the previous two days, getting a total of 12 plate appearances.

"The last thing I wanted to happen was to come here and get hurt," said Hinske, signed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract as a free agent in January after spending last season with the Tampa Bay Rays. "Everyone has been good about it, though, from the front office on down. They told me to take my time and make sure I was healthy before coming back. If anything, they erred on the side of caution.

"Still, it's nice to get back out there and face pitching in a major league game. The results weren't there, but it was just good to be back."

An extra week has been added to spring training this year to allow players to prepare for the World Baseball Classic. Hinske believes that gives him plenty of time to get ready for the regular season, which begins April 6 when the Pirates play at St. Louis.

"Ideally, you'd like to get 50 at-bats in spring training, and I'll definitely get that many," Hinske said. "I'll be fine."

--LHP Tom Gorzleanny, a 14-game winner in 2007, was optioned to Class AAA Indianapolis after struggling in spring training. That leaves four pitchers competing for the final two spots in the starting rotation: RHP Jason Davis, RHP Jeff Karstens, RHP Ross Ohlendorf and RHP Virgil Vasquez.

Gorzelanny is one of only two Pirates pitchers in this decade to win at least 14 games in a season, as RHP Ian Snell also had 14 victories in 2007. No Pirates left-hander has won more games in a season since John Smiley was a 20-game winner and Zane Smith won 16 in 1991.

--RF Brandon Moss returned to action March 20 in an exhibition game against Boston, 13 days after suffering a badly bruised left thumb while trying to make a diving catch in a game against Minnesota. Moss said he had no soreness or stiffness in his thumb and that he should be ready to play on opening day.

--RHP Ian Snell returned to the team after pitching twice for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. Snell is expected to start March 22 against Cincinnati in an exhibition, which would put him in line to start the second game of the regular season after LHP Paul Maholm starts the opener.

--INF/OF Andy Phillips rated a decent chance to make the club when spring training began and has gone 7-for-15 (.467) with two doubles. However, the veteran has not played since March 7 because of a lower back strain, and his opportunity of winning a bench job appears to be slipping away.

--3B Pedro Alvarez, the Pirates' first-round pick last year from Vanderbilt and the most accomplished hitter selected by the Pirates since all-time home run king Barry Bonds in 1985, was optioned to Class A Lynchburg. Alvarez made a strong impression in his first spring training, going 8-for-18 (.444) with three doubles and a home run, which came in his final at-bat. It was a mammoth three-run shot to dead center field off veteran Tampa Bay RHP Joe Nelson.

BY THE NUMBERS: .500 -- C Robinzon Diaz's spring batting average through March 20. The rookie was 11-for-22 with four doubles, one triple and one home run.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was awesome, the experience of a lifetime. I can only hope to experience something like that again in the playoffs or World Series some day." -- RHP Ian Snell, on pitching in the World Baseball Classic.


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