BRADENTON, Fla. – Coming off their first playoff appearance in 21 years, the Pittsburgh Pirates were eager to start spring training.
Several players have been training regularly at the Pirate City complex since early January. When 36 pitchers and catchers held their first official workout on Thursday, a half-dozen position players were there, too.
The Pirates won 94 games last season and advanced to the NL division series, their first postseason berth since 1992. They were eliminated by the St. Louis Cardinals in the decisive Game 5.
“We’re still hungry,” catcher Russell Martin said. “We did some special things last year, but everybody was disappointed with how it finished. I don’t know what all the ‘experts’ are saying, but I consider myself an expert and I think we’re going to do better than we did last year.”
They will have to do it without veteran right-hander A.J. Burnett, who has agreed to a one-year, $16 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Burnett made 61 starts and won 26 games over the past two seasons with the Pirates.
After hearing that Burnett chose not to return to Pittsburgh, Martin sent a text message to his former teammate.
“I wished him well,” Martin said. “I hope he stays healthy and has a good season … and, hopefully, we’ll meet him in the playoffs and beat him.”
Many players admitted they were surprised and disappointed about Burnett’s departure. Others preferred to look ahead.
“We’ve got to move on,” reliever Mark Melancon said. “You can’t live in the past. This is a new year and anything can happen.”
Even without Burnett, the Pirates have the makings of a solid starting rotation. Left-hander Francisco Liriano, who went 16-8 with a 3.02 ERA, is the likely opening day starter. Gerrit Cole (10-7, 3.22) and Charlie Morton (7-4, 3.26) also return.
Wandy Rodriguez missed most of last season due to a sore left forearm. He is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Friday and is expected to be ready for the start of the season.
“Physically, he’s coming along very well,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “We’re going to take it slow with him this spring, so he’s kind of on a different program than the other guys. But, he’s healthy and feels good.”
New arrival Edinson Volquez, who signed a $5 million deal in December, and Jeff Locke could battle for the No. 5 job.
The 26-year-old Locke won eight straight starts in the first half of the season and made the NL All-Star team. However, he went 2-5 with a 6.12 ERA over his final 12 starts and was shut down in September.
“Making the playoffs last year meant a lot to us,” Locke said. “The fans in Pittsburgh and the rest of the baseball world hadn’t seen it in a while, but I know the 25 guys in our clubhouse knew it was something we could do. We’re not under anybody’s radar anymore, but I think the 25 guys this year will be up to the challenge.”
Notes: The Pirates signed LHP Yao-Hsun Yang to a minor league contract, which includes an invitation to spring training. Yang, 31, made nine outings last year in the minor leagues in Japan.