Spring Training 2012 | Pirates alter fitness plan for long run

Staff change follows late-season fade

jlembo@bradenton.comFebruary 26, 2012 

BRADENTON -- Clint Hurdle remembers when baseball players had work to do during the offseason.

They weren’t working on their swing or working on making a better pivot on the double play.

Work as in real work, as in a second job so players could better support themselves and their families.

“That dynamic has kind of changed,” said Hurdle, the Pittsburgh Pirates manager who enjoyed a 10-year big-league career.

As of 2010, the average salary of a major leaguer was a shade more than $3 million, so there isn’t much of a need for guys to pick up a second job, giving them ample time in the offseason to keep themselves fit.

Consequently, they are expected to report to spring training already in shape, not with the hope of getting in shape.

The Pirates decided to implement a new exercise regimen in the offseason, when they brought in a new strength and conditioning coordinator, a new trainer and even a new philosophy. The team faded last summer in part because of a wave of injuries, dropping 43 of its final 62 games after sitting on top of the National League Central as late as July 25.

Yet Kyle Stark, the Pirates’ assistant general manager who oversees, among other things, the team’s physical and mental development, said last year’s finish had no impact on the change of personnel.

But a change was needed, Stark said.

“I don’t know that necessarily conditioning went into it, because if you look at the injuries, they weren’t things that could be prevented by conditioning,” he said. “We just felt that we need to make a change with the culture of it, so to speak.”

The Pirates hired Brendon Huttman as their new strength and conditioning coordinator in October. Huttmann, 33, served the same role with the Los Angeles Dodgers the last four years and with the Cleveland Indians’ minor-league teams from 2003-07.

“He’s been at the major-league level in L.A. and obviously had to deal with some dynamics in L.A. that are unique to a big market,” Stark said. “He’s shown the ability to do it, and we felt like that was a huge overlap in the philosophy of where we’re at as an organization and where he’s at in terms of developing players.”

Pittsburgh also brought in a new head athletic trainer (Todd Tomczyk) and an assistant athletic trainer (Ben Potenziano).

Part of last season’s late-summer struggles had to do with members of the Pirates’ pitching rotation throwing more innings than they had before. Jeff Karstens (1621/3 innings), James McDonald (171) and Charlie Morton (1712/3) all set a career highs last year, a grind they should be more equipped to handle this season.

“Every year, when a guy first comes into the system, we’re looking to trying to progress him to try and handle a major-league workload,” Stark said. “Sometimes, that progression happens at the major-league level. That happened to some guys last year.”

Now it’s time for everyone to build off last season. And Stark said the Pirates are doing so with a good plan in place.

“Like Clint said, ‘We don’t have time for just another day,’” he said. “We need to maximize the time that we have here, whether that be on the physical side or the mental side -- just be ready for the challenges we throw at them.”

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