Pittsburgh Pirates | Veteran Robert Andino banking on speed, versatility in bid to make club

jdill@bradenton.comMarch 2, 2014 

Staff Photographer

Pirates shortstop Robert Andino warms up after taking the field during Saturday's spring training game against the Tampa Bay Rays at McKechnie Field in Bradenton.PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

PAUL VIDELA — pvidela@bradenton.com Buy Photo

BRADENTON -- Robert Andino knows his role.

The 29-year-old veteran has been around Major League Baseball for nine years and doesn't possess scorching numbers at the plate.

But what Andino has is speed and defensive versatility.

Those skills have him competing for a utility spot with the Pittsburgh Pirates this spring.

Andino started at shortstop in the Pirates' 2-2 Grapefruit League tie against the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday at McKechnie Field. The game was played in front of 7,959 fans, the third-largest crowd ever for a Pirates spring training game, on a warm, sun-splashed afternoon.

The former second-round pick of the then-Florida Marlins committed an error that led to a Rays run in the first inning, but atoned with a stolen base and run scored on a Clint Barmes double down the left-field line in the second inning.

Andino's outlook is to keep it simple.

"I just try to play my game and play baseball," Andino said. "For me, it's having good at-bats -- tough outs, good at-bats -- and catch the ball."

Andino's view is that when you start thinking too much, that's when you mess up.

And the margin for error is thin for someone who spent more time at Triple-A than in the big leagues last year with the Seattle Mariners and is a non-roster invitee with the Pirates.

Andino is a career .232 hitter, but he was the one bright spot for the Orioles in their five-game 2012 American League Division Series loss to the New York Yankees. Against the Bronx Bombers, Andino hit .364 while the O's combined for just a .187 average.

Andino's postseason experience could pay dividends for the Pirates if he makes the club.

Pittsburgh earned the franchise's first playoff berth since 1992 last year, and the Pirates struggled with a .201 average in their five-game NLDS loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

But the key for Andino is

using his speed on the base paths like he did against Rays starter David Price in Saturday's spring training game.

"I had a pretty good jump," Andino said. "I waited until the first move. It's hard ... to read a lefty. You just go for the first move, and I got a good jump. Sometimes you get caught. (Saturday), I made it."

Andino has logged major league time in the corner outfield positions as well as shortstop, second base and third base.

Pittsburgh is pretty set at most of those spots. Clint Barmes and Jordy Mercer are ahead of Andino at shortstop.

Then there's Josh Harrison, who has fulfilled a utility role for Pittsburgh the past few seasons.

Like Andino's controlling-what-you-can-control philosophy, Barmes pays little attention to circulating rumors that arise.

"I don't read into it," Barmes said. "People may come up and mention things that they've read or that they've seen. But for the most part, I like to, especially in the offseason, stay out of it. I don't read into the good, and I don't read into the bad."

Andino may face an uphill battle, but he is not backing away.

And it's the simple mindset, plus his experience, that he hopes will earn him a shot with the Pirates.

"You have to play the same either as in the seventh or if you are starting," Andino said. "Or if you don't play, be a good teammate. That's the biggest thing, be a good teammate. You can't put too much pressure on yourself."

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