For the Pirates this spring is all about getting an edge. Those back-to-back wild-card finishes that quickly imploded made it a priority.
Pittsburgh is doing things differently this spring. The Pirates are living in the moment.
"We are going to attempt to use all 30-plus spring training games to get ready for the real games," manager Clint Hurdle says. "I know it sounds that is what you always do but from an offensive standpoint we are going to try to plug in from the start in playing the game offensively."
The wild card one-and-done eliminations haunt this franchise and diminish its recent accomplishments.
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"It's not about getting your feel or working on a swing. All those things
need to be done early. When the games start we play the game," Hurdle says.
Now it's about getting off to a quick start to avoid a crash landing before you lift off the runway.
"The ultimate goal this spring is to be ready to play at a high level right out of the gate," Pirates GM Neal Huntington said. "We have not done that with consistency. Our goal is to win a World Series. To do that we need to be in position to get to the World Series and winning a division is a much better way to get there. At the same time, it's a long season and we need to be ready to go from game one."
Hurdle points out that sometimes it goes back to playing the game and staying in the moment, which for the Pirates is keeping the offense working at a high efficiency.
"I am hoping we can recreate their mind set that there will be times to hit early and times to work pitches," Hurdle says. "Let's not wait until the last two weeks or the last week (of spring training). Let's go ahead and be more intentionally focused than we have been in the past. I think it will work to our benefit."
With three straight playoff appearances after 20 years of losing, the Pirates have come far.
But the theme is turning into a so close, but yet so far scenario.
The Pirates finished two games behind first place St. Louis in the NL Central two straight years.
Huntington says those games can be made up.
"We've got to be ready to play at a high level right out of the gate," Huntington says.
The Pirates ranked seventh in team strikeouts with 1,322; that's 8.16 per game or a lot of easy outs for the other side.
"We want to consistently put the ball in play more, but we also want to put the ball in the play with hard contact," Huntington says.
This doesn't mean they are counting wins and losses, but following a process is important.
It was evident for John Locke, the Pirates starter in Wednesday's home opener at McKechnie Field.
The right-hander is experimenting with a new windup. The mechanics are more important than the four runs he allowed in his two innings of work.
"I love it. You have to look past the results," Locke says. "You have to keep trusting because it's easy for us to want to want to get away from that and play defense and get away from the things you are working on."
Locke wants improve on last year's 8-11 season with a 4.49 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 30 starts. He has been down this road before, but this time intends to make a more concerted effort.
"In the last few years I would be discouraged by today because I would look at the results and not the process," Locke says. "But that stuff doesn't get to me anymore. We think we are in a good spot." Now, I am just trying to staple down this delivery."
Alan Dell, sports reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7056. or @ADellSports.