Notes: Healthy Eldred displays power
Big first baseman is off to an impressive start
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- With his third shot in as many games Monday, Brad Eldred effectively put himself on pace to hit more than 180 homers this season.
"That's quite a number," he said, laughing.
No pressure on the 26-year-old or anything, but Eldred is having quite a spring. Through Monday, he's got three home runs in nine plate appearances -- one for every game in which he's played. If an intrasquad game was taken into account, he'd be hitting .750 (9-for-12) with four homers.
"It's been great," Eldred said. "It's kind of what I wanted to do to show obviously that the thumb is no issue and that the power is still there. Just being able to go out there and show it and consistently do it [is great]."
Eldred missed most of the 2006 season after breaking his left thumb and damaging the ligament in an April collision at first base. Since then, he said, he's just been itching to get back into the batters' box and prove he still has the swing that saw him hit 40 homers in 2005 and 38 one year prior.
In October, the 6-foot-5, 275-pounder was finally cleared to let loose in the batting cage. And that's exactly what he did, saying he felt relieved then that he had no difficulties with his thumb. From that point, it was only a matter of time before he arrived in camp and let everyone know, including Toronto starter Josh Towers, who served up Eldred home run No. 3 of the year during the second inning Monday, that he was back.
The first baseman used the time he was injured to fine-tune the mechanics of his swing, and learned how to sit back in his batting stance so that he could see the ball for a longer period of time. He said it's done wonders, and it's definitely showed lately.
"That's all it really is, is seeing the ball better and putting the bat on the ball," Eldred said. "If you see the ball better you're going to put the bat on the ball. And when I put the bat on the ball, there's a good chance it's going to be a home run."
A Sharpless slip: If Josh Sharpless looked confused when Vernon Wells homered off of him in the fourth inning, it's because it doesn't happen to the righty that often. So rarely, in fact, Sharpless can pinpoint the last two times it's happened to him.
"I gave up one in [Triple-A Indianapolis] two days before I got called up [in July 2006], and that was my first one since 2004," he said. "It's kind of strange whipping that head around and seeing the ball go over the fence, but facing a guy like Wells; what is he, a three-time All-Star? I don't feel too bad about it."
Light on his feet: Third base coach Jeff Cox avoided a liner off the bat of Pirate catcher Humberto Cota by throwing himself down into a backward somersault, which earned him a round of applause from the fans at Knology Park.
Outfield infirmary? Of the three startering outfielders from last season, leadoff man Chris Duffy has been the only one to see any action this Spring. Jason Bay has been sidelined since October knee surgery. Xavier Nady had an infection in his intestine which hit him at the beginning of Spring Training. He has just recently gotten it under control. Potential fourth outfielder Jody Gerut has been out since 2005 with ailing knees.
Bay, Pirates manager Jim Tracy said, should be back by the end of the week, as will Nady. Gerut's status is still unknown, although he hopes to be able to contribute in some capacity soon. In the meantime, newcomers such as Andrew McCutchen have been holding their own in the outfield.
McCutchen was hitting .429 (3-for-7) with a double, a homer and an RBI heading into Monday's game at Toronto, and added a stolen base and a run scored during the win.
As player development director Brian Graham hinted, though, the starters' spots are fairly set in stone.
"Duffy and Bay and Nady fill such important spots in the batting order," Graham said. "You've got a leadoff hitter, you've got a guy [Bay] hitting right in the middle and you've got a guy [Nady] who's going to protect a guy who's hitting in the middle. So the fact that our outfielders fill such precious spots in the batting order is a huge factor."
By the numbers: The Pirates have had a lead at one point or another in each of their five Spring Training losses.
Up next: Pittsburgh returns home to McKechnie Field to host the Phillies at 1:05 p.m. ET. Right-hander Ian Snell will make his second spring start for the Pirates. On Friday, Snell threw two innings of one-hit ball in a 5-4, 10-inning loss at Atlanta. He'll face lefty Jamie Moyer.
Also slated to pitch for Pittsburgh are Tom Gorzelanny, Jim Brower, Bryan Bullington, Matt Capps and Juan Perez.
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.