Notes: Walker's spring productive
Versatile infielder learned much before reassignment to Minors
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Neil Walker has come a long way since the beginning of Spring Training, but he acknowledged that there's still work to be done.
The catcher-turned-third baseman and infielder Brian Bixler were reassigned to Minor League camp on Tuesday as part of the Pirates' continued effort to trim their Opening Day roster down to 25 before they break camp.
"It was a blast," said Walker of his first Major League camp since 2005. "I appreciate the opportunity that I got. I proved a lot by playing well over here, and I think the most important thing for me to do is to go over on the Minor League side and get my reps at third base and get some more at-bats.
"I'm not far [away]."
Walker, Pittsburgh's top pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, learned about three weeks before Spring Training began that he'd be moving from behind the plate to third base. The 21-year-old took the shift in stride, packing away his catcher's equipment and throwing himself head-first into his new position. It was an attitude that earned him praise from many, including Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield.
Walker hit .370 (10-for-27) this spring, with three doubles, two homers and seven RBIs. He committed three errors at the hot corner, but he had a number of flashy stops that showed he was making positive strides.
"I'm very pleased and, frankly, a little surprised by how well it's gone this quickly," Littlefield said of the transition.
Bixler, a versatile infielder, hit .361 in Grapefruit League games (13-for-36), including 2-for-2 as a pinch-hitter. He split last season between Class A Lynchburg and Double-A Altoona, batting .302 between them. It's likely that he'll join Walker in Altoona.
"[Bixler's] done a very nice job," Littlefield said. "He's athletic, he can run, he can throw and he's got a little sock with the bat. He's got the ability to be a pretty solid player.
"He gives us a lot of hope for the future."
Family reunion: Tuesday's game against the Tigers was a grand gathering of former Pirates players, managers and coaches, as former Pittsburgh and current Detroit skipper Jim Leyland assembled his crew with many familiar faces. Six of the last seven Pirates managers were in attendance and gathered behind the plate for pregame photos: Jim Tracy (2006-current), Lloyd McClendon (2001-05), Gene Lamont (1997-2000), Leyland (1986-1996), Chuck Tannner (1977-85) and Bill Virdon (1972-73). Other former Pirates sighted: Andy Van Slyke (outfielder, 1987-94), Mike LaValliere (catcher, 1987-93), Rafael Belliard (shortstop, 1982-90), Bruce Kison (pitcher, 1971-79), John Wehner (utilityman, 1991-96, 99-2001), Don Robinson (pitcher, 1978-87), Bob Walk (pitcher, 1984-93) and Bruce Tanner (former bullpen coach).
Pirates second baseman Don Kelly spent 2001-06 in Detroit's farm system before signing with Pittsburgh as a Minor League free agent. Current Tigers first baseman Chris Shelton, a former Pirates Minor League Player of the Year, was in the lineup. Sean Casey, who spent time with the Pirates last season and owns a home just outside of Pittsburgh, was given the day off.
Burnett shines: Sean Burnett earned his first Grapefruit League win with 4 1/3 scoreless innings during the 3-1 win over Detroit. His control came and went, however, resulting in three walks with his four strikeouts, as well as a few multiple-runners situations. It was the young lefty's first start of the year and first big-league start since August 2004.
A Pirates first-rounder in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, Burnett has strung together 11 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings.
"To hang in there the way he did and bring some of the pitches that he was obviously forced into having to make, and coming out of it unscathed, I think you learn an awful lot about the guy," Tracy said.
Burnett missed the entire 2005 season after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery, and he worked at Triple-A Indianapolis in 2006.
Grabow update: John Grabow threw 50 pitches from between 60-90 feet on Monday and reported afterward that his inflamed elbow was feeling better. Still, the left-handed reliever is expected to begin the regular season on the disabled list, leaving the Pirates with a decision to make for their bullpen. With Grabow out, Damaso Marte is currently the only southpaw established in relief.
Up next: The Pirates will host the Red Sox in a sold-out affair at McKechnie Field at 1:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny will make his fifth outing (third start) for Pittsburgh, and he will face righty Daisuke Matsuzaka. Also scheduled to throw for the Pirates are Jim Brower, Marty McLeary, Dan Kolb and Damaso Marte.
Full house: With Wednesday's game appearing on ESPN and featuring Matsuzaka, the media will be packed into every available corner. A total of 125 credentials were requested. In addition to Pittsburgh's media core, 22 print media seats were requested, as well as 33 Japanese television and photography seats. ESPN requested 50 credentials and will bring nine cameras. TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) will park its satellite truck in the lot behind McKechnie Field.
The game, which begins at 2 a.m. in Japan, will be broadcast live on five Japanese networks.
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.