BRADENTON, Fla. Pirates manager John Russell raised the stakes for his team last month, when he set a postseason berth as the team goal. If the first two days of spring activities were any indication, then the message hit home with the players.
"We felt it all winter, and as we get ready for camp, we can tell that they're ready to go," Russell said after workouts at Pirate City complex on Friday afternoon. "People will get a better feel for it as we go along, but it has been very upbeat. We're very confident about what we want done. There's a lot of optimism, a lot of energy, and we'll continue to feed off that and push forward."
"Oh, yeah, the atmosphere in the clubhouse is different than in previous years," pitcher Brad Lincoln agreed. "You can sense that the guys want to step it up from the past few years. We're tired of the way that people look at us. We want to open some eyes, and we got a lot of guys that can do it here."
Of the 66 players on the roster, shortstops Ronny Cedeno and Argenis Diaz and outfielders Gorkys Hernandez, Andrew McCutchen, Lastings Milledge, Jonathan Van Every and Delwyn Young had not made an appearance as of early Friday afternoon.
The first official day of training camp is Tuesday. Players are required to report no later than Monday at midnight.
GOTTA HAVE HART?: Pitcher Kevin Hart had the early lead for the No. 5 starter berth, one of the key position battles this spring.
"Kevin has thrown the ball very, very well," said Russell, who cited improved mechanics as the primary reason. "We're excited about him. He feels a lot more comfortable out there. You can tell that he's on a mission by the way he has gone about it."
Lincoln and Daniel McCutchen also were in the hunt for the open spot.
"There's competition and (Hart) knows it," Russell said. "He'll do whatever he can to make a good impression and show that he's ready for it. We have some other very good candidates, but he has worked awfully hard. Time will tell, but he's in a good position."
BUSY BODIES: Sixteen pitchers participated in 35- to 40-pitch bullpen sessions under overcast skies. Those on the 40-man roster included McCutchen, Ramon Aguero, Brendan Donnelly, Octavio Dotel, Zach Duke, Javier Lopez, Evan Meek, Charlie Morton and Ronald Uviedo.
Jimmy Barthmaier (30 pitches) and Neal Cotts (60 pitches) threw off mounds in the bullpen. Both underwent reconstructive elbow surgery last season.
"They're anxious to get out there, but we want them to stay with the program," Russell said. "We want them to progress to the point that we can get them back on the mound in games. We'll see how far down the road that is, but they've progressed the way that they should be."
TIGER TRACKS: The first public appearance of golf star Tiger Woods in three months attracted more than token attention in the clubhouse.
"He's human," said pitcher Joel Hanrahan, an avid golfer and fan. "People make mistakes. I don't feel like he owed me an apology. What happened is between him, his wife and his family. The rest of us don't need to make a big stink about it.
"Any fan wants him back on the course because he's fun to watch," Hanrahan said. "Obviously, he's the best."