McKenry doesn't want to be a one-hit wonder

Michael McKenry was the author of perhaps PNC Park's greatest single moment when his three-run home run early in July beat the Chicago Cubs and vaulted the Pirates to heights unseen since Barry Bonds was skinny.

"I'm still amazed at how people talk about it," McKenry said of the home run. "I'm glad it meant so much to so many. I know I'll never forget it."

What McKenry would like to shed, once and for all, is the tag that he's a fringe, defense-only catcher. And he's put in plenty of extra work this offseason to make that happen.

First, he traveled in October to the Florida Instructional League, the domain of prospects, to spend extra time working with manager Clint Hurdle on his hitting. He then made several trips to Pittsburgh to continue that.

"I'm just kind of keeping it simple," McKenry said. "You have to be a little kid in this game. Too often, I think, we try to overanalyze and be too hard on ourselves instead of just going out there with a clear mind and having fun with it."

McKenry, 26, batted .222 with only one other home run and 11 RBI. He was outstanding with Pittsburgh's staff and in his blocking ability behind the plate, but his bat is what has him behind recently signed Rod Barajas on the depth chart.

Being traded twice in three months -- he opened the year with the Rockies, then went to the Red Sox, then the Pirates -- didn't help.

"I'm almost too coachable at times," McKenry said. "I was listening to so many different people and trying to take in so many different ideas. I didn't have a filter to sift out what works for me.

"I'm at the point in my career that I have to take a grasp of it."

Hurdle said another recent signee, Jose Morales, will compete with McKenry to be Barajas' backup.

NOTES, QUOTES

--LHP Doug Slaten was signed to a minor league contract with a spring invitation, making him at least a depth candidate for the bullpen. Slaten, 31, missed half of last season because of elbow surgery and had a 4.41 ERA in 16 1/3 innings for the Athletics.

--RHP Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton, RHP Joel Hanrahan and RHP Evan Meek signed one-year contracts to avoid arbitration. The only players unsigned past the deadline to exchange salary figures were 1B Garrett Jones and 3B Casey McGehee. Jones' presence on that list was a surprise, considering management had wavered on even tendering him.

--RHP Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall pick in Major League Baseball's draft last June, will be one of a handful of prospects invited to spring training. Another is CF Robbie Grossman, the organization's minor league player of the year. The Pirates do this in part to reward good performance, in part to let major league coaches get some hands-on experience with the top prospects.

--RHP Chris Leroux could be a surprise starting candidate. The Pirates loved what he did down the stretch in the bullpen, and Leroux made four starts in the Dominican Winter League to show he could be stretched out. The Pirates certainly could use another arm in the mix.

--1B Derrek Lee might retire if he doesn't find a situation to his liking out of free agency. The Pirates have made multiple overtures, not least of which was tendering him an arbitration offer after he made $7.25 million last season. But he has not reciprocated that interest.

BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Home games in the first 15 days of the 2012 season, which could be good for weather purposes but tough for hitters since the opening series is followed by a nine-game trip to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Arizona.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I look back at the opinions shared with me last year when I was coming in about our pitching staff, our defense and our offense. In every case, those external opinions turned out wrong." -- Manager Clint Hurdle.

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