McClendon: It certainly has. We've been very pleased with the progress we've been making. Guys came in in great physical condition, they're playing well, and I couldn't be happier with how things are going.
GVB: A couple of guys got a little nicked up: diving for a fly ball, Jason Bay, he's gonna be hitting off a tee, trying to come back; Jack Wilson had a slow start because of the appendectomy; and then of course you've had some problems with Tike Redman. What's the status on those three?
McClendon: Well, Tike is back in the lineup, Jack is back in the lineup, although not everyday as we speak right now, but certainly progressing to the point where we think he's going to be fine come Opening Day. I talked to Jason this morning. He felt real good and is going to hit off the tee. I suspect that over the course of the next three to four days, he'll probably see some game action.
GVB: Some interesting competition in some spots, particularly in the outfield. I guess competition is good.
McClendon: I think it is. The guys are playing good. The decisions we have to make are very tough. That's the way it should be. It means you're acquiring talent, you're acquiring depth. When you do that, you should start being more productive.
GVB: It seems a little strange to come to Spring Training and not see Jason Kendall. He's been a fixture for so many years. It's going to be interesting how the catching pans out: you've got a veteran in Santiago and I know you want to get Cota some games.
McClendon: Sure. Anytime you lose a guy of Jason's caliber is pretty tough, but at the same time we think we've acquired some depth in Santiago, and certainly some depth in other positions from the flexibility it has given us. We'll continue to move forward and I hope things will work out for the best.
GVB: You told me during the off-season that, for the first time in a long time, you were excited about the core of young players that you had coming back. That hasn't always happened in Pittsburgh. There've always been changes, you've brought veterans in, but this is the first time in awhile that you've had a real core of young players.
McClendon: We do have a core of young players who have played together now for three or four years. They know each other, they know what they're capable of doing. I don't think there's any doubt to whether they belong in the big leagues. They know they can compete at this level, and compete at a high level, so it's nice to have. It certainly makes it easy coming into Spring Training, where you can focus on other facets of the game, try to focus on making the team better in other facets.
GVB: You made an interesting comment while in the clubhouse the other day, talking to a reporter, an out-of-town reporter who used the term "rebuilding, always the Pirates rebuilding." You said you were tired of it. I thought it was an interesting statement. You're past that stage.
McClendon: I certainly think we are. I don't think we're in a rebuilding stage. I think we're in a stage now where we're trying to determine the character of this club, whether or not we can compete at a high level. Certainly we need to continue to add pieces, but the rebuilding part is certainly over with.
GVB: We didn't touch on the pitching. Many consider that the strength of the ballclub.
McClendon: We certainly like our rotation. Obviously we're trying to figure out that fifth spot-that's still up in the air. We have four guys we can run out there every four days who we certainly feel give us a chance to win ball games. The bullpen's in great shape with quite a bit of depth there. We like where we are. Obviously a big part of it is health. We need to stay healthy, and if we can stay healthy, particularly with the pitching, we're going to be ok.
GVB: Final comment, quick comment about the division. It shapes up as an interesting division once again. If you look at what happened last year, so many teams made some big changes last year and had some real big names on the team. Some of those guys are gone from the other clubs and they've brought in some other people. It's going to be interesting, I think.
McClendon: I certainly think the division has come back to us somewhat, and at the same time we moved up, so it's certainly closed the gap. But we need to continue to work hard and continue to get ourselves into championship-type form, at a championship-type level, and we can go out there and have a team that we can be proud of.
GVB: Lloyd, I appreciate it.
McClendon: Thanks, George. Me, too.
<b>GVB:</b> Matt, Spring Training is moving down the home stretch here. First of all, how are you…