Craig Wilson On Patrol

Craig Wilson On Patrol

There was a time when the Pirates never would have dreamed of letting Craig Wilson patrol the spacious left field of PNC Park. That time was as recent as the end of last season.

However, Wilson has made such dramatic improvement in the outfield this year that he is likely to get some starts in left during the Pirates' five-game homestand, which begins Friday with the opener of a three-game series against Chicago Cubs.

Putting Wilson in left field gives the scuffling Pirates offense more pop because it enables manager Lloyd McClendon to play Daryle Ward at first base. When Wilson plays left, Jason Bay shifts from left to center and center fielder Tike Redman goes to the bench.

Wilson, who hit a team-high 29 homers last season, came up through the minor leagues as a catcher but has played almost exclusively at first base and right field since making his major league debut in 2001. The Pirates have played Wilson in right field, especially in home games, because the left-center gap juts out to 410 feet.

However, Wilson began playing some left field during the seven-game road trip that ended Wednesday and was impressive. His best play came Tuesday in Milwaukee when he jumped above the fence to steal a two-run homer away from Brewers shortstop J.J. Hardy to preserve a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning of a game the Pirates won 4-2.

"This guy has come a long way on the defensive side of the ball," Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon said. "I remember a time when he was strictly a liability.

"He's going to catch the balls he's supposed to catch. He's not going to make the spectacular plays very often, but he's right about average out there. He does a decent job for us."

Wilson has logged many hours with first base coach Rusty Kuntz, who works with the outfielders, on taking better routes to fly balls.

"I think the difference is going out there and getting the reps, not only in games, but in practice," Wilson said. "I've probably given Rusty a few extra gray hairs. When he got here, that head was full of orange hair. Now, there is some salt and pepper mixed in that I'm sure I caused."

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