MLB Insiders: Pittsburgh Pirates

Left-hander Paul Maholm, catcher Ryan Doumit and center fielder Nate McLouth were the Pirates' three breakout players last season. All three were then signed to three-year contracts to avoid salary arbitration.

Maholm is the only pitcher assured of a spot in the rotation. McLouth will be the starting center fielder after having to beat out Nyjer Morgan for the job last spring, and Doumit is the No. 1 catcher after unseating Ronny Paulino last year.

However, all three says they are taking the same approach this spring and haven't gotten spoiled by their new-found status and wealth.

"I'm still going about it like I'm trying to earn my spot on the team," said Maholm, who allowed only one run in five innings in his first two starts of the exhibition season.

McLouth believes being put into a competitive situation last spring helped him wind up having a season in which he played in the All-Star Game and won a Gold Glove. Thus, he is following the same routine this spring and was 4-for-14 (.286) to start Grapefruit League play.

"I still want to peak as early as I can this spring and get locked in at the plate," McLouth said. "I did that last season, and it was a big reason why I had a good year."

Doumit, who started the spring 4-for-15 (.263), feels the Pirates' losing ways are motivation enough to have a good spring.

"We haven't had a winning season since 1992," Doumit said. "I don't think any of us can afford to relax or take things easy."

--LHP John Grabow was a late addition to the U.S. roster for the World Baseball Classic. He was chosen to replace Angels LHP Brian Fuentes, who was placed on the bereavement list. Grabow is one of four Pirates playing in the WBC. RHP Ian Snell and INF Ramon Vazquez are playing for Puerto Rico, and LHP Dave Davidson is pitching out of Canada's bullpen.

--RHP Virgil Vasquez, claimed off waivers from San Diego in late January, was delayed in making his bid to win a spot in the rotation because of biceps tendinitis. Vasquez made his first appearance of the spring March 6 against Tampa Bay and allowed two runs in two innings.

--1B/OF Steve Pearce, who appears ticketed for Class AAA Indianapolis to begin the season, was limited to three at-bats in the first nine games of the exhibition season because of a strained left calf. In recent days he has been limited to taking batting practice, and he likely won't return to game action until the weekend of March 13-15.

--RHP Brian Slocum, a non-roster player with an outside chance of making the bullpen, is scheduled to make his first appearance of the spring March 9 against Boston. He has been sidelined due to a strained hamstring.

--LHP Donnie Veal is becoming a spring phenom, as he pitched four scoreless innings and walked only one. Veal was a Rule 5 draft pick after the Cubs left him off their 40-man roster. He led the Southern League with 81 walks and 18 wild pitches last season with Class AA Tennessee.

BY THE NUMBERS: 18.69 -- RHP Jimmy Barthmaier's ERA after two starts, all but eliminating the rookie's chances of winning a spot in the rotation.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He just doesn't have command of his pitches and his mechanics are off. He's not in any kind of rhythm and the fact that he's giving up a lot of hits compounds that." -- Pirates manager John Russell on RHP Jimmy Barthmaier.

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