Fit Alvarez determined to beef up statistics

Pedro Alvarez

Perhaps nothing matters more to the Pirates this winter than how Pedro Alvarez prepares for spring training. So far, apparently, so good.

Alvarez was the talk of PirateFest, the team's annual promotional event at Pittsburgh's convention center, by reporting in dynamic shape. The incumbent third baseman and former No. 2 overall draft pick declined to say how much weight he might have lost since the end of the 2011 season, but it was clear he not only slimmed down but also firmed up.

Management also was mostly mum on the specifics, though visibly pleased.

"Pedro is still a big part of our plans for next year and beyond," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He's not the first player, nor will he be the last, to have a tough sophomore season."

No, but "tough" doesn't begin to describe batting .191 with four home runs and 19 RBI over 74 games and missing extensive time to injury or a late season demotion to Class AAA Indianapolis.

Alvarez was recalled in early September and, in his opinion, began to improve.

"Toward the end of the year, I was starting to feel a little better at the plate, seeing the ball better," Alvarez said. "I think it's just a matter of time, kind of just getting my feet under myself and picking up where I left off."

Management had requested that Alvarez play winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but he declined the voluntary assignment. He chose instead to work out five days a week with a personal trainer in Los Angeles, focusing on agility and quickness.

Huntington reiterated that third base is Alvarez's to lose, even with the recent acquisition of Casey McGehee from Milwaukee.

NOTES, QUOTES

--LF Jose Tabata resumed swinging a bat for the first time since being shut down in September by a fractured left hand. The hand had given Tabata trouble much of the latter part of the season, but he's expected to be fully ready for the spring. "I feel really good," Tabata said.

--CF Andrew McCutchen and 2B Neil Walker said they have not had any further talks with the Pirates regarding long-term extensions. Those began earlier in the year, but little came of them. GM Neal Huntington said he was "optimistic" agreements could be reached at some point.

--LHP Jo-Jo Reyes is one of several starters the Pirates are eyeing as rotation depth. Reyes had a 6.52 ERA with the Orioles last season, so he'd come on a minor league contract.

--RHP Chris Resop said he likes the potential makeup of the Pirates' bullpen which, for the first time in recent memory, will be made up wholly of incumbents: "We had a really good group last year, and we're happy to have it back together. If we can get the ball to Joel Hanrahan, we know the game's over."

--RHP Brad Lincoln was challenged by manager Clint Hurdle to be ready to push for a rotation spot, especially with RHP Charlie Morton uncertain coming off hip surgery. "That's fine by me," Lincoln said. "It's just added motivation for me."

BY THE NUMBERS: 88 -- Total home runs hit in 2011 by what appears to be the Pirates' everyday eight for 2012.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm very fortunate to be blessed with this opportunity, and my plan is to take full advantage of it." -- 3B Pedro Alvarez, upon being told the Pirates' third base job is his to lose.

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