McGehee must get his stroke back to find spot

Much will be out of Casey McGehee's status during spring training. If Pedro Alvarez hits well, he'll bump McGehee off third base. If Garrett Jones hits well, he'll bump McGehee off first.

If both hit well, he'll be right back on the bench.

That's where McGehee essentially wound up last season in Milwaukee, where he batted .223 and lost his spot in the heart of the Brewers' formidable order. After the season, Milwaukee dealt McGehee to the Pirates for reliever Jose Veras in what essentially was an exchange of unwanted arbitration contracts.

McGehee sounds excited about the chance to make a difference, for himself and the team.

"I was excited to get a new start, no matter where it was," McGehee said. "The more I thought about Pittsburgh, once I realized this was where I was coming, I got more excited each day.

"I don't know what the season's got in store for me, but I want to get out there every day and do my part. I feel like I can help this team take the next step."

To do that, he'll first need a little good fortune.

McGehee's batting average on balls in play dropped by a remarkable 57 points last season, a strong sign that he was still hitting well enough but right at gloves.

And it didn't help that, later in the season when he was desperate for answers, he altered some mechanics and became a mess.

"I had some bad luck and got frustrated with it," McGehee said. "So I started trying to change things."

His biggest change this offseason was losing 25 pounds. That was aimed primarily at lessening the pressure on his surgically repaired right knee.

If all plays out as the Pirates hope, all three of the above players will hit well. In that event, Alvarez would play every day at third, while McGehee and the left-handed batting Jones would platoon at first.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RHP A.J. Burnett joined his new Pittsburgh teammates in Bradenton, Fla., and immediately made clear he hopes to fit in, no matter his stature, no matter the $33 million he will be paid the next two seasons. "I'll take the ball every five days," Burnett said. "I'm not going to make excuses. One thing I can take from my time in New York is I'll never back down from anything. I'm not a cheerleader, shaking pom-poms. But I know right and wrong and, hopefully, I can share that with the younger players."

--SS Gustavo Nunez was placed on the 60-day disabled list because of an injured right ankle, clearing space on the 40-man roster for Burnett. Nunez was the Pirates' Rule 5 draft pick in December.

--RHP Charlie Morton, who is expected to miss the start of the season because of hip surgery, has his early spring throwing schedule set a week behind the rest of the rotation, but he has been pain-free. "Every side session has gotten better," Morton said. "I feel good. My arm strength is where it should be at this point."

--C Rod Barajas and C Michael McKenry, expected to be the Pirates' tandem behind the plate, have shown a good rapport in the early stages of spring training. However, it's the 13-year veteran Barajas asking most of the questions of his second-year partner. The reason: Barajas is new to the pitching staff. "Just because Mac's a younger guy in the league doesn't mean he doesn't have information," Barajas said. "He's going to be a huge asset for me."

--1B Matt Hague, one of the Pirates' top hitting prospects at the upper levels of the minors, has gotten time at third base in the early stages of spring training. The team sees him as a bench type in the future, so it wants to expand his versatility. He won't make the team out of spring training, but he's close.

BY THE NUMBERS: 34 -- A.J. Burnett's number since high school in Arkansas, one he will keep with the Pirates after getting it from fellow right-hander Daniel McCutchen.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "My actions that evening were irresponsible and wrong." -- Frank Coonelly, Pirates president, on his Dec. 22 DUI arrest just north of Pittsburgh. He has a hearing in March.

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