Pirates manager Jim Tracy recently sat down for a question-and-answer session with MLB.com to discuss his thoughts on the upcoming season.
MLB.com: What were Pittsburgh's key accomplishments during the Grapefruit League this spring?
Tracy: I think there is a tremendous amount of know-how here compared to one year ago at this time, heading into the season. The understanding that each and every player has, as far as what their responsibilities are and what they have to do. A year ago, you really saw guys beginning to see the light and heading in that direction. For me, the spillover into Spring Training really exemplifies the fact that there's a real understanding of a team concept, offensively and defensively, of what it is to be able to put yourself in a position, each and every day, to win a game. You're not going to win them all, but if you put yourself in that position on a regular basis, you enhance your chances dramatically of being a pretty good ballclub.
MLB.com: Do you have any predictions for the upcoming season?
Tracy: No. There'll be no predictions of any kind. There will be one thing said in regard to the question, though: The approach to our business from day-to-day, I'd like to see that be very consistent. The know-how and our approach, I just want to see consistency with that. I've seen an awful lot of it during the course of the spring, and if that remains a constant for us, I believe that we will get to different junctures of the season and feel very good about ourselves.
MLB.com: What would you say is the Pirates' strongest attribute?
Tracy: I think the capability for us to score more runs than last year is there, but I do know this: If you are consistent from a starting pitching standpoint on a regular basis, and you feel strongly that you have the ability to catch the ball, I think you put yourself in a really good position each and every day. You give yourself a chance, by doing that. I think we have a chance to pitch well, and I think we're going to catch the ball.
MLB.com: What has come about since 2006 in order to emerge victorious from the 55 one-run games the Pirates were in one year ago?
Tracy: One of the keys to any Major League season ... is the two-out hit, or the base hit in a close game that will help to open the game up. I see a better understanding from our team that we don't have to hit the ball 500 feet to feel good about ourselves. A line drive at the right time that reaches the outfield grass with multiple runners on base is just as damaging an at-bat as something that reaches the seats. We now have a better understanding of that.
MLB.com: It seems like you've got a few more options at several positions than you did a year ago. How willing are you to shuffle people around? Or would you prefer continuity over production?
Tracy: Continuity, in my opinion, is something that breeds success. But I also think that we have enough players and enough resources where there are at-bats for a number of different guys. What that does is keep everybody involved, it keeps bench players sharp and when you get to July and the early part of August, you're not looking around at five of your guys and they're just beat. They get run down, and you've got a chance to keep them fresh, it becomes very helpful.
MLB.com: How well has Adam LaRoche brought things together for you?
Tracy: He is who he is, offensively and defensively, and we're all aware of that. One of the things we constantly talked about once the deal was made was how good of an offensive player he was, and the way he stair-stepped. Three years ago, he hit 13 home runs. Two years ago, he hit 20 and last year, he hit 32. He's making an ascent similiar to the guy that becomes a very, very well-known player in the Major Leagues.
Not enough credit is given for what a terrific defensive player he is. He's helped to shore up the right side of our infield.
The third thing, and just as important, is the person that's been added to a clubhouse that got really, really good for three months last year. He's come from an environment that they go to the park in Atlanta and expect to win every day. It's not aways going to work out that way, but it raises your expectation level as a group. "We came here to win today, and win a lot. And in order to do that, let's make sure we have the approach that suggests that if this team does this in this fashion, they're going to win." That, in my opinion, is the way we have to go about our business.
MLB.com: The team hitting this spring was astronomical. What changed from the .263 average a year ago, and what do you have to do in order to keep it that way?
Tracy: Selection. I don't see too many guys, all spring long, getting themselves out. I see guys in favorable hitter's counts, and when they get a marginal pitch I don't see them expanding their strike zone. I don't see them wildly swinging at 2-0, or 3-1 counts; they're looking for good pitches to swing at. When you have the ability to do things like that, the results are going to get better.
Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.