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08/28/11 6:11 PM ET

Bucs encouraging players to play winter ball

ST. LOUIS -- While Arizona Fall League rosters are scheduled to be released this week, the Pirates remain busy trying to encourage others to participate in various winter ball leagues outside the United States.

The AFL typically features more advanced players in the upper levels of the Minor Leagues, though there is a chance that Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, could also be among the prospects the Pirates send west.

Other winter ball opportunities, however, are open to current Major Leaguers, and the Pirates are going to push a number of players who are on the big league roster -- or have been at some point this season -- to take advantage of those playing chances.

"I believe in [playing winter ball] with all my heart," said manager Clint Hurdle, who participated in it four times as a player. "They need to do what's right and not what's comfortable and convenient sometimes. It's a challenge to go down there and play. Some people don't have the courage to take the step."

Third baseman Pedro Alvarez is expected to be among the players encouraged to play this winter. Others who have missed time due to injury this year will also be asked to participate in order to make up for time missed. Jose Tabata, Evan Meek and Ross Ohlendorf could fall in that group.

General manager Neal Huntington has expressed disappointment in the past with the lack of interest Major League players have shown toward playing during the offseason. Tabata and Charlie Morton were among the players that benefited from winter ball experiences in 2010.

Ohlendorf looks for better results Monday

ST. LOUIS -- Ross Ohlendorf made his long-anticipated return to the Pirates' rotation Tuesday. The results, though, left much still to be desired.

Ohlendorf will get a chance at a second impression on Monday, when he faces the Astros in the teams' series opener in Houston. There will be a focus on command, downhill movement of pitches, pitching inside and not overthrowing.

It's a critical checklist, though the last item on that list is something that Ohlendorf believes will be remedied naturally. The overthrowing, Ohlendorf said, was largely due to the anticipation of making his first Major League start in more than four months.

"I wasn't as calm as I think I will be going forward," he said.

In that start against Milwaukee, Ohlendorf was tagged for seven second-inning runs. He allowed 14 baserunners during his five innings on the mound, though Ohlendorf found a silver lining in his ability to follow that rough second inning with three scoreless frames. His changeup was more effective during those last three innings, and a reduction in velocity led to improved command.

"I saw some good sequences, but the consistency wasn't there," manager Clint Hurdle said.

Ohlendorf, who missed significant time due to a right shoulder strain, will remain in the rotation for the rest of the season. With another arbitration year approaching and other starters having already taken steps forward to secure long-term spots, it's a must for Ohlendorf to improve before the end of the year.

"He's another guy who we feel we can get back to where he was the year before last," Hurdle said. "That would be another nice addition for us to have moving forward."

Added Ohlendorf: "I'm really glad that there is still some season to go."

Final month important for many Pirates

ST. LOUIS -- One month from Sunday, the Pirates will play their final game of the 2011 season. A postseason berth is now unlikely, but for a number of individuals on the current roster, there is a lot riding on the results of this final month.

More than a half of the position players in Sunday's lineup are not guaranteed a starting job in 2012. How those players fare as the season ends will be influential as management begins to evaluate which players are key pieces beyond this season.

Alex Presley, Josh Harrison and Chase d'Arnaud are among the rookie position players who are trying to lay claim to a long-term starting role. Garrett Jones and Ronny Cedeno are more seasoned players who must prove that the Pirates don't need to look elsewhere for another answer at first base and shortstop, respectively.

Brad Lincoln and Ross Ohlendorf are lobbying for permanent rotation spots. Chris Leroux, Tony Watson and Jason Grilli have a chance to put themselves in position to be key pieces in next season's bullpen.

"I want to see everybody here bring all that they can bring every day," manager Clint Hurdle said. "There has been a lot of good that has gone on, but we have much more work in front of us. There's a lot out there for everybody."

From a team standpoint, the Pirates would have to finish 20-10 in order to secure their first winning season since 1992.

Bucs bits

• Evan Meek (right shoulder tendinitis) began his Triple-A rehab assignment on Saturday with one scoreless inning against Columbus. Meek walked one and did not allow a hit. He is expected to return to the Pirates in September.

• Manager Clint Hurdle said the organization is still finalizing the list of players who will be called up to the Majors when rosters expand in September. Though the Pirates may wait until the end of the Minor League season to make those callups, the club is likely to bring up some pitchers to fortify the bullpen on Sept. 1.

• The Gulf Coast League Pirates will play a one-game semifinal contest against the GCL Marlins on Sunday for the right to advance to a three-game series for the GCL championship. The GCL Pirates won the league's Wild Card with a 34-26 record.

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Josh Harrison became just the fourth rookie to go 3-for-3 in a game against right-hander Chris Carpenter. Ryan Doumit did so back in 2005. Harrison is the only one of the four to have three RBIs in that three-hit game. In his last seven games entering Sunday, Harrison has gone 9-for-23 with five extra-base hits, six RBIs and four runs scored.

• Speaking on his radio show on Sunday, general manager Neal Huntington said it was a mistake to place outfielder Ryan Ludwick on the disabled list on Wednesday. Ludwick, Huntington said, could have played this weekend had he not been put on the DL. Ludwick is eligible to come off the DL on Sept. 7.

• Pirates pitching prospect Jameson Taillon struck out a career-high nine in four scoreless innings for low Class A West Virginia on Sunday. Taillon did not walk a batter and allowed just three hits.

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.