Notes: Practice makes perfect

Notes: Practice makes perfect

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates proved that bunting is truly a lost art -- at least for a little bit.

Each pitcher took a turn rotating through the bunting station during practice on Friday at Pirate City and, for a while, it was ugly. Popups, hard-hit grounders back to the mound, foul balls and complete misses had third-base coach Jeff Cox barking up a storm from his position behind the pitching machine.

"You can't take [bunting] for granted," manager Jim Tracy said. "Repetitions with that is what makes you good at it."

And so repeat they did, again and again until the majority of the bunted balls fell within the two arcs painted on the infield grass, designating the target area.

Masumi Kuwata not only needed very little direction, but he was far and away the most impressive at the plate. The Japanese right-hander had it all: the squared shoulders, the soft tap, the control and, most importantly, a nod of approval from his skipper.

"He could probably teach everybody how to do it, that's how good he was," Tracy said. "Having played over in Japan myself, I know one of the things I learned is the fact that those types of things right there, you worked on that. You worked on that an awful lot. And I'll guarantee you he's as good as he is right now, because he worked at it an awful lot.

"He's a tremendous, tremendous bunter."

Kuwata was a tough act to follow -- Ian Snell's first three balls popped up before he dropped the fourth one neatly on the grass just outside the intended zone.

"Well, Ian, now you can bunt," Cox shouted. "Maybe now we should work on your signs."

Laying down the law: A day after Major League Baseball's Playing Rules Committee announced the first changes to the rulebook in more than a decade, the Pirates weren't overly concerned.

"The game's the same. It's the same game," Tracy said.

True, there were no enormous alterations, but as left-hander Zach Duke pointed out, the little things may add up to a problem for some.

The new rules include an automatic ejection and a 10-game suspension for anyone defacing the game ball, such as using "soil, rosin, paraffin, licorice, sandpaper, emery paper or other foreign substance" on it for any reason. Previously, the offender was charged with a ball on the pitch and a warning.

Possibly the most popular story of "mudding" in recent history concerned Tigers starter Kenny Rogers, who in Game 2 of the 2006 World Series was let off with just a warning after Cardinals manager Tony La Russa approached home plate and pointed out that something was on Rogers' hand after the first inning. Television cameras later picked up a shiny, yellow-brown smudge on the back of the lefty's throwing hand, but it was gone the next inning.

Also, the time a pitcher has to deliver the ball was cut down to 12 seconds, down from 20.

"I think that's good, especially for the TV audience," Duke said. "There's a long lull there in between pitches sometimes depending on the pitcher. It'll help guys like myself; I've always had a pretty quick pace, so it won't be any big deal for me, but there will be some guys affected, I'm sure."

There also was a rule abolishing tie games, stating that when a contest is called due to the weather or otherwise, it will now be completed the next time the teams meet at that stadium, before the regularly scheduled game. If no games remain, the game in question will be replayed if it means that the outcome will determine the playoffs.

"I think they're all rules [with which] people will have to make some small adjustments in some cases, but I don't think there's anything riveting there that will cause any significant problems," general manager Dave Littlefield said.

The last rulebook change dealt with the strike-zone interpretation in 1996.

Sanchez sighting: The Pirates moved one step closer to having their full pitching staff assembled when Romulo Sanchez appeared on Saturday.

Sanchez, 22, had been delayed from departing his native Venezuela this past week while he was awaiting to secure his work visa.

Pitchers Tony Armas Jr. and Serguey Linares are still in Venezuela and Dominican Republic, respectively, ironing out the same problem. Tracy said there was a good chance for Armas to arrive Monday and suit up on Tuesday.

Since he's a Cuban defector, Linares' issue is a bit more complicated, but Tracy was confident that things were moving along.

Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.