Notes: Eldred passes first outfield test

Notes: Eldred passes first test in the outfield

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The ball flew high and deep into the alley in right-center at McKechnie Field, and Brad Eldred, a right-fielder-in-training, drifted back easily and drew a bead on the ball.

Somebody suggested, jokingly of course, that Eldred and his effortless play looked like Roberto Clemente out there.

Such a notion drew a laugh from Eldred. He knows better.

"It was actually probably the easiest one you could've got, 'cause I had to go get it instead of watching and waiting for it," he said. "It was probably better off that way."

That's about all the action Eldred got in right. For him, it was an uneventful day, aside from the three hits he got. But the story of his work Saturday was Pirates manager Jim Tracy's decision to give Eldred, who's been working on his outfield play for about a week, a try in right field.

Tracy liked what he saw of Eldred the outfielder.

"I'll tell you this: He did a very nice job running the ball down that was hit to right-center," Tracy said. "The ball that went out of the ballpark in the ninth inning, if it's in the ballpark, he's gonna catch it.

"He took two very good routes. ... He looked great."

Eldred, a first baseman by trade, is trying to improve his chances of making the Opening Day roster by showing versatility, a skill that Tracy wants to see in players who are vying for backup roles.

And this is when Tracy must decide how viable a candidate for outfield play Eldred is.

"The way a player gets better, if you're entertaining the thought of experimenting, is to get him out there and expose them to the ball off the bat," Tracy said. "Fungos are great, but in order to get comfortable with it, you've got to see the ball come off the bat and read the ball off the bat."

The time to learn those reads, Tracy said, is now during Grapefruit League play, not during the regular season.

Right stuff: Taking over for left-hander Paul Maholm in the fourth, right-hander Ian Snell breezed through his three-inning outing. Snell, making his third appearance of the spring, threw 25 pitches in holding the Yankees hitless.

"I came out more prepared," Snell said in critiquing his performance. "Each outing I get more prepared and more focused. Right now, I'm more focused than last year."

A year ago, Snell, the organization's Pitcher of the Year in 2003, was just trying to make an impression. He didn't have much Major League exposure at that point. He does now.

For he made any impressions he needed to make during his full season in the bigs when he led the Pirates with 14 wins.

"I know what's going on; I know my place," he said. "I'm here to stick with my place and show my team that I deserve that."

And the question is ... In 1900, Honus Wagner became the first Pittsburgh player to win a batting title. Who was the second? [See answer below]

Buc notes: Infielder Freddy Sanchez sat out another game. He's still days away from returning to action after spraining a knee earlier in the week. ... The Pirates reassigned right-hander Serguey Linares to Minor League camp. The move trims their Spring Training roster to 59 players, a total that includes 28 pitchers. ... Outfielder Jason Bay and Xavier Nady will both travel to Sarasota, Fla., on Sunday. Tracy might use both men in his starting lineup for the first time this spring.

Honor role: Vera Clemente, widow of the Pirates great, will be one of the three people Major League Baseball will honor March 31 in Memphis, Tenn., as part of its Civil Rights Game ceremonies. Clemente will receive one of the inaugural "Beacon Awards" in recognition of her efforts on behalf of civil rights around the world.

The late Buck O'Neil and filmmaker Spike Lee will also receive the award.

The answer is ... No, it wasn't Wagner. The second Pittsburgh player to do so was outfielder Ginger Beaumont in 1902. Beaumont batted .357, winning the title by 24 points. Wagner didn't win the second of his eight batting titles until 1903.

Quotable: "Through his whole career, he's said he had attention on him like that, 'cause I think ever since high school, he was the next big thing in Japan. He's lived up to all the hype over there, so it's almost a second nature to him. He doesn't realize that they're there." -- Zach Duke, on the Japanese media that surrounds pitcher Masumi Kuwata

Up next: The Pirates play the Reds on Sunday at Ed Smith Stadium. Game time is 1:05 p.m. ET. Left-hander Tom Gorzelanny will start for the Bucs. Marty McLeary, Salomon Torres, Franquelis Osoria and Dave Davidson are also scheduled to pitch. The Reds will start veteran left-hander Eric Milton.

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.