Eldred posting power numbers

Eldred posting power numbers in spring play

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The ball soared high toward the batter's eye in center field. Its flight was like an eagle's -- fast and majestic.

And when it caromed high off the wall and back onto the field, a hush of admiration came with it. Few people have seen balls hit farther in McKechnie Field than the one first baseman Brad Eldred hit there eight days ago.

At the time, the homer stretched Eldred's streak of homers to four games, and none of them was as impressive as his last of the four. It represented the kind of power that surely has a place in the Pirates lineup, even if Eldred's chances of making the team's Opening Day roster might be about as long as his last home run.

But if he keeps hitting them, the 26-year-old Eldred will have done what many Minor Leaguers have done over baseball's history: won jobs in Spring Training.

"I feel good. I feel real good," Eldred said. "I feel like I'm getting in a good hitting position, and I'm really seeing the ball well, which is a good mix.

"I'm just trying to see it as long as possible, and it's definitely been paying off."

It's paying off in ways that might land him a Major League job. People have taken notice of his power and the possibilities that power might hold for the Pirates. They've also noticed a different Eldred than the one who hit .226 with three homers and 10 RBIs last season for Triple-A Indianapolis.

His numbers then, of course, were unimpressive because of a fractured thumb he sustained April 23. The injury cost Eldred the rest of the '06 season.

He made up for those lost at-bats in the Arizona Fall League and in the Dominican Winter League. A bit of tutoring from hitting coach Jeff Manto hasn't hurt Eldred either, manager Jim Tracy said.

"One of the things I know Jeff talked to him about early in the spring was to do mechanically what he has to do to get behind the ball, which affords him a better opportunity of seeing it," Tracy said. "I think you're seeing evidence of it."

Dissecting Eldred's at-bats, Tracy said Eldred has shown more patience at the plate. He hasn't been swinging at bad pitches that put him at a disadvantage in the count. In short, Eldred isn't allowing pitchers to expand the strike zone.

"He's gotten himself, thus far, into much better counts to take swings at pitches," Tracy said. "When he hits them [they go a long, long way]."

But can he continue to hit the monster homers? Can he continue to show the patience that has helped him open people's eyes in Pirate City?

His power's there. No one can doubt that. His pedigree illustrates it. In 2005, he combined for 40 homers at three levels of play, and no telling what his power numbers might have been in 2006 had he not gotten hurt.

Eldred is healthy now, though. And he's swinging the bat with purpose. A job in the big leagues might be at the end of a prolonged display of long ball.

"It's just one of those things, I guess," Eldred said of his .379 average and .862 spring slugging percentage. "You get in one of those streaks, and it just seems to flow, you know? That's how it is with power hitters.

"It's all contact. The ball goes a long way. That's just the way it is."

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