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Notes: Maholm better than line

Notes: Maholm better than line

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Paul Maholm may have deserved a better fate, but fortunately in March, the outcome really doesn't matter all that much.

In his first game action this spring, Maholm's results may not have been as desired, but he looked sharper than his pitching line would suggest. His pitches appeared crisp. The life on his ball was noticeable. His confidence looked very much intact.

Maholm was charged with three runs on five hits in his two innings of work, but with the benefit of better defense behind him, Maholm very likely would have escaped his outing with stats more befitting of his performance.

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The Rays took advantage of a ball that first baseman Steve Pearce couldn't handle cleanly and a bad-luck chopper over the head of Doug Mientkiewicz at third on their way to scoring three runs in the third inning. Afterward, those runs were a side note on an otherwise refreshing start for Maholm.

"The ball's coming out of his hand very well, and he's been real good all spring," manager John Russell said afterward. "I thought he threw the ball well. Guys are starting to get a feel for where they want the ball -- their location and command."

The positive assessment is just the latest concerning Maholm, who arrived at camp slimmer, and who has been catching the eye of coaches for the past two weeks. And now, with encouraging signs coming out of his appearance on Sunday, the Pirates like what they've seen so far from the top three arms in their rotation in each one's first Spring Training appearance.

"Tom Gorzelanny's got that ability where he almost turns it on into a different gear," Russell said. "I think Ian [Snell] does the same thing. Paul is starting to look like he does when he's out there. They can really start to execute what they are capable of doing."

McLouth update: All signs point toward a quick return for outfielder Nate McLouth, who was pulled out of Saturday's pregame lineup after complaining of some tightness in his right hamstring. A day later, McLouth was already feeling better and not limited in his morning workouts.

"If I would have gone all out, I felt there was the possibility of it becoming something more," said McLouth, who is in a battle for the starting center field job. "I'd rather miss two days than two weeks."

As of now, McLouth's status remains day-to-day.

Pitching report: There is still no return date set for right-hander Elmer Dessens, who remains bothered by a bad back. Dessens missed his first scheduled appearance on Friday, and will now not take the mound Tuesday as originally expected.

Damaso Marte and Byung-Hyun Kim continue to work towards being game-ready. Though he had been scheduled to pitch in Monday's "B" game, Marte will instead throw a bullpen session. The left-handed reliever, who battled the flu during the first week of spring workouts, has told pitching coach Jeff Andrews that he is still not feeling strong enough to participate in game action.

After getting a late start in his spring regimen, Kim will throw batting practice on Tuesday. Afterward, Andrews and Kim will make a determination as to whether or not Kim needs to throw batting practice once more before taking part in a Grapefruit League game.

On the field: Though most Spring Training games don't begin until 1:05 p.m. ET each afternoon, don't think players have the luxury of sleeping in. Extra work begins early in the mornings, and on Sunday, it was highlighted by some individual baserunning instruction and catching practice.

Outfielder Nyjer Morgan and first-base coach Lou Frazier were out on the fields at about 8 a.m. ET on Sunday, discussing and imitating what is an appropriate lead and talking about the mental aspect of being a smart baserunner.

"I'm not trying to harness my speed. It's more trying to figure out when to go instead of just running," said Morgan, who swiped 33 bases in 72 Triple-A and Major League games last year. "Can't run [just] to run. I need to understand when to run and in what situations. That's what we're trying to talk about right now."

About an hour later, Ronny Paulino, and then Ryan Doumit, each took turns behind the plate, repeatedly blocking balls coming in from the outfield.

Bucs bits: Mientkiewicz played third base Sunday for the first time this spring, making it the third different position that he has held down. Russell said he will continue to play the veteran infielder at both corner infield and outfield spots. ... Catchers Milver Reyes and Steve Lerud, both of whom worked with the big league pitchers during the early weeks of workouts, have been reassigned to Minor League Spring Training. ... The Pirates had their first home sellout of the spring, with 5,827 fans filling McKechnie Field on Sunday.

Up next: The Pirates return to action on Monday for their third game against the Phillies already this spring. The game, which will begin at 1:05 p.m. ET in Clearwater, Fla., will showcase veteran right-hander Matt Morris in his first Spring Training appearance of the year.

Morris, who is slotted to pitch the first two innings of the game, will be opposed by Philadelphia's Joe Savery, who was the club's first-round selection in last year's First-Year Player Draft.

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

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