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Pirates' Ford making strides in camp

BRADENTON, Fla. — Adam LaRoche looked puzzled when he walked into the Pirates' clubhouse the other day.

"Do we have a guy named ... um, Ford playing for us?" LaRoche asked a group of reporters.

Yes, came the reply. Shelby Ford. Second baseman. Kinda tall and lanky. First time in the big-league spring training camp.

"Huh," LaRoche said, trying but not quite succeeding to place a face with the name. "Well, he just went deep for us."

By the time spring training is over, Ford, 24, hopes he's made a lasting impression on all of his teammates — and especially the front-office braintrust.

Ford hit a three-run homer in Wednesday's Grapefruit League opener against the Philadelphia Phillies. He had one hit in each of the first three games.

In Sunday's 6-4 victory over the Detroit Tigers, Ford was hit by a pitch in his only plate appearance. He also stole his second base of the spring.

Ford's swing and body type hold the promise of power, though he's hit just 15 home runs in three seasons in the minors. His three-run shot off Phillies right-hander Joe Bisenius had just enough juice to clear the right field wall.

"Whenever I hit one, it's really got to be up in the air for me to know it's gone," Ford said. "I usually hit the ball to the wall and get the double or whatnot. When I saw it actually go over the fence, I was like, 'Oh, wow! Look at that. First at-bat!' "

Going deep in his debut in major-league camp, Ford struggled to keep a straight face as he rounded the bases. He broke into a huge smile as he went back to the dugout.

"Once I got out of the dirt around home plate, I was like, 'All right, let it go,' " he said. "It was definitely a good feeling."

At 6-foot-3, Ford is a bit tall for a second baseman, but he has good instincts and range. He's slated to be starter this season at Triple-A Indianapolis, and it's not a stretch to think Ford will be the Pirates' everyday second baseman next year.

There are indications the Pirates will not pick up Freddy Sanchez's $8.5 million club option for 2010. Sanchez's option would automatically trigger only if he makes either 635 plate appearances, or 600 plate appearances and is named to the All-Star team this year.

Ford is not worried about where he'll be assigned after spring training. He's focused on playing day to day.

"You've got to take everything seriously," Ford said. "You can't go into camp already thinking about where you're going, because you'd relax a little bit and go through the motions. The good players go through camp hard and really try to prove themselves."

The Pirates' minor-league camp got under way yesterday. With backup infielder Luis Cruz recovered from a hip injury, Ford might not have as many opportunities to play in the next couple of weeks as he did at the start of camp.

"He's a left-handed hitter who shows some pop. This is a nice learning experience for him," manager John Russell said. "He has the ability, yes, and some very nice tools. Perry (Hill, infield coach) has worked with him on a few things with his defense, and he's shown improvement.

"The biggest thing is, he's healthy and feels good."

Last season, Ford missed 50 games and had two stints on the disabled list. He's been hobbled by injuries to his hip, ankle and lower back. While playing in the Arizona Fall League, he fractured the knuckle on his right index finger while trying to bunt.

"It's frustrating, but I can't dwell on it," Ford said. "It seems like whenever I do, that's when I get hurt again."

Additional Information:

Today's game

Reds vs. Pirates

1:05 p.m. · McKechnie Field, Bradenton, Fla.

Radio/TV: None

Pirates probable starter: LHP Zach Duke

Reds probable starter: RHP Homer Bailey

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