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Pirates' Cotts on comeback trail after surgery

BRADENTON, Fla. — Lefty reliever Neal Cotts threw long toss Thursday morning under the watchful eyes of Pirates trainers and coaches, who said his motion was smooth with good zip on the ball.

"Pretty good arm action for a guy who had Tommy John surgery in early July," pitching coach Joe Kerrigan said.

Cotts, who'll turn 30 in March, was with the Chicago Cubs when he had surgery. He rehabbed at the Cubs' facility in Mesa, Ariz., and began throwing a few months later.

"I struggled at the start," Cotts said. "But then, right after Christmas, it was like a switch just flipped on, and it all came back to me."

Cotts is slated to begin throwing off a mound at the end of this month, but he is not expected to be game-ready by the start of the regular season.

Over 284 career outings, Cotts has a 4.63 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP. Two years ago, he made 50 appearances for the Cubs and averaged 10.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

» Right-hander D.J. Carrasco became the Pirates' 20th non-roster invitee to spring training by agreeing to a minor league contract Thursday. If Carraso, 32, wins a spot in the bullpen, he will make $950,000 with a chance for up to $250,000 in incentives. Last season, Carrasco worked 89.1 innings, the most among American League relievers, and had a 3.76 ERA.

» Steve Pearce got a brief checkup from an athletic trainer during batting practice yesterday morning at minicamp. "Nothing big, just a kink in my neck," said Pearce, who then went out to shag flies.

» Donnie Veal is making a smooth transition back to being a starter after spending last season in the bullpen as a Rule 5 pick. The left-hander was dominant in the Arizona Fall League, going 3-1 with a 2.14 ERA in seven starts. In 21 innings, Veal racked up 22 strikeouts and walked seven. "It was good to get back in that starter's routine," Veal said.

» Top prospect Pedro Alvarez was excused from minicamp to attend Major League Baseball's rookie development program. The third baseman has kept busy this offseason by working out with a personal trainer in Arizona. Also, Alvarez announced on his his Facebook page that he recently got engaged.

QUOTABLE

"I feel fortunate. The Marlins kind of felt like my home, but I'm enjoying it here so far. It feels like a fresh start." — Outfielder John Raynor, who was claimed by the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft

DIGITS

.729 — Lastings Milledge's OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 58 games with the Pirates

8 — Career postseason relief outings by Neal Cotts, in seven seasons

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