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Pirates notebook: Maddon sees comparisons between 2014 Bucs, 2009 Rays

| Thursday, March 13, 2014, 8:39 p.m.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon sees similarities between his Rays team of 2009 and the Pirates of this spring.

Why is that significant?

The Rays were coming off their first winning season in franchise history and have followed with five consecutive winning seasons despite also being challenged by their low payroll in a division with powerful rivals.

“They have some veterans on the field now. I think it's a combination of youth and veterans, kind of what we tried to do a couple years ago,” Maddon said. “It's really nice when you can build around the best player in baseball in center field.”

That player, of course, is Andrew McCutchen. The Rays have their own franchise centerpiece on a club-friendly deal in Evan Longoria.

“(McCutchen) might be the best player right now. If I had a vote, I might vote him No. 1,” Maddon said. “Beyond that, I'm seeing some other things like that pitcher (Thursday), (Bryan Morris), is he that good? I've never seen him before. That was impressive. We had bad swings all days on these guys.”

Morris struck out three Rays in two perfect innings of relief work. The Pirates' bullpen allowed just one baserunner in 6 23 shutout inings in relief of Jeanmar Gomez.

Of course no one, including Maddon, said it would be easy to repeat.

“You have a bigger target on your back than before,” Maddon said. “You don't sneak up on anyone, and everyone knows that you're good. Thus you really have to be able to answer the bell regarding the higher level of play from the other side (directed) toward you. ... It's a mindset. It's no more work.”

Armed and ready

Phil Irwin (elbow) returned to throw one shutout inning in relief against Tampa on Thursday. Jeff Locke (oblique) said he feels healthy and has had no setbacks in his recovery, but has not been made aware of a timetable to return.

‘Buc Night' returns

The Pirates announced their 7:05 p.m. April 2 home game against the Cubs will feature “Buc Night” promotions, which includes $1 seats in select sections and $1 hot dogs. For more information, visit Pirates.com/BucNight, or call 1-877-893-2827.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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