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Pearce, Clement use winter to heal

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009

Next season, either Steve Pearce or Jeff Clement could be the Pirates' starting first baseman or at least a power-hitting threat off the bench.

At the moment, however, neither player is even swinging a bat.

Pearce (left patella tendinitis) and Clement (strained oblique) are recovering from injuries. They both are among 13 players in Pittsburgh this week for routine physical exams and light workouts at PNC Park.

"I'm going to open some eyes this year," Pearce said Tuesday. "This is the year it's got to happen. But first, I've got to get healthy."

Pearce is down to his last minor-league option, meaning time is running out for the Pirates to decide if he fits in their long-term plans. This past season, he got just 165 at-bats after a late-June callup.

The injury, which flared up early in the season, was one reason for Pearce's very limited role with the Pirates. A front-foot hitter, Pearce was unable to fully turn on balls due to his sore left knee.

After Pearce had an MRI exam, doctors decided surgery was not necessary. However, he won't begin taking batting practice for at least another four weeks.

Clement was injured Aug. 27, a month after he was acquired from Seattle in the Jack Wilson trade.

Clement started hitting last week at his home in Des Moines, Iowa. However, the Pirates' medical staff has shut him down until December as a precautionary measure.

"It's been a really slow process, a lot slower than I expected it to be," Clement said. "I think that's because I rushed back too soon last (season). I thought I was ready, but I wasn't and I re-injured it -- probably worse than I did the first time."

LaRoche reassures Alvarez

Last month, Andy LaRoche spent a week in the Instructional League in Bradenton, Fla., where he was used only at second base. This was before the Pirates traded for Akinori Iwamura.

"I was kind of excited about going to second base," LaRoche said. "But I'm comfortable at third, so it's fine with me."

Still, LaRoche realizes top prospect Pedro Alvarez likely will join the Pirates sometime this summer. LaRoche pulled Alvarez aside in Bradenton.

"I talked to him and said, 'Don't feel uncomfortable around me. If you're ready, we need you in the lineup. I'll go play another position,' " LaRoche said. "I don't want him to think I have any animosity toward him."


Clement wants to catch

After he was traded to the Pirates, Clement played only first base for the first time in his career.

"I'm not sure what the plan is, going into next spring," Clement said. "But I'm hoping I still have a chance to catch. That's where I'd like to be the most."

That could be an option if Ryan Doumit is traded, but it also would depend on Clement's knees. Clement has had two minor surgeries to repair the meniscus.

"If my knee can hold up, I'd love to catch, whether it's as the everyday catcher or the backup," Clement said.

Around the horn

The Florida State League voted to approve the Pirates' purchase of the Class A Sarasota franchise, which will be relocated to Bradenton, Fla. ... Even Meek said his oblique injury is "100 percent healed" and he'll be ready for minicamp and spring training. Lefty Phil Dumatrait also said he is pain-free. ... According to the Palm Beach Post, the Florida Marlins tried to hire infield coach Perry Hill, but the Pirates denied permission for Hill to interview for the job. The Pirates exercised Hill's contract option for 2010, which means they can block him from working for another major league team next year. ... Wednesday, the Pirates will release their 2010 spring training schedule. Pitchers and catchers will report Feb. 18.

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