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Pirates

Eldred powers his way into Pirates' picture

| Thursday, March 8, 2007

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Before the Pirates' game Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins, Pittsburgh's Brad Eldred had four home runs in 12 plate appearances, one in every game he has played and more than any player on any team to that point.

General manager Dave Littlefield, however, has said that Eldred will open the season with Triple-A Indianapolis — mostly because he missed so much of last season, but also because the Pirates feel he would be best served by getting more at-bats rather than sitting on a bench.

Eldred's power is no fluke. All but one of his home runs this spring have been majestic, including a shot Monday in Dunedin that sailed over a group of trees beyond left field and into a neighboring schoolyard.

Eldred, a behemoth of a first baseman at 6-feet-5, 275 pounds, has hit 40 home runs in a season on three levels of professional baseball — including 12 in just 190 at-bats for Pittsburgh in 2005.

That was Eldred's only experience in the majors and, judging by the makeup of the Pirates' current roster, it appears he will have to be traded for another chance.

Recently acquired Adam LaRoche is certain to fill first base for the next three years, which is how long the team owns his rights through arbitration.

"Obviously, we've got a guy ahead of him now who's established and is going to play there for a couple years," Littlefield said, referring to LaRoche. "But we don't have enough good players."

And, because Eldred plays only first base, there might not be a spot on the bench, either. Manager Jim Tracy prefers defensive versatility.

Still, Eldred isn't complaining.

"I just need to concentrate on being the best player I can be," he said. "Other stuff is out of my control."

Littlefield has not ruled out Eldred being part of the team's future.

One solution might be to have Eldred play outfield; he split his senior year at Florida International University between first base and left field. He also played one game in right field for the Pirates' minor-league affiliate in Williamsport in 2002.

"Believe me, I'm not opposed to playing the outfield," Eldred said. "I'll do whatever I have to."

There has been no indication the Pirates are considering a position switch. Eldred was in the lineup again at first base Wednesday.

Eldred, 26, is coming off a lost 2006, when he missed all but the first 18 games with Indianapolis because of a badly broken left thumb. Then, when he went to play winter ball in Mexico, he went 8-for-38 at the plate and was sent home by his Mazatlan team.

So, with time on his hands, he studied video of his approach at the plate. What he found was that his left shoulder was leaning toward the pitcher too early, and this spring he has stressed staying back to get a longer look at the ball.

"I'm seeing the ball better and, if you see the ball better, you've got a better chance to put the bat on it," Eldred said. "And, if I put the bat on the ball, it's got a better chance to be a home run."

Notes: Outfielder Xavier Nady is expected to make his spring debut by the end of the week, Tracy said. Nady has been out because of an inflamed intestine. ... Second baseman Freddy Sanchez should resume playing within a week after sustaining a mild sprain to his right knee Tuesday.

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