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Pirates

Pirates' manager looks forward to first official exhibition game

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008

BRADENTON, Fla. - John Russell says he understands that Thursday's exhibition opener won't be nearly the same as when he makes his regular-season debut as the Pittsburgh Pirates' manager on March 31 in Atlanta.

Nevertheless, he said he is looking forward to the first official game of the spring when the Pirates visit the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, Fla.

"After you've been in spring training for a couple of weeks, you get tired of just working out and taking batting practice off your own pitchers," Russell said Wednesday. "You want to get out on the field and start competing."

Russell, hired to replace Jim Tracy last November, and his all-new coaching staff have been stressing the importance of fundamentals this spring. Now, Russell is looking forward to seeing his team put that theory into practice.

Russell said he was pleased with the Pirates' performance in a 5-0 win over Manatee Community College in a charity game Wednesday, though none of the players expected to be in Pittsburgh's opening-day lineup participated.

"We did a good job of driving in runs and taking the extra base when the opportunity was there," Russell said. "Our pitchers also did a really good job of throwing strikes and keeping the ball low in the strike zone."

"Those have all been points of emphasis this spring," he said. "Now, we'd like to continue to see that progression during the exhibition season and keep building on it as we get closer to the regular season."

The Pirates had little roster turnover in the offseason and have few positions open this spring. The most interesting competition will be between Nate McLouth and Nyjer Morgan to be the center fielder and leadoff hitter.

They were two of the few bright spots last season when the Pirates had the worst record in the National League (68-94). McLouth hit .258 with 13 home runs and had a team-high 22 stolen bases in 137 games. Morgan batted .299 with seven steals in 29 games during a September call-up.

"Its just nice to know that you have a chance to be in the starting lineup," said McLouth, who has spent the first two seasons of his career primarily in a reserve role. "All you want is the opportunity and I'm excited about it."

"Nate is a good player, and I feel like I bring some things to the table as well," Morgan said. "It should be a good competition. I know we're both looking forward to it."

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