BRADENTON, Fla. -- On the fields of Florida and Arizona, baseball players are working on playing the game right. Behind the scenes, players and managers are learning about playing the game differently.
The Pirates will be involved in post-practice Sunday meetings that will deal with the two major issues being introduced for the 2014 season.
Team player representative Neil Walker will participate in a gathering of Players Association officials to go over details of the proposed ban on plate collisions between catchers and baserunners. The players union has to ratify any change in that rule.
Concurrently, Bucs skipper Clint Hurdle and most of his coaching staff will represent one of six teams at an MLB presentation in Port Charlotte on the execution of expanded replay. It will be one of the MLB's barnstorming gatherings to go over rules governing the expansion of replay from merely boundary home run calls. The new rules will go into effect with the exhibition season, which the Pirates will begin with Wednesday's meeting with the Yankees in McKechnie Field.
Hurdle, along with managers of three or four other teams training in the vicinity, will get his first extensive debriefing on expanded replay since the Winter Meetings in early December.
"I've done my studies, and look forward to meeting with MLB," said Hurdle, who plans to use his manager's challenge "intelligently and with purpose to get a call right."
"There will be some strategy involved," Hurdle added. "It'll be like any other strategic move you make. That means, yeah, you're going to be second-guessed. That doesn't bother me. If I'm doing what in my heart I think is best for the club, I can live with it."
Pitchers' post-Classic injuries concern managers
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Upon further review, Wandy Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez have done this before. This would not be the first time the two pitchers shared the same rotation. The last time they did it, their team won a world title.
OK, it wasn't a World Series title. It was last spring's World Baseball Classic, and Rodriguez and Volquez were the big guns as the Dominican Republic went undefeated (8-0) to capture the quadrennial event.
Which raises another, more uncomfortable issue: the affect of Classic participation, due to its scheduling at the dawn of Spring Training, on pitchers' subsequent seasons.
It is a trite subject, but one that might interest the Pirates anew. Volquez had two wins in three starts for the Dominican, then posted a 5.71 ERA for the Padres and the Dodgers. Rodriguez went 1-0 with an 0.96 ERA in two starts, then broke down the first week of June. The third starter, Minnesota's Samuel Deduno, posted two wins and an 0.69 ERA in three starts, then lasted into August before requiring shoulder surgery.
"There have been studies done on pitchers affected or players hurt [by WBC participation]. Things have been brought to MLB's attention," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. "We've done some work for our own information. I've had conversations with other managers on, 'Is there anything to it?' I don't think we've come up with anything concrete. We're still trying to figure it all out."
First number, last word
23: Players on the Pirates' 40-man roster -- those not yet eligible for arbitration -- who remain unsigned. The team will likely announce all the agreements at once. Players not reaching terms will be renewed; the deadline is unofficial, but the MLB likes all players under contract before games begin. For the Bucs, that is Tuesday, with the annual Black & Gold squad game.
"That's just so I feel better when I go back to the right side. Swinging only right-handed starts to pull on my back muscles, and this balances me out. It's like when you spin one way, you get real dizzy, and spinning the other way straightens you out." -- Russell Martin, a pure right-handed hitter, on switching to the left side for some turns in batting practice.
• Hurdle has just about wrapped his "entrance interviews" with pitchers and will soon move onto position players. One of the first to get an audience will be Andrew Lambo, just in case he feels overwhelmed by trying to master a relatively new position, first base.
"We'll remind him to control what he can, to separate the glove from the bat, and to keep the game simple," Hurdle said. "The guy had success last year [33 homers, all but one in the Minors] because he got a lot of clutter out of his mind."
• Steve Shenbaum, the one-time comic actor turned motivational speaker, delivered his speech to Pirates players and coaches Friday morning.
"Steve is a very talented man and the presentation has substance and meaning," Hurdle said. "There's fun tied to it. It's a team-bonding, team-building exercise. Always very well received."
• The pitchers have been chosen for Tuesday's Black & Gold squad game at McKechnie Field, but Hurdle held off listing them, preferring to announce them along with the starting lineups, perhaps as early as Saturday.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.