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Improved defense, pitching expected

Sunday, February 29, 2004

But an offensive struggle is very likely.
BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Pirates think they will have an improved pitching staff and stronger defense this season. They aren't as certain about the offense.
"That's an area we are definitely concerned with and is part of why we were driven to get a couple more bats," general manager Dave Littlefield said Thursday. "It is a concern we have going into the season."
After finishing near the bottom of the National League in most statistical categories in the 2001-02 seasons, the Pirates had the third-best batting average in the league and ranked seventh in runs.
After the All-Star break, they had the fifth-best average of all major league teams. They also hit 163 homers for the year, eight shy of the team single-season record.
But the Pirates lost Reggie Sanders (31 homers, 87 RBI) and Matt Stairs (20 homers) to free agency, while trading third baseman Aramis Ramirez, Kenny Lofton and Brian Giles during the season. Until the Pirates signed outfielder Raul Mondesi this week, they didn't have anyone on the roster who hit more than 18 homers in the majors last season.
Cleanup hitter
Mondesi fills the void in the middle of the lineup and will bat cleanup. He'll be flanked by first baseman Randall Simon, who was signed after being traded to the Chicago Cubs in July.
Mondesi hit 24 homers for the New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks. Simon had 16 homers and 72 RBI with the Pirates and Cubs.
Mondesi thinks the Pirates can win without having many big bats in the lineup.
"You don't have to have a lot of power," he said. "If you have speed and put the ball in play, you're going to score some runs."
Leading off
The top of the lineup will feature center fielder Tike Redman, whose 76 hits in August and September were tied for the most in the majors.
Shortstop Jack Wilson, who set career highs with nine homers and 62 RBI, is expected to bat second ahead of catcher Jason Kendall.
Kendall finished sixth in the NL with a .325 batting average and his 191 hits were the most by a Pirates player since Andy Van Slyke's 199 in 1992.
"We'll find a way to scrap out some runs," Kendall said. "Whether it's small-ball or big-ball, we'll find a way to get it done."
Other than third baseman Chris Stynes, signed as a free agent after driving in a career-high 73 runs for the Colorado Rockies, the bottom half of the lineup is a question mark.
Left fielder Jason Bay is returning from shoulder surgery and may not be ready for the season. The Pirates also have injuries issues at second base with Freddy Sanchez (right ankle) and Bobby Hill (back).
"We do have some things to answer and some holes to fill," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "But I like our options. We'll have to see how things play out."