Long balls could shrink Bucs' long odds

Updated: February 22, 2010, 6:05 PM ET
By Buster Olney
The other day, the Pirates' sluggers were on practice field No. 3 at their spring training complex in Bradenton, Fla. But after left-handed hitters Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez launched balls far beyond the right-field fence and smashed a couple of car windows in the parking lot of the River Run Golf Course, the Pirates moved the hitters to practice field No. 2.

What this meant is that the building beyond the left-field fence, near field No. 2, is probably a little dented today courtesy of Jones, the Pirates' enormous slugger who had three extraordinary months last year. On Sunday, Jones carved one long drive after another over the distance fence in left-center field; he looked like he was hitting a driver with a bad slice (but thankfully, his car window isn't busted).

After making his debut for Pittsburgh on July 1, he mashed 10 homers in his first 19 games. Pitchers began working Jones out of the strike zone, and in August his numbers went down. But the Pirates were encouraged by Jones' adjustments as the season progressed; he drew 18 walks in his past 130 plate appearances. Don Long, the Pirates' hitting coach, spent time talking with Jones in the batting cages Sunday about how to lay off the pitches low and away.

Jones finished last season ranked 14th among all hitters in OPS with 300 or more plate appearances; in slugging, he was eighth.

He looks like he has just enough patience to keep pitchers honest, and if he were to generate a 25- to 30-homer type of season, he would be one more reason why the Pittsburgh offense has a chance to be markedly improved over 2009, when the Pirates finished dead last in the majors in runs.