Pirates’ Barajas getting acquainted with new team

The Pittsburgh Pirates impressed Rod Barajas with an aggressive

pitch in free agency, selling the veteran catcher on the team’s

promising future and the role he could play in helping them be

successful.

Manager Clint Hurdle envisions the 36-year-old having a positive

influence on a revamped pitching staff, strengthening the defense

and impacting the offense, too.

Barajas signed a one-year, $4 million contract that includes a

$3.5 million club option for 2013.

That may seem a little high for a .238 career in 13 seasons with

six previous teams, however the Pirates are banking on him being

worth it.

”His job, as he well knows, is to make every guy that’s out on

that mound better,” Hurdle said Wednesday. ”And we feel very

comfortable in the fact that he’s going to be able to do

that.”

Barajas hit .230 with 16 homers and 47 RBIs in 98 games with the

Dodgers last season. He hit 52 homers over the past three seasons

with Los Angeles, the New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays. He’s

also played for Arizona, Texas and Philadelphia during his career,

winning a World Series ring with the Diamondbacks in 2001.

The Pirates took what they felt was a step forward a year ago,

getting off to a promising start in the NL Central and leading the

division in late July before stumbling badly down the stretch to

finish 72-90, extending the club’s streak of consecutive of losing

seasons to 19.

”They did great for those four months,” Barajas said. ”But

they just didn’t have enough in the tank for the rest of the

season.”

The Pirates relied on their pitching last season. The staff was

a pleasant surprise, before the team finished with an overall 4.04

ERA.

”But I think last season was huge. It showed them that they’re

capable of winning in this league, in this division,” he said.

”And at the same time, it kind of showed them what it takes to win

for more than four months. They have to figure that out. I’m sure

adjustments were made. We brought in some veteran guys to kind of

help out, hopefully be a big impact and help them finish the job

this year.”

Less than a week into spring training, Barajas is still getting

acquainted with a pitching staff that has been bolstered by the

acquisition of a couple of veterans who’ve had success in the

majors, right-hander A.J. Burnett and lefty Erik Bedard.

James McDonald, Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens and Kevin Correia

are holdovers from last season who the Pirates hope will benefit

from working with Barajas.

”First of all, I’m impressed with the arms. … The guys I’ve

caught and the guys that I’ve seen throw, they all seem like

they’ve got pretty good velocity. They’re all big kids, and they

all seem like they have a good head on their shoulders,” Barajas

said, adding it’ll take most – if not all – of camp to get

comfortable with the entire staff.

”You talk to pitching coach (Ray Searage). You talk to the

pitchers themselves. I’ll talk to (Michael) McKenry, who had a

chance to catch them last year,” Barajas said. ”For me it’s about

gathering as much information from as many different people as

possible.”

The Pirates signed the right-handed hitting Barajas after

declining options on catchers Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit. McKenry

appeared in 58 games last season, batting .222 with two homers and

11 RBIs.

Barajas said his agent was in discussions with another team,

when the Pirates entered the mix and sealed a deal within a few

days.

”They were real aggressive. … They jumped in quick, said they

really wanted me to go there,” he said. ”As aggressive as they

were, it showed how much they wanted me. It was kind of a

no-brainer for me. They definitely wanted me to be a part of this

team, and felt like I could do something to help out.”

Hurdle said the veteran brings ”seasoned experience” that will

make the Pirates a better team in many ways.

”He’s caught in a number of different venues,” Hurdle said.

”He’s caught in some pitching-rich organizations. He’s been a

go-to guy for certain pitchers that have had success in the

league.”

Barajas appeared in 98 games last season for Los Angeles, which

finished with a 3.54 team ERA.

”He also is going to solidify us defensively up the middle, and

he also is going to bring some barrel – a bat that can be

productive in the lineup,” Hurdle said. ”Game-calling, slow

heartbeat, knowing the league, experience – all those things. And,

the fact that he still feels there’s things in front of him to

accomplish and wants to be involved in the development of a younger

staff.”

The Pirates are hoping he can play anywhere from 100 to 120

games. Barajas said he wants to do whatever is best for the

team.

”I never go into a season expecting to play a certain amount of

games,” Barajas said. ”I’m the type of player, if my name is in

that lineup, I’m going to be out there ready to go.”

He hasn’t topped 100 games since 2009, with Texas (125).

”Can I play more than 90 to 100 games? Absolutely. But it’s up

to Clint. Whatever plan he has for me, I’m definitely willing to go

with it. I like playing, I like starting. I like playing a lot, and

I like building a relationship with my pitchers,” he said. ”For

me, it’s always, the more games I play, the better. At the same

time, it’s really easy to run people down.

”The long season can take a toll on a catcher, so we have to be

careful about how many games I do play.”