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Cohesive Bucs on start of season: 'We're ready'

MLB.com @adamdberry

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Over the last week, the Pirates whittled down their Spring Training roster, position players worked deep into games and pitchers shifted from experimentation to competition. On Tuesday morning, the 25 players remaining in camp packed their bags, donned their travel-day suits and left LECOM Park for the last time this year.

"I know today, especially, everyone's mind is on the real thing," Jameson Taillon said. "We're ready."

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Over the last week, the Pirates whittled down their Spring Training roster, position players worked deep into games and pitchers shifted from experimentation to competition. On Tuesday morning, the 25 players remaining in camp packed their bags, donned their travel-day suits and left LECOM Park for the last time this year.

"I know today, especially, everyone's mind is on the real thing," Jameson Taillon said. "We're ready."

View Full Game Coverage

Video: PIT@PHI: Taillon hurls three scoreless innings

The Pirates wrapped up their Spring Training schedule with a 5-5 tie against the Phillies on Tuesday. Their record (11-19) is now immaterial, and the statistics they compiled over the last 4 1/2 weeks faded from memory in the time it took them to ride from Spectrum Field to the Tampa International Airport. The real thing begins on Friday against the Tigers in Detroit, after Thursday's scheduled opener was postponed by inclement weather.

"Our team's ready to play," Hurdle said. "The season's going to start, the games are going to count and we'll be judged on our play. I think we're all looking forward to that."

Pittsburgh's Opening Day roster is all but officially set, barring a move before Friday's opener at Comerica Park. It was not a perfect camp, particularly from the pitching side, but the Bucs were encouraged by their overall offensive production, the camaraderie in their clubhouse and, above all, their health.

"I think this group's ready to go," veteran infielder David Freese said. "I think we came in looking to do some things to get better this spring. The guys came in physically ready, healthy, and it's showing. We're looking forward to getting out there and taking the first series."

The Pirates finished Grapefruit League play with 47 home runs and an .804 OPS, both first in the 15-team circuit. They saw encouraging performances from Francisco Cervelli, Jose Osuna, Josh Bell, Sean Rodriguez, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, Colin Moran and Adam Frazier -- all of whom they're counting on this season. Prospects Austin Meadows and Kevin Kramer, among others who aren't far from the Majors, acquitted themselves well in big league camp.

The addition of left fielder Corey Dickerson, who hit .348 this spring, provided a noticeable boost in the clubhouse and bolstered the club's bench, even as the Bucs decided to carry four reserves and an eight-man bullpen. The group of Frazier, Rodriguez and Freese, Hurdle said, makes it the "most versatile bench that I've had."

With a few notable exceptions, including Taillon and setup man George Kontos, Pittsburgh's young pitching staff struggled to produce the desired results this spring. Overall, the Bucs finished with a 5.86 team ERA and 1.49 WHIP. But there were encouraging signs.

Joe Musgrove instantly fit in, with Hurdle describing Musgrove's preparation as " [A.J.] Burnett-like," and Musgrove's early bout of right shoulder discomfort turned out to be only a brief setback. Ivan Nova has emerged as a respected and respectful leader. Whether they were eating breakfast together, taking part in more intense workouts or watching each other's bullpens, the Bucs' young rotation showed signs of development and unity.

"It's been fun. We have a really good group of young guys," Taillon said. "It's been cool. Everyone's meshing. Hopefully that culture translates to wins and the cohesion translates to helping each other out and growing together."

Most preseason projections forecast a third straight losing season for the Pirates and perhaps another fourth-place finish in the National League Central. Inside the clubhouse, they've set the bar higher -- and they're ready to show why.

"I don't really [care] about expectations outside of the room. I think we put enough on ourselves," Freese said. "Maybe some people use individual expectations as fuel, but collectively as a team, man, we couldn't care less what people think."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

Pittsburgh Pirates