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200-inning dash: Bucs working on endurance

Strength coach Malone helping Pirates' rotation reach important threshold
MLB.com @adamdberry

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Some people might think that pitching is a starter's workout every fifth day -- that they come off the mound, cool down and hit the showers. That hasn't been the case for the Pirates this spring.

Not long after their outings end, you can find them dashing from one foul pole to the other and back, their sprints timed by strength coach Jim Malone's stopwatch. They're not jogging, either. The effort is "full go," as Chad Kuhl said.

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Some people might think that pitching is a starter's workout every fifth day -- that they come off the mound, cool down and hit the showers. That hasn't been the case for the Pirates this spring.

Not long after their outings end, you can find them dashing from one foul pole to the other and back, their sprints timed by strength coach Jim Malone's stopwatch. They're not jogging, either. The effort is "full go," as Chad Kuhl said.

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The Pirates are running more as a team than usual in Spring Training, players say, and the starting pitchers are no exception. What's the purpose, especially after an outing?

"That running is like your sixth and your seventh inning," Jameson Taillon said. "That's one way to build it up and give you a little more endurance. I've actually noticed it's helped a lot."

Video: ATL@PIT: Taillon on Opening Day, last year's recovery

Endurance is an objective of Pittsburgh's rotation heading into the season. No one currently projected to start a game for the Pirates this year has ever pitched more in one season than the 187 innings Ivan Nova put up last year. With Gerrit Cole in Houston, there isn't a proven 200-inning arm in Pittsburgh's rotation.

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The Bucs' young starters would like to prove themselves.

"It doesn't help your team if you go five [innings]," Kuhl said. "I was a victim of that last year and the year before -- not being able to go more than five, burning too many pitches. So it's a big goal for us."

To get there, they'll have to consistently pitch deeper into games than they ever have. So getting there actually starts here, along the warning tracks of Pirate City's back fields, LECOM Park and Spring Training ballparks around Florida.

"That's my goal, to make every start and get to 200 innings," Trevor Williams said. "Jim's getting us dialed into that mentality that that's what we're supposed to do. It's our job."

Malone, who joined the Pirates in January, is an experienced strength coach who has previously worked for the Indians, Royals, Mets, Cardinals and Padres. His work in the weight room has drawn rave reviews from the Pirates this spring. With a smile, Taillon said he noticed the added intensity of the club's workouts during their first pre-workout stretch.

Video: Kuhl, Hurdle on the pitcher's strong outing

"Jim's been doing a really good job mixing it up," Kuhl said, "and making it a little tougher for us."

The act of pitching is several seconds of high-intensity effort followed by a short period of rest, a cycle repeated upward of 100 times a night. Jogging around a track or on an elliptical isn't necessarily ideal preparation for starters. So the double-pole runs are Malone's "magic pill" for them, Williams said.

They run from one pole to the other and back in a specified time, usually one minute and 20 seconds. They rest for the same amount of time … lather, run, repeat. The idea is to build their cardiovascular capacity, to show there's more in the tank even after leaving the mound. Nobody likes to run -- except, perhaps, for long-striding Tyler Glasnow, Williams said -- but they all see the benefit.

"I think it's healthy to get pushed like that a little bit, even for guys who are big leaguers and know their bodies," Taillon said. "I think it's good to have a little competitive push."

Video: TB@PIT: Nova discusses getting Opening Day start

Nova put in additional work on his own over the offseason, reporting to camp 10 pounds lighter. The 31-year-old has taken part in the same running as his younger counterparts, and he's also noticed a difference. The right-hander's fastball touched 94 mph on Wednesday, an unusual feat for him at this point of the spring. He credited his physical condition for the uptick in arm speed.

"My body feels much, much better," Nova said.

The Pirates hope their work now helps them carry greater workloads when the season begins. Even in an era of mega-bullpens, Pittsburgh's pitchers still respect the 200-inning threshold. Williams would ask offseason throwing partner Brandon McCarthy, "How did you prepare your body for your first 200 innings?" Taillon carefully observed Cole's between-starts work the last few years.

It's not just the running, either. As National League pitchers, they know they have to hit. Steven Brault recently said everyone in the "breakfast club" is focusing on their work at the plate. One of several reasons they're taking it so seriously is so that they're reliable enough to avoid being pinch-hit for.

"If you look at the guys who hit 200 innings last year, it's an elite group of guys," Taillon said. "I don't know all of them off the top of my head, but I'm thinking Chris Sale, [Max] Scherzer, Gerrit, Carlos Martinez. It's not just anyone who can get 200 innings. That's a group you obviously want to be a part of."

The next seven months will show if the Pirates will have anyone join that 200-inning club. For now, they're off and running.

"Obviously if all of us hit that mark, it's going to be really special," Kuhl said. "If a few of us hit that, the rest fall a little short or go over, then our team's going to be in a good spot. It's all of our goal. We know the ERA, wins and all that will fall into place."

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

Pittsburgh Pirates, Chad Kuhl, Ivan Nova, Jameson Taillon