Bell returns to Pirates as team's hitting coach

PITTSBURGH -- As the Pirates went through a preseason workout on a surprisingly mild and dry Sunday afternoon, many of them could look forward to their first season opener at PNC Park. That is just an obvious consequence of your Opening Day roster having 12 newcomers from last season to this.

However, only one man in a Pittsburgh uniform could anticipate a deja vu experience with a 17-year delay. Jay Bell, the club's new hitting coach, is excited about his first Pirates opener since 1996, the last of his seven seasons as the team's starting shortstop.

Oddly, however, the Pittsburgh opener that Bell remembers most was a bittersweet personal occasion. It was in 1989, when the Bucs went into the home opener at Three Rivers Stadium off a season-opening series in Montreal in which Bell went hitless.

"We came home, in my third at-bat I finally got a hit -- infield single to shortstop -- then after the game I got sent down," recalled Bell.

It wasn't until late July that he came back up, and this time it was for keeps.

"It's just so great to come back here and see these fans here for a workout," Bell said, surveying fans crowded around the Pirates' dugout. "We didn't have anything like this [a free workout for fans] in Three Rivers.

"One thing I've always been impressed with Pittsburgh fans: They covet their home opener and come out en masse, looking for the brand of baseball that reflects who they are."

Hurdle keeps an eye on injury to Cubs' Barney

PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates could get a little opening series break if Darwin Barney, one of the National League's newly minted Bucs killers, is forced to miss three games with a knee injury suffered in the Cubs' final preseason game.

Barney sustained a five-inch gash in his left knee going for a foul pop in Saturday's exhibition against the Astros in Minute Maid Park. The Cubs are considering having the second baseman start the season on the disabled list, but that decision does not have to be made before Monday morning.

While earning a National League Gold Glove Award for his defense last season, Barney was only a modest hitter -- but not against the Pirates. He went 18-for-54 (.333) against Pittsburgh pitching, with an on-base percentage of .410, while batting .245 against the rest of the league.

Barney also is 12-for-40 (.300) against the trio of Pirates pitchers scheduled to go in the series: Opening Day starter A.J. Burnett, followed by Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald.

"They haven't set the roster yet, but we're planning for him being in," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said prior to Sunday afternoon's workout. "If he's not … how many times have you seen that the guy who shows up instead becomes a rock in your shoe as well?

"We have no control over that. We've got the backup plan on whoever could fill in for him. Whoever it is, we'll be ready for that Opening Day roster tomorrow."

Brent Lillibridge is expected to start at second base for the Cubs if Barney can't play.

First number, last word

2-0: The record of A.J. Burnett -- who has never pitched a game as early as April 1 -- on April 2. A 25 percent chance of precipitation is forecast for Opening Day game-time on Monday at 1:35 p.m. ET.

"Ninety-nine-point-nine percent. Does that work?" -- A.J. Burnett, the Pirates' Opening Day starter, in response to whether he feels 100 percent ready heading into the season.