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NATIONAL LEAGUE Pirates make plans in case catcher Cota can't make start



Published: Thu, February 20, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) -- For the first time in eight years, the Pittsburgh Pirates will open the season with a new backup catcher.

But will it be Humberto Cota or Craig Wilson?

Cota, the Pirates minor-league player of the year in 2001, is expected to replace Keith Osik, who was not re-signed after spending seven seasons backing up Jason Kendall.

Cota, however, is coming back from surgery to repair a fractured hook of the hamate bone in his left hand.

If he's slow in recovering, that could open the door, at least temporarily, for Wilson, who has seen most of his playing time the past two years come at first base and right field.

"You always have to prepare for what if," Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said. "Our general sense is Cota is going to be OK. But if he's not, we'll have to be prepared for it."

Hurt his hand

A few weeks after the Pirates severed ties with Osik by declining to offer him salary arbitration, Cota injured his hand while playing winter ball in his native Mexico.

The 24-year-old rookie catcher returned to Pittsburgh and underwent arthroscopic surgery Jan. 8.

Cota was told he would miss four to six weeks and the Pirates are holding him to that timetable.

Although Cota was medically cleared to resume playing Saturday, he has spent much of the first two days of spring workouts on the sidelines.

The Pirates won't let him catch for a few more days and has confined his hitting to a batting tee.

"His strength is ahead of where we thought it would be," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "We just want to take it easy with him."

Cota thinks he will be able to play once spring training games begin Feb. 27.




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