He got a good start Wednesday, hitting a two-run home run in the fifth inning of the Pirates' 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins."I have something to prove after that fiasco last year," LaRoche said. "The results are starting to come a little bit. Hopefully, it will carry over to the regular season."LaRoche was a consistent hitter in the minor leagues, batting .295 with 95 homers in four-plus seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers' farm system.But it hasn't translated into big league success. After arriving from the Dodgers in a deadline deal in July, LaRoche batted .152 in 49 games.LaRoche thinks the root of late-season slump was mental -- he tried to do too much after joining the Pirates. This past offseason, he flew to Seattle for one-on-one workouts with hitting coach Don Long."Even in the first week of spring (training) we were still tinkering with some things," LaRoche said. "We've got it down now. Working with Donnie has been fantastic."Brandon Moss began the fifth inning with a double down the left field line. LaRoche then hit a 2-2 knuckleball from R.A. Dickey high over the wall in left to give the Pirates the lead."With the wind, I wasn't sure if it was going to stay (fair) or not," LaRoche said. "I'd rather hit them on the ground than hit pop flies. I've been working on hitting groundballs and line drives. But the ball was right there with two strikes and a runner on second."Francisco Liriano worked three scoreless innings for Minnesota. He gave up two hits and struck out two."The whole package," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He felt good, the ball was coming out really good, popping out of his hand. Can't ask for much more than that."Pirates starter Tom Gorzelanny labored through two innings, though he allowed just one run. The left-hander was scheduled to pitch three innings, but his pitch count got too high."Three innings would have been nice," Gorzelanny said. "It definitely didn't go the way I would have liked for it to have gone."Gorzelanny faced three-ball counts to the first four batters he faced. He walked two batters, hit a batter and gave up Wilson Ramos' RBI double.Control was a problem for Gorzelanny last year, when he issued 70 walks in 105 innings. In four innings this spring, Gorzelanny has walked four batters."Getting the walks under wraps is a big thing, especially after last year," Gorzelanny said. "It kind of seems like it's not progressing but I really feel like it is. I'm just kind of getting those last walks out of my system, I guess."
Twins right-hander Nick Blackburn's start was skipped because of a tender knee. "He had surgery in the offseason and every now and then it flares up," Gardenhire said. "We don't think it's anything big." ... The Pirates signed all 26 of their pre-arbitration players to contracts for 2009. Among the group are lefty Tom Gorzelanny ($433,000), right fielder Brandon Moss ($414,000) and left fielder Nyjer Morgan ($411,500). ... Twins closer Joe Nathan (shoulder soreness) is slated to throw batting practice Thursday. If all goes well, Nathan might pitch Saturday against the Pirates. ... On Wednesday, catcher Joe Mauer did some light workouts at the Twins' facility in Fort Myers, Fla., but he is not yet ready for games. Mauer had kidney surgery in December.