OF McLouth proud to be back with Pirates

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BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) -- After feeling lost the past two seasons, outfielder Nate McLouth is happy to be home again.

With the Pittsburgh Pirates.

A National League All-Star in 2008 with the Pirates, McLouth struggled after being traded to the Atlanta Braves. Over the past two years, he played in only 166 games and batted .210 with 40 RBIs.

McLouth was quick to contact the Pirates last winter, when they were searching for a fourth outfielder. He signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal during the winter meetings.

"It really feels like I'm home," McLouth said Saturday after a spring training workout at McKechnie Field. "As tough as it was to leave, it's just as good to be back. I feel comfortable here and I do feel like I have to redeem myself. What better place to do it?"

Especially considering his first route to the majors.

After all, he was just a 25th round draft pick in 2000, and probably wasn't given much of a chance to make an impact at a high level. But McLouth rose quickly through the Pirates' farm system and truly made the most of his chance in 2008.

In fact, in that memorable, breakout season, he tied for the National League lead with 46 doubles.

A few days after spring training began in 2009, McLouth signed a three-year, $15.75 million contract extension that seemed to anoint him as a cornerstone of the rebuilding franchise. Yet, just four months later, he was dealt to Atlanta for outfielder Gorkys Hernandez and pitchers Charlie Morton and Jeff Locke.

The day he was traded, McLouth pushed back tears as he packed his gear at PNC Park. Now, McLouth laughs whenever someone asks how he could go back to a team that dumped him.

"I never took it personally," McLouth said. "(General manager) Neal (Huntington) didn't trade me because he hates me. It's his job. He's trying to make this team better. I was more sad to leave than anything.

"The sadness of having to leave a place you liked with a ton of people you liked."

McLouth doesn't dwell on his struggles in Atlanta. He sat out more than a month in 2010 due to a head contusion and missed big chunks of last season with an oblique strain and a sports hernia, which required season-ending surgery in August.

"He's battled injuries and battled expectations," Huntington said. "Our scouts still saw the athlete. They still saw the raw power. They still saw the guy that loves to play the game. We felt like he was a very good guy to add some outfield depth to us."

When he offered the contract, Huntington was up front with McLouth about his potential playing time. McLouth's natural position is center field, of course, but Andrew McCutchen -- who made his major league debut two days after McLouth was traded -- has that spot locked up in Pittsburgh. McLouth will share time with incumbent Alex Presley in left field.

But that's OK.

"If you play well, you're going to play somewhere," McLouth said. "My sole focus is on playing well."

This spring, McLouth is batting .370 (10-for-27). He's hit safely in four of his past five games.

"I've never been of the opinion that it's just spring training, because it's important," McLouth said. "It was important for me to have a strong start. It was important for my confidence, for getting that feel back. Thankfully, I've been able to do that so far.

"It's definitely helped."

Kind of like being back in the black and gold.