Pirates looking for versatile bench players

Steve Pearce

The best way to find work on the Pirates' bench this spring, it would appear, is to show up with a lot of different gloves.

That's why first baseman/right fielder Steve Pearce added another potential slash to his title this week by trying third base, a first since his collegiate days.

"I will do anything to make the club," Pearce said. "If someone goes down, you've got to put yourself in the best possible position to help this team. I realized that doing a lot of things gives me that chance."

Most of the rest of the bench candidates fall into that category. New manager Clint Hurdle has stressed versatility.

That begins with Ryan Doumit, who will be on the bench if he is not traded. He is a catcher by trade, but he also can play first base or right field.

Garrett Jones, another lock for the roster, will platoon in right field with Matt Diaz, but he can back up Lyle Overbay at first as well.

As for players on the fringe: Rule 5 pick Josh Rodriguez has done drills at shortstop, second base, third and in the outfield. Josh Fields has been at first, second, third and the outfield. Garrett Atkins has been at first and third. John Bowker has been at first and in right. Corey Wimberly has played pretty much everywhere but catcher.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the broader group is Pearce, who looked as if he was about to finally round out into a major league contributor when a knee injury cost him the final two-thirds of last season. He is 28, but he was Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year in 2007, and he has exactly the right-handed power pedigree that would be of great use to the Pirates.

"I just feel like this is my team and these are my guys," Pearce said. "These players are the guys I came up with, the guys who I have been teammates with. That's why it is so important for me to make this team right now and why I'll go to third base, I'll go to the outfield, I'll do anything."

NOTES, QUOTES

--If the Pirates are poised to make Rice 3B Anthony Rendon the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft, they are hiding it well. "Our approach remains the same as it has been the past three drafts," GM Neal Huntington told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We will work diligently to put the players in order and select the player we like best." Rendon is not saying much, either. "Aw, man, that's in June," Rendon said of the draft. "I mean, honestly, you'd have to think about it a little. Everyone wants to get to the next level. But if you're thinking about that 24/7, then you're not getting done what you need to do."

--The Pirates' already bleak outlook for the bullpen has worsened with some minor injuries: RHP Jose Ascanio was out with a tight right elbow. LHP Scott Olsen was slowed by a strained hamstring. RHP Kevin Hart, trying to return from shoulder surgery, still had not taken a mound as of Feb. 25.

--This is not seen as serious yet, but RHP Evan Meek, who will be the setup man, has been limited by a tight right calf. If that persists or worsens, expect RHP Chris Resop to be next in line for the role. RHP Joel Hanrahan will be the Pirates' closer to open the season.

--If Olsen remains out significantly longer, that would reduce the field for the fifth-starter job to RHP Charlie Morton and RHP Brad Lincoln, both of whom struggled in the majors last season. Morton is out of options, so it's almost unthinkable that he wouldn't be the choice out of those two.

--Team president Frank Coonelly affirmed that GM Neal Huntington has yet to receive an extension even though his contract expires at the end of the coming season. "He's under contract for this season, and it's our expectation that Neal will be here for a long time," Coonelly said. "We'll continue to evaluate it as we go forward."

BY THE NUMBERS: 21 -- Runs the Pirates scored in routing the State College of Florida, 21-1, in their exhibition opener Feb. 25. The Pirates had 20 hits.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Until we win a National League championship, we are not going to be satisfied with incremental progress." -- Pirates owner Bob Nutting, shortly after sharing that message with staff and players in Bradenton, Fla.

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