BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates reliever Tyler Yates has been noticeably missing from this week's sessions of batting practice. However, that is entirely by design.

Yates has not suffered any sort of setback in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. In fact, he's actually ahead of most everyone in his throwing program. Yates had already thrown batting practice before the start of Spring Training.

As a result, pitching coach Ray Searage decided to have Yates skip pitching to hitters with the rest of the group this week and to instead have him throw a supervised side session under Searage's watch on Wednesday. Yates will then pitch one inning in Friday's exhibition game against the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota.

"I want to work on him again and make sure that he feels comfortable mechanically," Searage said. "This is my call. He's ready to go. He would probably get something out of the BP, but I think I can get more out of working with him on the sideline."

Yates has his sights set on winning a spot in the Pirates' bullpen by the end of camp. The right-hander hasn't pitched in the Majors since May 2009, and underwent right elbow surgery in July of that season.

Hurdle has early praise for team's starters

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates entered camp anticipating that only one of the team's five rotation spots would be up for grabs. Nothing has changed in those expectations, as manager Clint Hurdle expressed satisfaction in what he has seen from the four solidified starters -- Paul Maholm, James McDonald, Kevin Correia and Ross Ohlendorf.

All four took mounds in Pirate City simultaneously on Tuesday to throw their second session of batting practice. That they were the first four to take the mound in the day's rotation is plenty indicative of their standing on the club.

"I'm seeing the things that I want to see out of the guys that we already have lined up in the starting rotation," Hurdle said. "There are a number of other guys who are throwing well through this period. They are all working extremely hard. That's the thing I'm most optimistic about."

In all, 13 pitchers threw batting practice. Each tossed two innings of 18 pitches. Those pitches were thrown both out of the stretch and from the windup. The pitchers concluded each of their sessions with a pair of pitchouts.

Those who have the best shot at making a run for that fifth spot in the rotation -- Charlie Morton, Jeff Karstens, Brad Lincoln, Brian Burres and Daniel McCutchen -- are all scheduled to take the mound on Wednesday.

Ascanio sidelined with tight right elbow

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates will be an extra bit cautious with Jose Ascanio this week after the right-hander complained of some tightness in his right elbow on Monday. The discomfort came one day after Ascanio threw his first bullpen session.

The Bucs do not anticipate Ascanio being sidelined very long (his status is day-to-day), and there is little concern that he will fall behind the other pitchers due to the brief absence. Even though Ascanio's arrival in Bradenton was delayed a few days because of visa issues, he is already ahead in his throwing program because he pitched in winter ball through December.

"He can catch up quickly," general manager Neal Huntington said. "As a reliever, this won't set him back at all."

Though Ascanio has been used some as a starter in the past, the club is planning to prepare him for a bullpen role this season. This will give the right-hander a better shot at cracking the Opening Day roster. Ascanio is out of options this year, too, meaning that the club could lose him on waivers if he is not put on the Major League roster before the start of the season.

Pitchers announced for Friday's exhibition

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Manager Clint Hurdle announced that he will use seven pitchers for one inning apiece in Friday's seven-inning exhibition game against the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. The annual charity game is scheduled to begin at 12:05 p.m. ET at McKechnie Field.

Aaron Thompson, whom the Pirates claimed off waivers in December, will get the ball first. He will be followed, in order, by Tyler Yates, Jeff Locke, Michael Crotta, Justin Wilson, Kyle McPherson and Rudy Owens.

Hurdle has not announced what position players will participate, though he'll field a team of mostly young players who are not expected to fight for Major League roster spots out of camp.

The Pirates begin Grapefruit League play against the Rays on Saturday, and Hurdle said that he will announce his first set of pitching assignments on Wednesday.

Bucs bits

Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez participated in workouts on Tuesday after sitting one day with a muscle spasm in his neck. ... All position players spent time working on delayed steals, hit-and-run scenarios and reading balls in the dirt. Taking chances on advancing from first to third continues to be emphasized by this new coaching staff. ... The Manatee High School baseball team will be at Pirate City on Wednesday to field balls during batting practice. On Tuesday, members of a local adult league team helped out.