BRADENTON, Fla. -- Continuing to make every effort to position himself for a bench role, Steve Pearce will finish the spring without the leg kick that has been a part of his swing on and off for years.
Pearce eliminated the leg kick about a week ago in an effort to simplify the mechanics of his swing. The mechanism is something Pearce brought back last spring, when he was having trouble with his timing. Pearce found it to be an immediate benefit, too, as long as everyday at-bats were the norm.
But now, as he looks at the prospect of being a bench player in Pittsburgh, Pearce wants to minimize his movement at the plate as much as possible. The less complicated his stance, the better chance Pearce will have to succeed without regular at-bats.
"You don't want to take away what's natural but you definitely want to be simplified, so things can be maintained very easily," hitting coach Gregg Ritchie said. "There is a magnitude of things that it's going to accomplish. He is seeing the ball bigger, eliminating the strikeouts, putting the ball in play and hitting the ball on the money."
Pearce is, indeed, seeing immediate results. He has reached base in six of his past nine Grapefruit League at-bats, which doesn't even include the 2-for-3 day Pearce had in an intrasquad game on Thursday. Both of Pearce's hits in that contest were for extra bases.
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"I've felt amazing," Pearce said. "If I had more at-bats during the season, a leg kick might have been beneficial, because it worked for me last year. But with limited at-bats, I need to limit my movement."
The improved offensive results are encouraging to the Pirates, too, as they are forced to consider the benefits of having Pearce get regular at-bats in the Minors against his providing production off the big league bench. At this point, Pearce remains in a four-man competition, along with Garrett Atkins, Andy Marte and Josh Fields, for a corner utility role.
Pearce's chances of being on the Pirates' Opening Day roster for the first time in his career have improved with his willingness to put in work at a variety of positions. While Pearce has shown he can play first base and right, he continues to take ground balls at third and is even getting some work in left field.
"I'm working really hard at third, taking some ground balls," Pearce said. "The new doors are opening, and I'm working very hard to do whatever I can to make this team. I feel really comfortable over there [at third]."
Pearce played third base in the seven-inning intrasquad game on Thursday and cleanly fielded the two balls that came his way.
While the Pirates are deep into evaluating their corner-infield options, a final decision on who will actually win the bench spot might not even come while the team is still in Florida. The Pirates finish the spring with a pair of games in Philadelphia, and it is there that Pittsburgh is likely to make its final roster decisions.
"It is still up for grabs," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Steve Pearce has made some nice plays, defensively. Garrett has gotten his hits. Josh is showing some improvement with the bat. And Andy has obviously gotten the hits and played solidly on defense. Each guy has shown some positive things, but [it is] still a wide-open competition at this point."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.