TAMPA, Fla. -- Slowly but surely, the makeup of the Pirates' bullpen is beginning to enjoy some clarity.
One day after three relievers were cut from big league camp, Brian Burres became the latest bullpen candidate to be called into manager Clint Hurdle's office. Burres, who didn't allow a run in four of his five outings this spring, was subsequently informed on Saturday morning that he had been optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis.
"I'm going to go down there and keep myself as ready as I can be for the team if it needs me," Burres said before leaving the McKechnie Field clubhouse. "The goal is still the same. I just have to do it from somewhere else now."
Burres will start for Indianapolis in order to stay ready should the Pirates need a spot starter in Pittsburgh at any point during the year. The left-hander had been extending himself all spring in order to prepare for the possibility of joining the rotation at the start of the season.
Now, it would be Jeff Karstens who would step in to start should James McDonald (left side soreness) not be ready to make his first regular-season start, which is scheduled for April 5.
With Burres out of the bullpen mix, the Pirates have three relievers -- Garrett Olson, Chris Leroux and Mike Crotta -- competing for two open spots. Olson is likely to win one of those two jobs, given that the Pirates have no other left-handers in the 'pen.
Sore Snyder could change catching plans
TAMPA, Fla. -- All that discussion about whether the Pirates should keep two or three catchers to begin the season might end up being a moot point, as Chris Snyder is now once again sidelined with back soreness.
Snyder missed two weeks of spring games with the same ailment before returning behind the plate on Thursday. At that time, he thought he was in the clear and was confident that a week would be sufficient enough time to get ready for the start of the regular season. He felt no pain on Thursday night, but the stiffness resurfaced on Friday.
"It's frustrating," said Snyder, who was scratched from Saturday's lineup. "At that point, my mind was ahead of my body. I wouldn't say it's a terrible regression; it's just one of those things that maybe I did a little bit too much too soon. We are where we are, and it is where it is."
Snyder, who had season-ending back surgery in 2009, wasn't ready to speculate on how this might affect his ability to be ready by April 1. However, given the length of time it took him to recover from the same issue earlier this month, it seems unlikely that Snyder will be able to open the season as the club's starting catcher.
2010 Spring Training - Pittsburgh Pirates
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"It could have an impact on our catching situation," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We need to revisit what the issues are. For it to happen again after catching the night game, we'll have to see. It definitely could jeopardize what we do with our roster and who goes with us."
If Snyder is not healthy enough to begin the season, the Pirates will carry Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo on the Opening Day roster. In such a scenario, the Pirates would not keep three catchers.
Pearce appears set for first Opening Day roster
TAMPA, Fla. -- A competition that began with four is down to one, and Steve Pearce is the last man standing.
Though the Pirates are hesitant to make any roster decisions absolutely official, Pearce is all but set to begin the year on the team's bench. He beat out Garrett Atkins, Josh Fields and Andy Marte, who was reassigned to Minor League camp on Saturday, for the job as the club's primary backup corner infielder.
"I've surprised myself a little bit, honestly," Pearce said. "Going over to third after not having played for so long, it came naturally. In the outfield, I'm moving a lot better. I've felt good everywhere they've moved me. I think I have exceeded expectations."
In addition to playing both corner infield spots, Pearce also has the ability to fill in at either corner outfield position if needed. He has worked extensively this spring to get more comfortable at third base, a position Pearce hasn't played regularly since college, and has also gotten some work in left field.
Pearce has never been on a Major League Opening Day roster before, and he is already giddy about the strong possibility of that changing. He is finishing camp strong, too, with 10 hits in his last 25 at-bats. That string of success coincides with when Pearce eliminated the leg kick from his swing, an adjustment made so that he'd be better prepared for a bench role.
"I feel really good," Pearce said. "I'm making a lot of hard contact. The power numbers will come. I feel I'm way ahead of where I usually am at this point."
McDonald building arm back up for season
TAMPA, Fla. -- James McDonald made a successful return to the mound, pitching three innings in a Triple-A game against the Yankees on Saturday.
McDonald, who hadn't pitched since March 11 because of left side soreness, threw 44 pitches (28 strikes) in the outing. He allowed one earned run on four hits and struck out three. More important than the results, though, was McDonald's ability to resume the process of building up his arm and his declaration that there were no lingering injury issues.
"I still need to build a little more stamina," McDonald said. "It's not fair for me to go three innings and leave the bullpen hanging."
The Pirates are still hopeful that, after one more outing, McDonald will be able to begin the season in the big league rotation. Right now he is penciled in to make his season debut against the Cardinals on April 5.
In order to get ready for that start, McDonald will remain in Florida next week so that he can pitch in a Minor League or simulated game on Thursday. He'll try to extend himself out to five innings (about 80 pitches) in that effort.
Bucs reassign three, cutting bench possibilities
TAMPA, Fla. -- With Steve Pearce appearing to have already won a bench spot, the Pirates are left with two more openings and four players left to potentially fill them. The number of candidates reduced on Saturday morning after catcher Dusty Brown, infielder Andy Marte and infielder/outfielder Corey Wimberly were reassigned to Minor League camp.
One of the two remaining bench spots will go to a middle infielder, either Pedro Ciriaco or Rule 5 Draft pick Josh Rodriguez. Ciriaco has proven to be the stronger defender of the two, though the Pirates would have to offer Rodriguez back to the Indians if he is not with the club on April 1.
John Bowker and Jason Jaramillo are also still in camp. Jaramillo was being considered as a third catcher, though he could be thrust into a backup role if Chris Snyder (back soreness) is not ready to start the season. Bowker, who is out of options, would give the Pirates a backup corner outfielder and first baseman.
As for the three position players who were sent out on Saturday, their assignments are not all set. Brown should head to Triple-A, along with Wimberly. Marte might report there as well, though the Pirates are willing to let Marte go elsewhere if another club has a Major League job for him.
"Andy had a good spring," manager Clint Hurdle said. "These are the tough decisions that you have to make when people perform well in Spring Training. Anybody that we have [cut] late, we have told them we will go out of our way to try and find them a big league job. If we can't find him a big league job, we'd love to have Andy stay and see how this plays out."
Marte finished 12-for-33 with six doubles and five homers in Grapefruit League play. The one-time big-time prospect came to camp under a Minor League contract.
With Saturday's roster moves, the Pirates are left with 32 players in Major League camp. That includes 17 pitchers, three catchers, seven infielders and five outfielders. Of those 32, four can already be considered out of the mix for an Opening Day roster spot. Scott Olsen and Jose Ascanio are likely to begin the year on the disabled list, and Joe Beimel will remain in extended Spring Training. Brad Lincoln is also still in camp, though he has not pitched since being hit by a line drive on March 18. ... Jameson Taillon, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, made his second spring appearance on Saturday. Pitching in a Class A game against the Yankees, Taillon allowed three hits and no runs in three innings. ... The organization will present members of its 2010 Venezuelan Summer League with their championship rings prior to Sunday's game at McKechnie Field. ... The Pirates will set a Spring Training home attendance record if they have at least 5,787 fans come out to Sunday's game.
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.