"Did we just get Willie Mays?" --Hurdle, reacting to the dozens of phone calls he received from people in the game lauding the skill-set and makeup of John McDonald, after the Pirates had acquired the reserve infielder in trade from Arizona.

Bucs have breathing room in regard to Sanchez

PIT@HOU: Sanchez strikes out three over three frames

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jonathan Sanchez has given the Pirates one of those "good problems." Turns out, Pittsburgh general manager Neal Huntington will have two extra days to solve it -- an extension that could give the left-hander one more make-or-break start.

Sanchez, on an eight-inning shutout streak following his five-inning sparkler Thursday night, can request his release on Sunday if the club has not placed him on its Major League roster by then. However, Huntington said that the team will have until Tuesday to respond to that request, with either the release or the roster placement.

Sanchez's next turn to pitch would be that Tuesday. Whether he gets the ball again, Huntington said, has not yet been decided.

If released, Sanchez would be owed termination pay of $100,000. If retained, Sanchez's Major League contract would call for a guarantee of $1,375,000. He earned $5.6 million last season between the Royals and the Rockies.

A veteran of seven big league seasons, Sanchez is one of five non-roster pitchers remaining in camp. But he may have emerged as younger lefty Jeff Locke's chief competitor for the fifth spot in the rotation.

"We've seen some very good things from Jonathan. He is battle-tested. He knows how to get good Major League batters out," Huntington said. "Jonathan has a lot of things working in his favor, but we also look forward to [Kyle] McPherson and Locke and where they are."

"It's hard to be waiting, waiting," Sanchez said. "I want to be here. If they want me here, I'm happy to be here. If not. … I've been in this game a long time, and I know you've just got to go pitch. Don't worry about making the team or throwing strikes or anything else. Relax and throw the ball."

Pie's bid for Bucs' bench hardly slowing

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Bucs will troop out their regular lineup Saturday for the match in Fort Myers against the Red Sox, so it will be a timeout in another boiling camp battle.

Manager Clint Hurdle wants a left-handed bat on his bench, has three pretty good choices but does not have room for all three. Among Alex Presley, Felix Pie and Brad Hawpe, thus, there could be one or -- if the staff wants to keep the lone right-handed-hitting reserve outfielder, Jose Tabata, in the mix -- two casualties.

Hawpe rested Friday, to allow Gaby Sanchez back in the lineup. The other two kept making noise.

Presley had a double and a walk, raised his average to .317 and has reached base on eight of his last 12 plate appearance. Pie doubled for a run, which tied him with Andrew McCutchen for the team lead with eight RBIs, and is hitting .308.

Hurdle still admires the fluidity and potential of Hawpe's swing, but Pie may have an edge between them. Soon after complimenting Pie for having come into camp "after winter ball, ready to play," Hurdle identified as a key factor in the decision "the ability to help us out of the gate."

A soft-spoken 28-year-old Dominican with considerable Major League experience (1,051 plate appearances with the Cubs and Orioles), Pie admits being pleased with his spring performance but tries to not draw any conclusions from it.

"All you can do is keep playing hard, day after day, and after the last day, hear what they have to say," Pie said.

"We have some tough decisions to make," Hurdle said, "and I'm confident we'll make good ones. I like the personnel we have here."

Worth noting

• Opening Day starter A.J. Burnett, who has not pitched in a Grapefruit League game since March 9, made another Minor League game appearance on Friday, throwing 101 pitches in five innings against Triple-A players.

• Brandon Inge took pregame batting practice, but lingering discomfort in his right shoulder blade, where he'd been hit by a pitch on March 14, forced him to be scratched from the lineup. Inge left McKechnie Field for X-rays, which were negative.

• Has the arrival of another J-Mac -- John McDonald -- placed James McDonald's identity in jeopardy? Is that why there's a new "The Demon 53" nameplate above his locker?

• Gaby Sanchez was back in the Bucs' lineup Friday, after a one-day battle with a mysterious allergic reaction.

• Mike Zagurski's candidacy for a role as lefty setup reliever took another hit, as the Rays got to him for three runs in one inning. In his first five one-inning outings (including against Spain) Zagurski allowed one hit with no walks and eight strikeouts. In 3 2/3 innings since, he has given up six runs and six hits, with three walks and two whiffs.