02/20/11 4:11 PM EST
Pearce out to prove he belongs on Bucs' roster
By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
He is a husband these days, having gotten married during the offseason. And perhaps most important to his Spring Training efforts, his historically balky left knee feels as good as new after being surgically repaired last August.
And yet, so much still feels the same.
Pearce has gotten used to the scenario. He expects it, even. There was once some bitterness -- not to mention, more anxiety -- at the prospect of coming to Bradenton, Fla., knowing he'd have to fight all spring long for a Major League roster spot.
But Pearce is relaxed enough now -- unquestionably still driven, but more mentally prepared to handle the adversity -- that he can even crack a smile while talking about the prospect of another uphill battle to prove himself in camp.
"It fazed me in the past," Pearce said. "It doesn't faze me anymore."
Though Pearce has played parts of the last four seasons in the Majors, he has yet to crack the team's Opening Day roster. The pattern each Spring Training has been predictably consistent -- Pearce arrives in Spring Training looking up the depth chart and listening to management debate whether he would be better served as a Major League backup or an everyday Triple-A player.
To this point, everyday at-bats have taken priority over big league pinch-hit opportunities. This year, though, Pearce is out to shake things up.
"I feel like I'm a Major League Baseball player," he said. "I'm feeling confident, strong. I'm ready to go."
"He's got an edge to him, a chip on his shoulder, that he expects more out of himself," added manager Clint Hurdle. "You have to like his makeup. You have to like the way he gets after the drills."
The Pirates are certainly not ready to give up on Pearce. Especially not after the adjustments they saw the 27-year-old make before he went down with an ankle injury just 38 at-bats after being summoned to Pittsburgh last year.
After the ankle injury came a Minor League rehab assignment, during which Pearce's bum left knee began giving him more issues. Surgery had to follow and his season was brought to an abrupt end.
"It's just like every other year," Pearce said. "Another bump in the road."
It was especially frustrating because Pearce finally felt like he had turned a corner. His work with the coaching staff during Spring Training had produced a refined approach. That translated into immediate success in Indianapolis and, even though the hits didn't follow in waves, Pearce looked much more at ease against Major League pitching.
"I stopped going up there [trying] to create things," Pearce said. "I went up there and wasn't just in hack mode. I was a little more patient. I was getting better pitches to hit. I was never in a hurry to go up there and get hits. I finally got to give this organization a taste of what I can do."
Pearce will look to mirror that approach this spring as he makes his argument for one of the 25 Opening Day roster spots. But the question is whether the Pirates have room on their roster for Pearce.
The Pirates' decision to go get Lyle Overbay gives the club a new full-time first baseman. Even though Overbay swings from the left side of the plate, the Pirates don't anticipate implementing a platoon with the right-handed-hitting Pearce.
And with Matt Diaz and Garrett Jones prepared to split time in right field, it is hard to see Pearce garnering many opportunities to start there.
Pittsburgh will consider Pearce as a right-handed bat off the bench. But the ultimate decision might be out of Pearce's control given that the Pirates must address the need for a backup third baseman and middle infielder on their bench.
Pearce is well aware that this could all lead up to another closed door meeting with the manager and general manager next month, a meeting in which they encourage Pearce to go get his everyday at-bats in the Minors and wait for his break.
"I'm not going to take it as a slap in the face," Pearce said of the prospect of starting in Triple-A for the fourth straight year. "I'm going to go down there and get my everyday at-bats so that when they do need me again, I'm going to come up and be ready just like I was last year."
"His health is going to be critical to everything he does, and he's feeling really good right now," Hurdle added. "I look forward to seeing what he can bring to the club."
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.