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03/06/12 5:56 PM EST

With Cruz, Bucs following Rays' lead

BRADENTON, Fla. -- To be successful in a sport dominated by big-market giants, the Pirates are always given the mandate of having to follow the template of the Tampa Bay Rays. They need to secure young players with long-term contracts, unearth hidden gems at the bottom of the free-agent barrel.

The Bucs are checking off that first item, as they've signed young outfielders Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen to guaranteed six-year deals trailed by options within the last seven months. The team could be following the Rays' lead even more closely on the second.

Juan Cruz, who last season was the latest free-agent reliever signed and was resurrected by the Rays, is now trying to help the Bucs. Signed to a Minor League contract on Feb. 1, Cruz tendered his second scoreless outing of the spring in Tuesday's 7-4 exhibition victory over the Yankees.

This should sound familiar: A year ago, Tampa Bay did not sign Cruz, likewise to a Minor League contract, until Feb. 3, and he would contribute a 5-0 record and a 3.88 ERA in 56 appearances to the Rays' American League Wild Card drive.

The 33-year-old Dominican right-hander again received raves from both his manager and pitching coach.

"He firmed up his mechanics a bit by doing something we had talked about," said Ray Searage, the Pirates' pitching coach. "It's coming. I like him."

"Cruz was very efficient again," said manager Clint Hurdle, who was even more effusive about about another non-roster candidate, calling Ryota Igarashi's own second scoreless outing "very good; he kept the ball down extremely well, with good velocity and location."

Cruz and Igarashi both "have opportunities to win a job in the bullpen," Hurdle said.

Bucs take note of Hurdle's message

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Clint Hurdle was visibly -- and audibly -- irritated after the Pirates had opened Grapefruit League play with two lackluster, sloppy losses to the Blue Jays.

Apparently, the Pirates' manager did not try to hide his feelings from his players.

"We had a little 'conversation' before the game [Monday night] about our focus, our purpose," Hurdle admitted following Tuesday's exhibition at McKechnie Field against the Yankees. "We're at McKechnie [following the workout stage at Pirate City], it's the second stage of Spring Training. The games are on, competition ... play, represent.

"So I think some of the guys were in recess. They're executing better, playing crisper baseball."

Tuesday's 7-4 victory over the Yankees followed up Monday night's 10-3 triumph over the Orioles, squaring the Bucs' preseason record. They collected 34 hits in the two games -- after getting a total of 12 in the first two.

Hurdle and the Yankees both got the Pirates' attention. New York manager Joe Girardi is alternating his regular infield and regular outfield in Grapefruit League lineups. Tuesday was the infield's turn, meaning the first four batters Pittsburgh starter Kevin Correia saw were Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira.

"This early, they're in the same situation I am, probably just trying to find their edge," Correia said. "But matchups against the best are always fun."

Correia worked two hitless innings, allowing only back-to-back two-out walks in the first.

Worth noting

• Charlie Morton gets his game on Wednesday morning in an intrasquad game at Pirate City. He'll start for one of the sides in the game between Major and Minor League campers. Also scheduled to pitch in what will be either a four- or five-inning game are Rudy Owens, Kyle McPherson, Duke Welker and Gerrit Cole. If he remains on track, Morton's next step will be a side session on Friday, and he would make his Grapefruit League debut on Monday, when the Pirates play the Phillies at McKechnie Field.

• Hurdle couldn't draw a conclusion about how Andrew McCutchen having his contract situation resolved would affect the outfielder's play: "I've seen it happen both ways. It absolutely frees up players; whatever time they spent thinking about it is eliminated. I've also seen some players go the other way, thinking about the added burden and responsibility and trying to do more."

• You've seen the last of the designated hitter for the Pirates , until May 18, when they will be in Detroit for an Interleague game against the Tigers. With starting pitchers reaching the three-inning target point beginning with Jeff Karstens' second spring start on Wednesday against Toronto, they'll take their places in the batting order.

• Yamaico Navarro will be sad to see the DH go. In that role, he went 3-for-4 Tuesday and has five hits in his last six at-bats. ... Starling Marte can one-up that: Two hits gave him five straight. ... Pedro Alvarez (0-for-5) will be back in the lineup Wednesday, no doubt happy about facing the first right-hander (Kyle Drabek) to start against the Pirates in five games.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.