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03/26/2013 5:39 PM ET

Pie's strong spring gives him shot at Bucs roster

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Believing they will be season-long contenders who can benefit from the efforts and voices of experience, the Pirates keep stocking up on veterans, such as infielders John McDonald and Brandon Inge.

If Felix Pie does not join the crowd, it won't be for lack of trying. The fleet outfielder, who packs surprising power in a lithe frame, has spent weeks impressing manager Clint Hurdle.

"He has had a very good camp," Hurdle said of the 28-year-old, lefty-swinging Dominican. "He's battled through some adversity with teams that put a lot of expectations on him, and he has found a comfort zone as far as playing the game with his strengths.

"You can put him anywhere in the outfield and he can get the ball. He can steal a base, the bat has shown up, and there hasn't been a lot of give against left-handed pitching. So he's playing as good a ball as I've ever seen him play."

Pie has certainly gotten a chance to state his case. His start in Tuesday's 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays marked his 27th Grapefruit League appearance, the most of anyone on the team. He went 1-for-2, bumping his average up to .318. His 15 hits include six for extra bases -- three doubles, two homers and a triple.

Sanchez turns focus to pitch count with job secure

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- It had to be one of the oddest and emotionally toughest starts of Jonathan Sanchez's career.

A few hours after the Pirates notified him that he made their team and starting rotation, Sanchez had to make a Grapefruit League start against one of the Majors' toughest lineups, tasked with proving they made the right choice.

The left-hander dismissed that element of a 4 2/3-innings outing in which he gave up seven hits and four runs -- three of them in the first -- against the Blue Jays.

"When I got the news this morning, I was excited," Sanchez said after Pittsburgh's 6-3 loss. "But the game, it's all the same. When you're in there, it's just a game. You always got to go and do your best."

Even as Clint Hurdle took the ball from Sanchez with two out in the fifth, the manager praised the outing, adversely affected by blustery conditions at Toronto's spring facility.

"[Hurdle] said, 'Great job. You did what you had to do. We wanted you to get your pitch count up, and you did,'" Sanchez said. "And he congratulated me."

Sanchez didn't have the best luck in the three-run first. Melky Cabrera's popup fell about 20 feet from home plate for a single when the wind pushed it away from catcher Michael McKenry, who looked for help that did not come from first baseman Gaby Sanchez.

An eight-pitch walk of Jose Bautista was followed by J.P. Arencibia's single for one run, Mark DeRosa's sacrifice fly for another and Adam Lind's double -- also wind-aided -- for a third.

"Those two flies to center … one we were not able to defend [Lind's double], the other carried out of the park [Rajai Davis' solo homer in the fourth]. But he pitched well," Hurdle said. "His confidence is growing. He looks more comfortable."

Sanchez threw 85 pitches and will shoot for 100 his next time out in either a simulated game in Pittsburgh or a Minor League start in extended spring training. His first regular-season start won't come until April 7 against the Dodgers.

Worth noting

• The Pirates will break their Spring Training attendance record in Wednesday's final home game against the Twins. They have drawn 86,292 to the first 14 games -- 1,711 shy of the McKechnie Field record of 88,003 set in 16 dates in 2011. The park's capacity was expanded by about 2,000 seats this spring.

• As general manager Neal Huntington weighs roster moves -- it is full at 40, and room will have to be made for Jonathan Sanchez and possibly Brandon Inge -- he is seeking ways to avoid placing Charlie Morton and Jose Contreras, both rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, on the 60-day disabled list.

That move would make both pitchers ineligible to return prior to June 1, and Huntington thinks both have a chance to pitch earlier.

• Alex Presley walked in the seventh-inning Tuesday in a pinch-hit appearance, meaning he reached base in 12 of his last 21 plate appearances.

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.