3/21/2014 11:00 P.M. ET
Stewart hoping to return 'in couple weeks'
Reserve catcher at Pirates complex two days after knee surgery
By Tom Singer and Joey Nowak / MLB.com
TAMPA, Fla. -- There is one reason Michael McKenry's Pirates career ended last July 27, and Chris Stewart's Pirates career could begin as early as this April:
McKenry knew he'd messed up his left knee with three innings to go on July 27 in Miami, but insisted on catching out the rest of the game because "the team needed me and I needed to stay in there."
Three more innings of squatting left him with a badly torn meniscus in his left knee that required season-ending surgery a few days later.
Catching in the Bucs' March 12 exhibition against the Twins, Stewart "felt a couple of pops" in his right knee so "I shut it down and got some ice."
"I figured it was not worth staying in just for another at-bat," said Stewart, citing the common convention of having starting players exit Grapefruit Leagues games after three at-bats.
As a result, the tear of the meniscus in Stewart's right knee turned out to be relatively "minor" and the veteran catcher was back in the team's McKechnie Field headquarters Friday -- two days post-surgery.
The reserve catcher was anything but reserved about his optimistic timetable.
"I feel great. The surgery went as well as it could've," said Stewart, who moved around on crutches but appeared to be already putting some weight on the scarred right knee. "Now it's a matter of getting the swelling down, getting the range of motion back -- then it's up to me.
"The prognosis is anywhere from two to six weeks, and I'm hoping to be back in a couple of weeks. I'll try to go full bore once I get my feet on the ground."
Hurdle calls Volquez's outing 'good step for him'
TAMPA, Fla. -- Through one inning and the onset of another on Friday night, it is reasonable to assume Pirates fans were rolling their eyes and general manager Neal Huntington was squirming.
Edinson Volquez, given $5 million as well as the No. 5 spot in the rotation, had allowed two runs in the first and now faced a bases-loaded, none-out situation in the second.
Volquez's game-opening ERA of 11.00 had grown to 11.70 and, besides a meaningless exhibition game, he was about to lose more credibility.
And, then, something clicked. Something significant, because Volquez went on to retire 12 of the last 13 Yankees he faced. The first two of those outs did bring in a couple of more runs, but that seemed far less significant than the fact they pointed Volquez in the right direction.
"Later in the game, I got better, with the tempo, and more compact with my delivery," Volquez beamed after his five-inning shift. "Sometimes, there's a lot of adrenaline the first two innings. After that, I shut it down, tried to make good pitches. Especially against those guys -- that's a pretty good team."
They truly were the Yankees, with manager Joe Girardi sending out his likely Opening Day lineup, with the exception of center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury.
Pitching coach Ray Searage, who after an earlier and erratic Volquez outing had said that he would "hunt the good" with him, bagged his limit Friday night.
"There's still some people who don't believe this guy's for real," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It always helps when you go out and get some good things done. We're well aware of the difference he can make if he gets to the place where is best pitcher he can be. This was a good step for him and for the club."
Volquez walked two, struck out four and near the end of his 86-pitch outing, cranked the radar up to 97 mph.
"Oh, yeah?" he grinned upon being informed of that reading. "That's pretty good."
Bucs' Mercer revels in Mercer's NCAA tourney upset
TAMPA, Fla. -- "Where's Mercer?!" the cry went up in the middle of the Pirates' McKechnie Field clubhouse on Friday afternoon.
"He's right over there," a helpful sort said, pointing to Jordy Mercer's locker, unaware that the query had come from someone fixated on the big-screen television on the wall showing Mercer University's matchup with Duke in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
To pinpoint the base of the Mercer Bears, all a guy would've had to do was ask the namesake shortstop.
"In Georgia," Mercer said enthusiastically. "Years ago, my parents ordered T-shirts and sweatshirts from Mercer, as presents for me."
Everybody loves underdogs, even Major League baseball players. As Mercer's stunning upset unfolded, a growing throng of Pirates crowded in front of the television, whooping and hollering their support.
And when the Bears assumed late command of the game, shouts of "The Fighting Jordys!" bounced off all four walls of the clubhouse as the Bucs' own Jordy raised his arms in mock triumph.
Pirates cut eight from Spring Training roster
The Pirates on Friday reassigned five players to Minor League camp and optioned three to Triple-A Indianapolis, reducing the number of active players in Major League camp to 42.
The five who were reassigned included right-handers Jake Brigham, Cody Eppley and Josh Kinney, infielder Chase d'Arnaud and left-hander Yao-Hsun Yang.
The three players optioned to Indianapolis were right-hander Phil Irwin and infielders Chris McGuiness and Brent Morel.
Irwin was extremely sharp in two outings, allowing only one hit in three innings, but got a late start after dealing with elbow discomfort for a couple of weeks. The 27-year-old right-hander got the Pirates' first call last season when an emergency starter was needed, and will again be in that mix.
"He's throwing the ball very well," general manager Neal Huntington said, "we're just running out of innings. This will keep him on the right track to be able to help us at some point this summer."
Plans are for Morel to primarily play third base, his standard position, for the Indians. But the Pirates also want him to get comfortable at other infield positions, with the possibility of filling a super utility role.
"He'll also get some work at first," Huntington said, "and we're still intrigued by the thought he may be able to play second base. He'll get some pregame work there. He could add depth at a number of spots."
Not including among the 42 players in Major League camp (22 pitchers, four catchers, nine infielders and seven outfielders) is catcher Chris Stewart, who is expected to start the season on the disabled list after undergoing surgery on his right knee Wednesday.
First number, last word
7: Scoreless spring appearances by left-hander Dan Schlereth; he is one of several pitchers with ERAs of 0.00 in Pirates camp, but he has seen the most action among them.
"Oh, yeah... sorry about that." -- Volquez, who said his sinker was a very good pitch Friday night, when reminded that he threw two particularly good ones in the first inning to Derek Jeter, who fouled both off his fragile left foot
• Starling Marte was scratched from the original lineup for Friday night's game due to severe headaches.
"Not migraines. He's just not feeling well," Huntington noted.
• Clint Barmes also didn't travel to Tampa, Fla., for the game against the Yankees -- but only because he played nine innings in a morning Minor League game at Pirate City.
• Francisco Liriano continued to experience tightness in his left groin area after the discomfort had forced him to make an early exit from Thursday night's game. He received treatments from the training staff and will be re-evaluated on Saturday.
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. Joey Nowak is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joeynowak. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.