Switch-hitting Lombardozzi among bench candidates

Hurdle appreciates having versatile players on Pirates roster

Switch-hitting Lombardozzi among bench candidates

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Projections of the Pirates' eventual regular season 25-man roster include only one switch-hitter, that being regular second baseman Neil Walker. A bench without a switch-hitter could be considered a bind for any modern Major League manager.

Clint Hurdle loves the flexibility of actually being able to manage a game creatively and not being restricted by personnel to automatic moves as much as the next guy.

Is that one reason five candidates for the last seat on the bench, defined by Pirates brass as a "role-playing spot," are switch-hitters?

Three of those applicants are here on non-roster invitations, but one of those is Steve Lombardozzi. He is someone with considerable Major League experience who was acquired (in a cash deal with Baltimore) after the 40-man roster had been filled.

Lombardozzi had two hard knocks in the Bucs' Sunday morning "B" game against the Orioles and has been one of the busiest players in Grapefruit League play.

"He's swung the bat well since he's been here," Hurdle said. "And he's shown defensive versatility."

Ah, there's that magic word: versatility.

A few evolutions ago, in the days of nine-man pitching staffs (four starters and five relievers were the norm into the late '60s), teams could afford to carry specialists such as a pinch-hitter and a glove man. Staffs have grown to 12, but the roster remains at 25, placing a premium on versatile reserves.

Four seats on Hurdle's five-man bench are considered taken: No. 2 catcher Chris Stewart, main project Jung Ho Kang, Corey Hart and Sean Rodriguez, versatile in his own right.

Would Hurdle like to add a switch-hitter to the mix?

"Well, we got nine of them in camp," he said, including those who exclusively play the outfield.

In addition to Lombardozzi, the switch-hitting and switch-fielding campaigners include two others in camp on a non-roster basis, prospects Gift Ngoepe and Gustavo Nunez. Pedro Florimon, a slick fielder with some big league experience, and organizational No. 6 prospect Alen Hanson are on the 40-man and also fit the description.

"We've got some guys who swing from both sides, and that's always nice to have," Hurdle said. "But, that won't be something that tilts it in someone's favor.

"We're gonna put together the best bench we can. Nobody's gonna win a job just because they're a switch-hitter. Only some things are in a guy's control."

Specifically, his own performance. Other factors are not.

"Roster nucleus, what we might have a bigger need for. We're looking at a lot of different angles," said Hurdle.

"We've got some interesting decisions [to make] on the role-playing spot and in the bullpen," conceded general manager Neal Huntington.

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