SAN DIEGO -- Humberto Cota has come to grips with the fact that, in all likelihood, he's about to spend his last week in a Pirates uniform. Cota, who has the organization's Minor League Player of the Year in 2001, has spent time in the big leagues with the Pirates for each of the past six year, a claim that only shortstop Jack Wilson can make. "It feels weird that this might be it," Cota said.
Unlike Wilson, Cota has never had the opportunity play regularly in the big leagues. After serving for four seasons as Jason Kendall's apprentice, Cota appeared in a career-high 93 games in 2005 while sharing time with Benito Santiago, David Ross and Ryan Doumit. With the emergence of rookie catcher Ronnie Paulino this season, Cota has accumulated 99 at-bats. Although Cota's Pirates career has not gone as he'd planned, the 27-year-old said that he has no regrets about the way things have turned out for him in Pittsburgh. "They gave me a shot to be here," said Cota. "I was in a tough spot. I came up when I was 23-years-old. I was probably at the wrong place at the wrong time with the guy in front of me [Jason Kendall] making $10 million and he was an All-Star. "But I've got no regrets being behind him. I learned the ropes from him. It was very valuable. He taught me the hard way how to handle myself on and off the field. "My time has probably just passed." Cota, who is well aware that the Pirates will probably not tender him a contract after the season, plans to spend the winter playing baseball in his native Mexico so that he can make up for lost at-bats. He's hoping that a solid showing in the Mexican winter leagues will make him more attractive to big-league teams that are looking for an experienced catcher. "I need some playing time [to make up for] the last couple of years. I just need to get back to baseball shape," said Cota. "There are 29 other teams out there. You don't know what could happen next year." Bay returns: Jason Bay returned to Pirates lineup on Saturday, one day after a stomach virus forced him to go to a San Diego hospital to receive intravenous fluids. "I feel better than I did yesterday," Bay said. "I couldn't eat anything, I didn't get anything to drink and I couldn't keep anything down, so I had to go to the hospital for some fluids." Bay said that he wouldn't be playing at 100 percent on Sunday. "I just have to stick through it," said Bay. "I've played sick before. It's not that big of a deal." Freddy sits: National League batting leader Freddy Sanchez was given the day off on Sunday in the finale against the Padres. Sanchez began the road trip by going 8-for-13 in three games against the Dodgers, but he was held hitless in eight at-bats in the first two games of the series in San Diego. Sanchez's batting average dropped from .347 to .342 during the past two games. Maholm ready to go: Paul Maholm, who was forced to skip a start due to stiffness in his left shoulder, felt good on Sunday morning after throwing 35 pitches off the mound the day before. "Everything has been good for three or four days now," said Maholm. "I haven't felt any [stiffness] since Thursday." Maholm will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday at PNC Park. If all goes well, he'll make his final start of the season on Saturday. "I waned to get at least one more start in," said Maholm, who has won his last four decisions. "I've been throwing well. Hopefully, I'll be able to do the same thing and finish the year out strong." Coaching staff coming back: Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said on Sunday that pitching coach Jim Colborn, third-base coach Jeff Cox, bullpen coach Bobby Cuellar, bench coach Jim Lett, hitting coach Jeff Manto, first-base coach John Shelby and roving instructor Rusty Kunts have been asked to return for the 2007 season. The Pirates are currently negotiating contract extensions with the coaches. "With are very pleased with how this team has come together on the field," said Littlefield. "This coaching staff has done a nice job." On deck: The Pirates will begin their final homestand of the season at 7:05 ET on Tuesday night against the Astros. Right-hander Ian Snell (14-10, 4.67 ERA) will attempt to become the Pirates' first 15-game winner since Todd Ritchie in 1999. The Astros will counter with southpaw Andy Pettitte (13-13, 4.31).
Ed Eagle is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.