BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage sat just behind the chain-link fence surrounding Field 4 at Pirate City on Sunday morning, shouting scenarios toward Ryan Vogelsong on the mound. Runner on first, two outs. Runner on second, one out.
At the plate, Vogelsong faced an unending parade of familiar faces: Sean Rodriguez, Jung Ho Kang, Matt Joyce, Rodriguez again. Vogelsong's outing Sunday came in a camp game against his teammates and Pittsburgh's Minor Leaguers, but the veteran right-hander appreciated the opportunity to work in a low-key environment.
"It's good. It's a little less spotlight-y," Vogelsong said after throwing 79 pitches in five innings, some of them longer than three outs and many of them made to simulate game-like situations. "You can come out here and do some stuff you wouldn't do, and if you give up a homer you don't have to explain it."
Vogelsong, 38, gave up a home run in his first inning, when Joyce slammed a solo shot over the right-field fence, and Vogelsong chose to explain it anyway. It illustrated one of the benefits of pitching away from the watchful eyes of the media and fans.
"During the season, I'm not throwing a lefty in Pittsburgh a 3-2 cutter with the big left field. But in that situation I'm like, yeah, I want to work on it, so I'm going to throw it," Vogelsong said. "He hits it over the fence, and you go, 'Well, it's OK.' It did want I wanted it to do, but that's not what I'm going to do during the season, nine times out of 10."
Vogelsong threw first-pitch strikes to 14 of the 20 hitters he faced and retired 10 batters on three pitches or fewer. Overall, he said he was "really, really happy" with his performance.
"It's good," he added. "You get out here and you can have some guys on base and create some situations to work on stuff. Good day's work, overall."
The Pirates try to give each of their starters one back-field start leading up to Opening Day. It's an opportunity to make sure the pitcher continues to increase his workload, readying his arm for the start of the season.
This just happened to be a busier back-field day than most, as closer Mark Melancon and Tony Watson took the mound in the same game. Melancon threw 14 pitches and Watson tossed 16, each working an inning.
For the second time in the last three days, Kang faced live pitching at Pirate City but did not run the bases. The rehabbing third baseman struck out twice and lined out to left field against Vogelsong, popped out to third base on Melancon's first pitch and struck out against Watson.
Joyce continued to hit the ball hard, lining a single to left off Vogelsong following his first-inning homer. He found a more difficult matchup in Watson, who struck Joyce out to win a left-on-left battle.
"I love getting in there against those guys because he is tough, especially on lefties," Joyce said. "It's good for me to see those because you learn what pitches you have to take and what pitches you are looking for. It just it helps you in the next at-bat."
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.