Diaz faces uphill battle with Pirates

Diaz faces uphill battle to make Bucs' roster

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Catcher Einar Diaz spotted his old boss standing on the other side of the batting cage.

Smiling broadly, Diaz walked over to Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, and the two men, both tied to each other forever from their days with the Cleveland Indians, exchanged embraces and small talk.

They both broke into laughs at some point they were sharing. Soon, Diaz had to take his swings in batting practice, so he nodded a goodbye to Manuel and headed back to work.

And Diaz had plenty of work to do.

For unlike his days with Manuel and the Indians, the now 34-year-old Diaz comes into the Pirates camp with nothing secure. He's an invited free agent, which means he'll have to scrap for the job of backing up Ronny Paulino.

That fact seems not to bother Diaz.

"The goal," he said, "is to come in and work hard and do the best you can do to make the team -- to help the team whatever way you can."

He has no doubt that he can still help, too. His experience as a Major League catcher, honed under Manuel's tutelage, makes Diaz a capable candidate to pinch-hit for Paulino behind the plate. Diaz's willingness to accept that part-time role makes him even more capable.

On a team built around youth, Diaz is one of the elder statesmen in the Pirates clubhouse. He broke into the Majors in 1996 -- eons ago in the eyes of the young ballplayers who surround his locker stall.

And those young ballplayers, particularly the pitchers on the Pirates roster, need a wise head like Diaz's to help them succeed in the big leagues. He's comfortable helping them travel the long road to success.

"Little by little, they learn more and more," Diaz said. "I think they can do good, you know; they've got the talent. They have everything.

"I help them with little things, and we see what happens."

Yet just as the young ballplayers are learning, so is Diaz. He's learning, among other things, what life in the Pirates organization is like after bouncing from organization to organization the past three seasons. Diaz has seen his playing time in the Majors drop from 101 games in 2003 to three in 2006.

He can't expect to reach his '03 total of games played, not with Paulino ahead of him here.

"What we're looking for in our backup catcher is a guy that's gonna go out there and be involved in our program in that same manner that Ronny Paulino caught on to it a year go," manager Jim Tracy said.

What Tracy wants is someone who can handle pitchers. He's not looking for someone to replace Paulino, just someone to complement him.

Diaz, if he makes the team, understands that will be his role. He's ready for it and more ... just in case. For who knows what might change in the grind of a baseball season?

Right now, Diaz isn't thinking of replacing anyone. He's simply trying to find a home on a team's Major League roster, and if that leads to more games, well ... he'll be ready to squat behind the plate for the Pirates and handle those duties.

"Whatever they need or use me for, I'll be there," Diaz said. "We don't think about the number of games or whatever."

Justice B. Hill is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.