BRADENTON, Fla. -- Steve Pearce is going to make his argument as convincingly as he can. He believes he belongs on the Pirates' Opening Day roster. He felt he proved it last year, when he made the improbable climb from Class A ball to the Majors by season's end. And since that hasn't been enough, he's taken it as a challenge to do so again this spring. Whether or not he can win the case -- with the latter seeming to be more likely -- it's not going to be from a lack of work.
His production on the field and the pop in his bat has been well noted already, only two weeks into Grapefruit League play. But it's the time spent during the hours in which the stands are empty that has grabbed the attention of manager John Russell. "He's really been working hard this year," Russell said. "He's been working hard on the offensive side and on the defensive side. He's the type of player that is exciting because he's strong. He loves to swing the bat. But the biggest thing is I like the way he's worked." Pearce, who is participating in his first Major League camp, has made a legitimate argument for his inclusion on the Pirates' 25-man roster. The 24-year-old first baseman/right fielder knocked his third homer of the spring on Thursday in a game the Pirates ended up winning by just one. And on Friday, he came through in the clutch again with a bases-loaded single that scored two in another eventual Pirates win. His 18 total bases, eight RBIs and three homers all lead the team. "Right now, I know what they are saying, but I'm still going to come out here every day and fight for a job," Pearce said. "Worst-case scenario is that I go back to Triple-A and I help them win. But I'm going to do everything I can to help us." Pearce has also been putting in extra outfield work with third-base coach Lou Frazier and bench coach Gary Varsho in an effort to hone his skills as an outfielder. Though he has looked comfortable out in the grass so far this spring, don't forget that Pearce didn't start playing the position until August. However, with Pearce's development still the long-term focal point, there remains no urgency in rushing him to the big leagues, where he wouldn't have an opportunity to play every day. Management hasn't backed down from that thought and likely won't regardless of Pearce's numbers at the end of the month.
Pearce intends to make them at least think twice before making that call."All I know I can do is come out here," Pearce said, "and show them I can do everything." Pitching schedule tweaked: Because of Friday's Game 2 rainout, Russell was forced to tweak the team's pitching schedules in order to keep his starters pitching as close to normal rest as possible. As originally planned, right-hander Matt Morris will make the start, and he will be followed by Friday's scheduled starter, Paul Maholm. Both are slated to pitch three innings. Following Maholm, Jaret Wright, Sean Burnett and Matt Capps will each put in one inning of work. Lefty Phil Dumatrait is still scheduled to make the start for the team on Sunday, with the relievers schedule still yet to be determined. Still working things out: John Van Benschoten knows that he needed to be pretty close to perfect this spring in order to earn consideration for the Opening Day rotation. But after another rocky outing on Friday, his second appearance of the spring, Van Benschoten is left only able to think about the work that still needs to be done. "With the windup, I've just got to get that down," Van Benschoten said. "Something in my windup, I've got to tweak it a little bit." And he is well aware of the need to remedy the problem quickly. "When you're not slated to be on the team, there's always urgency," Van Benschoten said. "You just hope everything will work out." With the wind blowing out at Cincinnati's Ed Smith Stadium, Van Benschoten allowed four runs on five hits and three walks during his three-inning start on Friday. So at this point, whatever Van Benschoten can do may be too little, too late. After his outing, Russell left the door open for the possibility of using him out of the 'pen but seemed more settled on keeping him in a Minor League starting role, knowing that during the season, the Pirates will need to dip down into their system for spot starters. If the Pirates were to make a change in their rotation, at this point, it appears that Dumatrait would be the most likely candidate to jump into one of the starting spots. Bucs bits: Though he exited Friday's game after being hit by a pitch near his right elbow, Nate McLouth reported no serious injury from the incident. He will be ready to play on Saturday if necessary. ... Because of Friday's intended split-squad games, the Pirates invited outfielder James Boone and shortstop Brian Friday, the team's third-round pick in last year's Draft, to join the Major League squad. Boone did enter midway through the day's early game and singled in his only at-bat. On deck: Russell will get his first opportunity to manage against the organization in which he started his managerial career when the Pirates play host to the Twins at 1:05 ET on Saturday.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.