Jose Bautista is not yet entrenched as the Pirates' starting center fielder. If he were, he surely would not have been benched in favor of Nate McLouth last night.
But indications grow stronger by the day that the team soon will make him the man in the middle of the outfield.
Just listen to the way manager Jim Tracy described Bautista's defense at the position in his pregame news conference yesterday:
"Can he be thought of as a guy who can play center field every day? Yes, without question."
And this ...
"He can go out there and play center field today as well as any of the other names in baseball about whom you would say, 'Hey, that's a pretty damn good center fielder.' "
Oh, there was this, too ...
"There are times [the St. Louis Cardinals'] Jim Edmonds catches balls where you have to assume he was moving before the ball was even swung at, and Bautista does the same thing. And you can't teach that. You can't."
For point of reference, Tracy spoke that effusively of catcher Ronny Paulino and third baseman Freddy Sanchez shortly before naming them the everyday players at their positions.
Bautista, 25, played almost exclusively at third base in the Pirates' system and had no extended stint in center until his May 7 promotion from Class AAA Indianapolis, when a void was left at the position with the demotion -- and subsequent departure -- of Chris Duffy.
Now, it looks as if the void could be filled for quite some time.
In addition to his fine work in the field, Bautista has batted .245 out of the leadoff spot with seven home runs in only 98 at-bats.
Still, he sounds as if he is taking nothing for granted.
"I don't really feel like I'm the everyday center fielder because they're doing a good job of keeping me and Nate in the lineup," Bautista said. "But I definitely feel like I'm getting the chance to make the kind of adjustments I need to make, to feel comfortable with the number of at-bats I'm getting."
He fairly blushed when informed of Tracy's praise for his work in center field, but he also made clear he is not exactly a novice at the position. He played center in high school, college and in winter leagues.
"I have no preference between that and third," Bautista said. "Whatever keeps me in the lineup."
Tracy confirmed that the Pirates might choose Tom Gorzelanny or Kip Wells to start Tuesday if Victor Santos is unable to pitch because of a cracked fingernail.
"Right now, until something changes, Victor Santos is pitching," Tracy said. "If we have to go in a different direction, we have some options. We have a guy right now in the minors pitching very well. And we would not be against moving up Kip."
Gorzelanny, starring for Indianapolis, is scheduled to pitch tomorrow. Wells' third and final rehabilitation start is set for Tuesday with Indianapolis. Tracy said a decision should be made today or tomorrow.
"It's coming along," Santos said of the nail. "We'll see how it feels."
Although second baseman Jose Castillo's value might be rising by the day, the Pirates have not contacted him about extending his contract, he said yesterday. Castillo will be first-time eligible for arbitration after this season, and he is a lock to receive a dramatic raise on his $348,000 salary.
The Pirates promoted starter Luis Munoz from low Class A Hickory to high Class A Lynchburg. Munoz, 24, went 4-1 with a 2.22 ERA in 10 starts for the Crawdads.
Players and coaches will welcome fans at the PNC Park gates for a half-hour today, beginning at 11:30 a.m., part of the Pirates' annual "Kids' Opening Day."
INDIANAPOLIS (36-32) won at Buffalo, 7-4, in 10 innings despite having only three hits. RHP Jason Roach (2-1, 3.55) allowed four runs, one earned, and seven hits in six innings. He struck out three and walked none. RHP Josh Sharpless (2.93) and RHP Jonah Bayliss (1.99) each pitched two scoreless innings. RF Adam Boeve (.260) went 1 for 4 and was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to break the 4-4 tie in the 10th.
ALTOONA (40-27) beat Reading, 2-0. RHP Ron Chiavacci (1-0, 3.00) pitched seven scoreless innings and allowed two hits. RHP Chris Hernandez (2.25) pitched a scoreless inning of relief. 2B Craig Stansberry (.240) went 2 for 3 with an RBI.
LYNCHBURG (33-36) lost at Salem, 1-0. RHP Luis Munoz (0-1, 0.00) allowed one unearned run in seven innings in his Lynchburg debut. He struck out five and walked one. C Neil Walker (.243) went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.
HICKORY (32-36) lost at West Virginia, 10-2. RHP Blair Johnson (1-2, 4.85) allowed seven runs, three earned, in three innings. CF Andrew McCutchen (.288) went 1 for 3 with his sixth home run, a two-run shot.