On the bubble
Starting infielder: Neither Jose Castillo nor Jose Bautista is tearing it up at the plate, but Castillo merited unsolicited praise from manager Jim Tracy in the past week for his glovework at third base.
Starting rotation: Is Shane Youman really working his way into the mix? Sure sounds that way from management's raves about his two terrific outings. As it is, the apparent lone vacancy still comes down to Tony Armas Jr. and Shawn Chacon, each of whom has done well, too.
Advantage: Armas Jr.
Bullpen: All three openings remain unclaimed, but all three favorites have pitched well enough to remain unchallenged. Dan Kolb has shined with three scoreless outings and is a virtural lock to be signed off his minor-league contract.
Advantage: Kolb, Chacon, Josh Sharpless
Bench: Along came Big Country to throw this picture into disarray. If Brad Eldred keeps launching home runs, if Michael Ryan keeps his average above .500, if Don Kelly keeps making all the plays ... There is this, too: If Ryan Doumit is supposed to be a first baseman/outfielder/catcher, why is he only catching?
Advantage: Eldred, Doumit, Luis Matos, Nate McLouth, Jose Bautista
On the spot
Non-baseball questions for reliever Matt Capps:
Q. Do people ever mistake you for a fullback?
A. Well, I did play football and basketball in high school ... but yeah, people do tell me I've got more of a football player's look. If I asked someone to guess what kind of professional athlete I was, I'm sure I'd hear that first.
Q. Favorite TV show?
A. I grew up watching "Saved by the Bell," and I still watch it every morning, Monday through Friday. I know it's an old show, but I used to want to be A.C. Slater. He's a muscle guy, and I always was bigger than everybody else in school.
Q. Ambition outside the sport?
A. When I was a kid, I took a lot of flying lessons, and I even flew a plane when I was in middle school. That's something I'd like to pursue. It's fun. It's a rush. I just need a few more hours in the cockpit for a license.
On the way up
Most young pitchers spend their offseason trying new pitches, but Jesse Chavez went the other way.
"I got rid of my curveball," he said. "Actually, it's helped me out. I have less to think about, like, 'Is this pitch good for me? What should I throw?' Less second-guessing, too."
Chavez, a 23-year-old right-hander, should do fine with the standard relief repertoire of just three pitches, in his case a 90-92 mph fastball, changeup and slider. The Pirates' bosses make no secret of their admiration for his potential, to the extent that, in his first major-league camp, his name still is mentioned among the six relievers vying for three openings.
Chavez did not fare well after the Pirates acquired him last July from Texas for Kip Wells, posting a 6.35 ERA in eight games with Class AAA Indianapolis. But he had played only one game at that level previously.
He then starred in the Arizona Fall League, giving up one run in 14 innings.
"That gave me confidence, and then coming here ... it's been awesome," Chavez said. "It would be truly special, a real honor to be part of a bullpen like this."
Wednesday: Tuesday will be the lone off day of the spring, but the breather will not last long. The Pirates travel the next day to Fort Myers to face Boston for what could be a Japanese media circus, should Masumi Kuwata and Red Sox newcomer Daisuke Matsuzaka happen to meet.
On the record
Jack Wilson, Pirates shortstop, to first baseman Brad Eldred after Eldred told him he failed for a second consecutive day to hit a home run:
Peter Diana, Post-Gazette
Shane Youman: 0.00 ERA in five innings.
Click photo for larger image.Jesse Chavez
NOT HIM! Tuesday was a scary day for the Pirates. Philadelphia's Rod Barajas slid into second, taking out Freddy Sanchez and leaving him with a mild sprain of the right knee.
Peter Diana, Post-Gazette