Pirates Notebook: Pearce prepares to thrive with starting role

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PHOENIX -- Slaking his thirst as if he just wandered off Camelback Mountain in the searing, midday desert sun, Steve Pearce, starting last night, gets to savor Pirates first base for a while now. Maybe he'll even get to take big gulps of playing time there the rest of this season.

"It's going to be a lot different now coming to the ballpark and playing," said Pearce, 26, owner of but 189 at-bats in 69 games in spurts and fits over the past three years.

He was just up with the big-league club 10 days earlier, going 1 for 12 over nine games and before being returned to Class AAA Indianapolis. The Wednesday trade of Adam LaRoche to Boston and Pearce's performance as a more mature-hitting minor leaguer made for a confluence of events that placed Pearce in this spot: full-time first base, for the time being.

"It's an opportunity I've wanted," he said before facing Arizona last night.

"I'm glad first base is open and my position," added Pearce, who batted.382 with two home runs in his most recent Indianapolis stint and .286 with 13 homers and 54 RBIs overall there.

His .373 on-base percentage was the Indians' best among position regulars and his .502 slugging percentage tied Garrett Jones, the Pirates' newfound slugger.

"It was frustrating at times [prior], said Pearce. " 'Oh, man, bad game, I don't know if I'll play tomorrow.' It's a lot better. I'm prepared. I'm just ready to go out and play and not try to do too much. That's what I was doing."

General manager Neal Huntington referred to the "mad hacker" the Pirates previously knew in Pearce resurfacing earlier this month, amid that 1-for-12 brief stay as mostly a pinch-hitter.

"I felt very good here," Pearce said of that go-around. "I was getting pitched well. It was hard coming off the bench. I would have loved to face those guys four at-bats."

He will be afforded that opportunity this time, with Pirates manager John Russell feeling comfortable with Jones joining Brandon Moss and Delwyn Young in the corner outfield rotation and backing up Pearce at first -- Jones' natural position but one he has played sparingly this season.

Russell said he and Huntington espied better plate discipline by Pearce in the past Indianapolis week and a half.

"The adjustments he made in [Class AAA], we're going to look for those here," Russell said, referring to managing the strike zone, laying off certain pitches, driving the ball. He believes a regular position will help to relax Pearce. "He wasn't in the role he was accustomed to when he came up the first time. We'll get a good assessment of what he can do here."

Defensively speaking, LaRoche was top drawer, but Pearce maintains he can play the position well, too.

"Don't let that outfield circus fool you," said Pearce, who dabbled there. "First base is my natural position. I know what I'm doing out there."

Jack not back yet

Shortstop Jack Wilson won't return to play until the weekend at the earliest, Russell said. The hamstring that was injured Monday on a stellar defensive play remains a tad tight, and the Pirates plan to test it in a pregame workout today.

"If he tweaks it bad, he's out an extended period of time," Russell said. "If we can baby him through this, he could be back in two or three days."

Wilson was available to pinch-bat Wednesday amid LaRoche's Red Sox-Pirates trade limbo, and could well continue in that duty until he fully returns to the field.

Ramon Vazquez started last night in Wilson's place for a third consecutive game -- his longest stint at shortstop since May 2-6, when Wilson was on the disabled list with a sprained finger. Vazquez replaced Freddy Sanchez and his bad back at second base from July 2-8.

Buried treasure

Phil Dumatrait, rehabilitating a left shoulder surgically repaired almost a year ago, follows four scoreless innings in a Gulf Coast League inaugural start Tuesday with an expected turn Sunday with Class A State College.

Rich Donnelly last night replaced third-base coach Tony Beasley, who is expected to miss a few days for family reasons.

• "Once the [trade] deadline passes, we might sit down and have a little talk as a group," Russell said of the players. "Once it's all said and done, we'll sit down ... and see what direction we're headed with them, see how they feel about it, and move on."

Chuck Finder can be reached at cfinder@post-gazette.com . Catch more on the Pirates and join the discussion at the PBC Blog .


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