BRADENTON, Fla. -- Is Ramon Vazquez history with the Pirates?
He certainly seems to think so, even though his $2 million salary for 2010 is guaranteed and the team would have to pay all of it if he is released.
"They told me I'm not on the team right now," the Pirates' veteran utility infielder said, visibly displeased after a 3-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles Wednesday night at McKechnie Field. "If I don't do well enough, I'm going to be gone. I don't know what that means, if that's a trade or what. I'm playing for myself right now. All I know is that I feel really good health-wise for the first time in a long time, and I'm ready for whatever happens."
Vazquez showed that good feeling by going 2 for 2 against the Orioles, lashing two singles, including one for an RBI.
Game: Pirates vs. Tampa Bay Rays, 1:05 p.m., McKechnie Field, Bradenton, Fla. RHP Kevin Hart vs. RHP Wade Davis. Other pitchers: Jeff Karstens, Javier Lopez, Jack Taschner, Donnie Veal, Jean Machi, Evan Meek.
TV, radio: None.
Camp roster: 66 players, including 36 pitchers, six catchers, 13 infielders, 11 outfielders.
Injuries: RHP Octavio Dotel (oblique), RHP Joel Hanrahan (elbow).
Opener: 25 days until the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park.
Such an output was rare last year, when he was a robust disappointment -- .230 average, one home run, 16 RBIs in 204 at-bats -- after signing a two-year, $4 million contract out of free agency. But Vazquez's stance is that he toughed it out for the Pirates down the stretch despite a right knee injury.
An MRI ordered by the team in September showed no surgical issues. But, after continuing pain, arthroscopic surgery was performed in November by the Pirates' physician, Dr. Patrick DeMeo, to repair a small tear in the knee's cartilage.
"We needed infielders, and they told me they needed me," Vazquez said. "I wish now I could have gotten that surgery done a lot earlier, so I could play winter ball and come here a lot better prepared to make this team."
After the trades of Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez, the Pirates were left with Brian Bixler and Luis Cruz -- both extremely light hitters and unreliable gloves -- to share middle-infield duties along with Ronny Cedeno and Delwyn Young.
There is precedent for the Pirates releasing players despite owing them significant money -- pitcher Matt Morris stands out, having been paid $10 million on his way out in 2008 -- but management's clear preference is a trade: The Texas Rangers, Vazquez's previous team, are looking for a second baseman. And so are the Orioles, upon announcing Tuesday that Brian Roberts probably will not be ready for opening day because of back trouble.
The Pirates' bench, aside from the backup catcher, is shaping up as Bobby Crosby and Young as infielders, Ryan Church and either Brandon Moss or Rule 5 draft pick John Raynor as outfielders. Out of those infielders, Crosby is a lock, and Young is out of options.
After being old of Vazquez's remarks, general manager Neal Huntington acknowledged having a "direct" discussion with Vazquez about his future.
"A guaranteed contract doesn't mean a guaranteed job, and we made clear to Ramon that he's in competition to make the club," Huntington said.
Regarding the timing of Vazquez's surgery, Huntington said, "While we appreciate Ramon indicating that he gutted it out, we don't want players in harm's way. If surgery were warranted at that time, that's the direction we would have proceeded. We're encouraged by how he's moving now, and he's got a chance to make this club. If not, he can show other teams that he can still play at the major league level."
Would Huntington consider a trade?
"We have to. We've got six guys, realistically, for four jobs. So, we've got to make the right decision for the organization. I wouldn't comment on any one player specifically, but we've got more people than we have jobs."
Zach Duke's sinker abandoned him in his erratic 2 2/3-inning start -- three runs, four hits, three strikeouts and three walks -- against Baltimore.
He looked sharp in striking out the first two batters, then gave up an Adam Jones triple to deep center, two walks and three consecutive singles.
"My stuff was definitely good," Duke said "But I was falling behind with my sinker, and I need that pitch to be effective. That's what cost me. I'm not worried about it. I'm feeling good out there right now, and that's what's important at this stage."
Duke has a 7.71 ERA through three starts.
The Pirates pulled within 3-2 in the second on RBI singles by Pedro Alvarez and Vazquez, but that was it.
Three of the Pirates' top pitching prospects -- Colton Cain, Zach Fuesser and Brett Lorin -- will be out until mid-season because of injuries, Stark revealed Wednesday:
• Cain, a 19-year-old left-hander who was the team's ninth-round draft pick in 2009, had minor back surgery after a previous ailment inflamed over the winter.
• Fuesser, another 19-year-old lefthander who was the 34th-round pick, has a broken finger.
• Lorin, a 22-year-old right-hander acquired last year from the Seattle Mariners in the Jack Wilson trade, had hip surgery over the winter.
Stark said none of the three issues is career-threatening.
• Daniel McCutchen, vying for the fifth starter's job, pitched two perfect innings of relief with two strikeouts. "He was sharp," manager John Russell said. "He's a command-type guy, and I think each outing he's going to do better. He was on."
• The first round of cuts is expected before the end of the week.
• A book about former Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh, written by granddaughter Colleen Hroncich of Cranberry, will be released Wednesday in Bradenton with an author's signing at McKechnie Field. Its title will be "The Whistling Irishman: Danny Murtaugh Remembered," hence the St. Patrick's Day release.