Pirates giving Pearce another chance

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Steve Pearce doesn't need anyone to connect the dots for him.

"I'm pretty logjammed," he said. "I know that."

Pearce, the 27-year-old Pirates utilityman, understands what the offseason signing of Lyle Overbay has done to his chances of becoming the major league club's everyday first baseman this season. He also knows what the offseason acquisition of Matt Diaz -- who is slated to share time with Garrett Jones in right field -- does to his chances of playing out there.

But in a tunneled batting cage of Tuesday's mid-morning shade at Pirate City, before the requisite workouts began, Pearce quietly whacked away during soft toss, while paired alongside Diaz.

That has been Pearce's method in the opening portion of this weeklong minicamp, and he vows it will be something he will carry through spring training -- he has his mind made up that no one will outwork him.

"I'm going to try my hardest to make this squad somewhere -- outfield, infield, backup off the bench, it doesn't matter, just somewhere on this squad," Pearce said. "I want to be with this team and I want to help us win."

Pearce's story is an intriguing one, from that roaring summer of 2007 that began in Class A Lynchburg and culminated with a September call-up to the major league roster to the back-and-forth ride between the Pirates and Class AAA Indianapolis since then.

Last season started quickly for Pearce in Indianapolis, as he hit safely in 21 of the first 23 games before being called up to the Pirates on May 4.

That promotion seemed his big break.

"Things were going good," he said. "I was feeling good at that point."

It fell apart quickly. On May 14, Pearce felt soreness in his left knee, then he rolled his right ankle 10 days later, was put in the 15-day disabled list and spent the remainder of the season serving out a minor league rehab stint.

So, where is Pearce viewed by Pirates brass as spring training is about a month away?

"Steve is going to compete to make our club," general manager Neal Huntington said, as he stood down the right field line and watched a minicamp batting practice session yesterday. "He has the ability to play first and right. ... The maturation process of Steve Pearce is a great story, but unfortunately, when it was all beginning to come together last year at the major league level is when he rolled his ankle."

Now there is a scar trailing straight up Pearce's kneecap that he showed off yesterday standing just outside the clubhouse at Pirate City. Surgery was performed Aug. 4 to repair the patellar tendon in his left knee; Pearce said he had been playing with pain in his knee for some time. Now, he said he's "about 85 percent" back to full health -- but with a caveat. That 15 percent he's missing is mental, a case of forcing his mind to fully trust his surgically repaired knee.

"But I'm more confident every single day," he said. "By the start [of spring training] I'm going to be 100 percent, for sure."

It is a certainty Huntington is going to give Pearce the chance again to impress.

"Not by any stretch have we given up on Steve Pearce," Huntington said. "Steve Pearce will continue to grow and develop for us whether it is on April 1 this year, in the middle of the summer or into the future. We still like Steve, we still believe in him and we are confident he is going to help us."

NOTE -- Right-handed pitchers Kevin Hart and Tyler Yates, both rehabbing from surgery, threw off the mound yesterday for the first time in a while. It was Hart's first time off a mound since surgery in May to repair a torn labrum and Yates' first since October -- he had Tommy John surgery in July 2009 but has had a few setbacks since. Both pitchers threw 25 fastballs with pitching coach Ray Searage monitoring.

Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1459.


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