On the bubble
Starting infielder: It was a positive for Jose Castillo to report 20 pounds lighter, but it was hard to miss the message the Pirates clearly sent him in the first couple of workouts by placing him on a field with the minor-leaguers while the major-league infield -- including Jose Bautista at third base -- did the same drills on an adjacent field.
Advantage: Bautista ... for now
Starting rotation: Shawn Chacon is ready to pitch through pain -- arthritis in his knee, as he revealed this week -- to make 30-32 starts. But Tony Armas Jr., who entered camp with a clear edge for the lone vacancy in the rotation, has a clean bill of health.
Bullpen: Jim Tracy said he wants his long reliever to be "an innings eater" as well as an emergency starter. Sounds like Chacon. Maybe. Or it could be Shane Youman or Marty McLeary, but the Pirates probably would have to gulp down one-sixth of Chacon's $3.8 million salary to cut him this spring for either of those two to enter the mix.
Advantage: Chacon, Sharpless, Kolb
Bench: According to Dave Littlefield, the Pirates' bench should include a right-handed hitting outfielder who can play center field. Being that Rajai Davis was virtually ignored despite being on the roster the final six weeks of last season, that leaves only Luis Matos to join Nate McLouth as reserve outfielders.
On the spot
Non-baseball questions for outfielder Jody Gerut, who earned a degree in history at Stanford:
Q. As someone who travels quite a bit, what is the best place you visited in the past year?
A. Virgin Gorda, one of the British Virgin Islands. There's a place there called The Baths, and there are these huge rock formations on the beach. The swimsuit magazines use them as a backdrop. We took a tour, kind of a radical one, where they bring you up to a platform where you can jump into a really deep pool of water. It's kind of a cool thing, but I elected not to do that because of rehabbing my knee.
Q. What book are you reading now?
A. "The United States of Europe," by T.R. Reid. It's a political book that compares the European view of the world with that of the U.S. and looks at how the U.S. is somehow similar. In particular, it looks at how different parts of the U.S. easily could be different countries, for example, how the Southeast is so different from the Northeast or the West Coast. And yet, we have to deal with being one nation, where they don't.
Q. Will there be peace in the Middle East?
A. The key to peace there is compromise, and I don't think that will ever happen. There are too many people in the world who stand to gain from that region being violent and turbulent.
On the way up
Steve Lerud, a 22-year-old catcher, seldom has played in his first three professional seasons, his .239 average at Class A Hickory last season would impress no one, and neither would his 35 passed balls.
So, why is it that anytime the subject of prospects in the low minors is raised with Pirates officials, Lerud's name is among the first mentioned?
And why has he been in the major-league camp the past two springs?
"Because the kid can hit for power," director of player development Brian Graham said. "And he can catch. And he's got one of the strongest arms of anybody in the system."
Lerud, the fourth-round pick in the 2003 draft, has shown needed power from the left side, including 12 home runs in 393 at-bats last season.
"Yeah, I can hit for power, but it's not something I try to do," he said. "Honestly, I need to hit more consistently and to focus on my catching. That's what's going to get me to the big leagues."
Which probably begins with addressing those passed balls.
"Definitely something to work on," he said.
Lerud will start out with high Class A Lynchburg.
Wednesday: The games begin with the annual exhibition against Manatee Community College.
On the record
Masumi Kuwata, Pirates pitcher, on coming to America after 21 seasons in Japan's top league:
"I don't know if I will succeed or I will fail. I don't care. It's important to try new things."Al Behrman, Associated Press
Some personalized instruction for Jose Castillo ... on the minor-league field.
Al Behrman, Associated Press