Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez to stay in the majors

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates will open the season with Tony Sanchez on the active roster as the backup catcher, general manager Neal Huntington said Friday, and will not pursue a catcher from outside the organization.

Chris Stewart, whom the Pirates traded for this winter to back up Russell Martin and allow Sanchez to play every day at Class AAA Indianapolis, had arthroscopic surgery Wednesday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. He needs four to six weeks to recover, which translates to two to four weeks of the regular season.

"Never really was a choice unless Chris was going to be out for the majority of the season," Huntington said. "If it was a short-term loss, then Tony was going to be the guy, absolutely."

Stewart returned to Pirates camp Friday on crutches and with bandages on his right knee, but had just concluded a workout before speaking to reporters.

"Now it's just a matter of getting the swelling down, getting my range of motion back," Stewart said. "It's up to me to see how fast I can get back."

Stewart said he felt pops in his knee as he was squatting behind the plate in a game March 12. The knee started to tighten later in the game, so he left the game, iced it and it felt fine.

"Next morning came in and the doc was checking it out, trying to manipulate it, and popped it back out," he said. "At that point the pain was pretty hefty."

Stewart expressed confidence that Sanchez can handle the backup duties in his absence.

"He just takes care of business," Stewart said. "He doesn't try to do too much. He knows what he's capable of. He's pretty smart, he wants to learn. I think that's the biggest thing. He wants to get better every day. He knows how to handle it. He got the taste last year, so it's not like he's going up not knowing what he's getting into. He's plenty capable of going in there and winning ballgames for us."

Though the Pirates will not trade for a catcher, they likely will make at least one move before opening day, to exchange one of their out-of-options relievers for something of value.

"We've been very open that we're probably going to have a pretty good arm available at the end of spring training," Huntington said. "We're working through that process to see what we might have."

Bryan Morris, Vin Mazzaro and Jeanmar Gomez are all out of options and the race for the bullpen is eight pitchers for seven spots.

"If we find something that we like, we can make a move quickly," Huntington said. "If not, then we'll play it out until we absolutely have to make a move. Even then, we still think we'll get a pretty decent player or return for whoever we decide to move."

Camp moves

The Pirates reassigned eight players to minor league camp, slimming their major league camp to 43 players.

Right-hander Phil Irwin and infielders Chris McGuiness and Brent Morel were optioned to Class AAA Indianapolis. Right-handers Jake Brigham, Cody Eppley and Josh Kinney, left-hander Yao-Hsun Yang and infielder Chase d'Arnaud were reassigned to minor league camp.

Irwin, McGuiness and Morel are on the 40-man roster. The others were non-roster invitees; d'Arnaud was designated for assignment this spring. The moves did not affect any of the main position battles for the final few spots on the 25-man roster.

Irwin battled some tightness in his right elbow this spring but had returned to game competition.

"We're trying to get him consistent innings and consistent work to be on the right track to be able to help us at some point this summer," Huntington said.

Morel, whom the Pirates claimed off waivers this spring, will work primarily at third base but will play first base and possibly second, Huntington said.

"We're still intrigued by the possibility that he might be able to play some second base," he said. "He'll get some pregame work there, and if it progresses to games, terrific."

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.

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