Ishikawa continues his push to make Pirates roster

SARASOTA, Fla. -- An injury just before the start of Grapefruit League play never helps non-roster invitees trying to make the squad. This spring, Travis Ishikawa made the best of it.

While hamstring problems kept Ishikawa out for the first week and a half, he stood in the batter's box while Pirates pitchers threw bullpen sessions to remain accustomed to facing game-level velocity.

"Even if you're not taking swings, just seeing the pitcher kind of go through what his normal delivery would be, trying to pick up the ball, trying to find the release point, trying to pick up spin," Ishikawa said.

Ishikawa, a left-handed hitting first baseman, remains in major league camp entering the final week of spring training, fighting for a spot on a crowded bench.

"They expressed early in spring camp that I was definitely in the mix and competing for a job," he said. "Since then, it's been pretty quiet. Obviously I'm sure they're trying to figure out what decision they want to make."

Spring statistics don't tell the whole story. Batters routinely face minor league pitchers, or starters building their pitch counts and working on nothing but their fastball command. But it's always better to hit than to not hit, and Ishikawa has hit this spring. He has a .333 average and a hit in five of his past six games after going 1 for 4 with a walk Sunday.

"He plays solid first base," general manager Neal Huntington said. "He's caught our attention. The hamstring early kind of set him behind a little bit. We try not to be overly reactive, positive or negative, based on spring training performance."

Ishikawa missed the first 11 games of spring training because of tightness in his right hamstring. In that time, he said, he continued to do what he could in the weight room, hit in the cage and talked to the coaches about his swing. In addition, he stood in for side sessions.

"Even if you're not swinging, you can tell if you're late or early on a pitch or how well you're seeing a pitch," he said. "I tell pitchers that throw good breaking balls in the dirt, 'Yeah, I'd probably swing at that in a game.' It not only gives them good feedback, but allows me to say, OK, this is what it's going to look like at game speed."

Ishikawa, 30, spent most of last season in the minor leagues. The previous time he received significant playing time in the majors came in 2012, when he had a .329 on-base percentage in 174 plate appearances with the Milwaukee Brewers. He played in 236 games for the San Francisco Giants from 2009-10, hitting .262 with a .326 on-base percentage and 12 home runs in 536 plate appearances.

The Pirates entered spring with Andrew Lambo as the presumptive left-handed complement to Gaby Sanchez at first base, and that might still be the case come opening day.

"Wherever we end up, it doesn't mean we're set in stone," Huntington said. "We can make an adjustment if we feel like it's the best thing for the organization to make an adjustment weeks or months into the season. Travis has definitely caught our eye with how he's carried himself and how he's gone about it."

Taillon's season delayed

Right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon will seek a second opinion on his sore right elbow and will not start the season on time, Huntington said.

Taillon, the Pirates' No. 2 prospect according to Baseball America, experienced elbow discomfort the day after his most recent outing, Huntington said.

"At this point in time, the ligament's intact," Huntington said, meaning Tommy John ligament replacement surgery is not required at the moment. "He's got some discomfort in there."

Taillon, 22, will start the season at Class AAA Indianapolis and could join the Pirates' rotation at some point this summer. The elbow pain will delay his start of the season, but it is unclear at this point how long that delay will last.

"Appreciate the concern and well wishes," Taillon wrote on Twitter. "I'll get past this bump in the road, and be stronger for it!"

Bill Brink: and on Twitter @BrinkPG.

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