BRADENTON, Fla. -- When paring down their roster to the 25 players who will open the season in Detroit, the Pirates must consider a number of dynamics: past performance, what they've done in Spring Training, how they fit on the club, whether they're better served on the bench or playing
BRADENTON, Fla. -- When paring down their roster to the 25 players who will open the season in Detroit, the Pirates must consider a number of dynamics: past performance, what they've done in Spring Training, how they fit on the club, whether they're better served on the bench or playing every day in Triple-A and so on.
There's also a factor players cannot control: the number of Minor League options they have remaining. For some players who are out of options, their status will be the difference between playing in the Majors and Minors on March 29. For others, it's no matter.
Catcher Elias Diaz, for instance, is out of options. He cannot be optioned to Triple-A without passing through waivers first, and if the Pirates were to attempt that, he would almost certainly be claimed by another club. But Diaz, who homered in the Pirates' 12-9 win over the Braves on Friday, has already locked up a spot on the Opening Day roster as Francisco Cervelli's backup.
There are two more intriguing players with no options left, however, and both are competing for spots. Outfielder Bryce Brentz, acquired last month from the Red Sox, is among the candidates for the final job on the bench. Right-hander A.J. Schugel, set back by shoulder discomfort this spring, could find a role in the bullpen.
There is plenty of competition for the reserve role, including outfielder Jordan Luplow, corner infielder/outfielder Jose Osuna, infielder Max Moroff and utility man Christopher Bostick. But Brentz, a 29-year-old who slugged 31 homers for Triple-A Pawtucket last season, is the only one out of options. So it might make sense to give Brentz the nod out of camp.
Schugel resumed playing catch on Wednesday, so his status is clouded by the time he's been sidelined. He may need more than the two weeks left in camp to rebuild his arm strength and progress to pitching in games, which he hasn't done since Feb. 25, putting off that decision for Pittsburgh's front office.
Schugel put up a 3.00 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 84 innings over 68 appearances for the Pirates the past two years. Pittsburgh has not yet publicly committed to any relievers beyond closer Felipe Rivero and setup man George Kontos, but it has a number of interesting young relief candidates, including starters Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow, who may fill out its bullpen.
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Around the horn
• Jameson Taillon looked sharp in his five-inning start, throwing 59 pitches and pounding the zone with 43 strikes. In three perfect innings to begin the outing, Taillon threw 24 of his 28 pitches for strikes and did not allow a ball to leave the infield.
"That might be the best I've ever felt," Taillon said.
Ozzie Albies hit a homer to lead off the fourth, when Taillon also walked two batters. But he pitched a perfect fifth and finished with five strikeouts and only the one hit allowed. He was so efficient that he had to throw 15 extra pitches in the bullpen after leaving the game.
"I was glad they put all those lefties in the lineup, because that's something I need to work on, out-pitches to lefties," Taillon said. "It was a really good day of work."
• The Pirates started seven regular position players -- everyone but Cervelli -- and produced eight runs in the first four innings. Polanco doubled and homered, Josh Bell hit a rare opposite-field homer while batting right-handed, Dickerson went 2-for-4 with a triple, and Diaz smashed his third homer of the spring.
"Josh [Harrison] looked at me in the first inning, and he was like, 'Look around, dude. This is a good lineup!'" Bell said. "You saw it in the first three innings. We were rolling. It was fun."
Right-hander Chad Kuhl will take the mound as the Pirates continue a brief, Spring Training-style "homestand" at LECOM Park on Saturday against the Twins at 1:05 p.m. ET on MLB.TV. Bullpen candidates Edgar Santana, Kevin Siegrist and Tyler Jones are also scheduled to pitch.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.