BRADENTON, Fla. -- Sean Rodriguez figures he was 9 or 10 years old when one day, he asked his father, Johnny, why he wasn't playing his customary shortstop position. Johnny told his son he would play wherever the team needed, and that was that."I'll embrace it until I die, probably,"
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Sean Rodriguez figures he was 9 or 10 years old when one day, he asked his father, Johnny, why he wasn't playing his customary shortstop position. Johnny told his son he would play wherever the team needed, and that was that.
"I'll embrace it until I die, probably," Rodriguez said Saturday.
That mentality has led Rodriguez to embrace another role with the Pirates: backup center fielder. At this point, Rodriguez is behind only Starling Marte on Pittsburgh's depth chart in center field. Fellow super-utility man Adam Frazier could also get looks in center field when Marte is off, manager Clint Hurdle said.
"I've said it before and I'll keep saying it: I'm the backup center fielder," Rodriguez said after crushing a home run while starting at shortstop in the Pirates' 13-5 win over the Twins at LECOM Park. "A lot of people typically laugh. No, I hold true to that. I want to know that these guys don't have to move.
"Basically making it to where guys can stay comfortable. Let us be the ones that are making it uncomfortable on ourselves, carrying extra gloves and having to move around positions. You guys settle in, and try to basically maximize what you can do in that one spot, and let us flow."
The past few years, Marte backed up Andrew McCutchen in center, sliding over from left, and letting someone fill that vacancy. But Marte is the starter there now, and the Pirates have no plans to shift Gregory Polanco out of right field.
"We're not moving Polanco," Hurdle said. "We're going to leave him right there, let him work on becoming the best right fielder he can become."
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Rodriguez has played 64 2/3 innings in center in the Majors. Frazier has played 19 innings there for the Pirates. Both have worked extensively in center this spring, however, and Hurdle has confidence in their defensive ability should the need arise to spell Marte.
"He makes defense look effortless at times, wherever you put him. We're going to find spots for him," Hurdle said of Rodriguez. "We're going to find at-bats for him. That's going to be another interesting, and fun part for all of us."
Rodriguez, who will fill in all over the field, is certainly making the case for playing time. Healthy and hitting now that he's more than a year removed from shoulder surgery, Rodriguez is batting .300 with four homers this spring.
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Around the horn
• The Pirates reassigned right-hander Tyler Eppler to Minor League camp on Saturday. Eppler allowed eight runs on 10 hits and three walks, while striking out seven batters in nine innings of Grapefruit League play.
• Korean shortstop Ji-Hwan Bae, one of 13 international prospects released by the Braves in November, is working out at the club's Pirate City complex, and is listed on the organization's official camp roster. Bae, 18, signed with the Braves in September 2017, but MLB disapproved his contract based on findings of extra-contractual compensation.
• The Pirates extended their player development contract with the Double-A Altoona Curve by four years, through 2022. They are entering their 20th year of partnership, already making Altoona the longest-running Minor League affiliate in the Pirates' 137-year history.
• Altoona's players and coaches received their 2017 Eastern League championship rings in a pregame ceremony on Saturday. The group included several of the Pirates' top prospects, including pitcher Mitch Keller and shortstop Cole Tucker.
• Hockey Hall of Famer and longtime Pirates fan Mike "Doc" Emrick resumed an annual tradition by stepping into the Bucs' broadcast booth on Saturday with Greg Brown and John Wehner.
The Pirates will split up on Sunday for a pair of games featuring a few Opening Day bullpen candidates, and two young pitching prospects. Right-hander Tyler Glasnow will start at LECOM Park against the Red Sox. He will be followed by Keller, Pittsburgh's top prospect, as well as Dovydas Neverauskas and Kyle Crick. The game will air on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh and at 1:05 p.m. ET.
Another squad will face the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla., with first pitch scheduled for 1:07 p.m. ET. Lefty Steven Brault will start. Left-hander Taylor Hearn, the Bucs' No. 11 prospect, and right-handers Richard Rodriguez and Jordan Milbrath are also scheduled to pitch. You can watch both games live on MLB.TV or listen live on KDKA-FM and the Pirates Radio Network.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.