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Pearce trying to corner (infield) market on role

Pearce trying to corner (infield) market on role

Pearce trying to corner (infield) market on role
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Hitting in the No. 3 spot in the lineup in a back-field "B" game on Tuesday, Steve Pearce's first trip to the plate saw him work the count against Minnesota's Kevin Slowey. He took pitches and he fouled pitches.

The result was a weak popup to second.

"I feel like that's been the story of my Spring Training," said Pearce, who turns 28 in April. "It's going to come with more reps, the more comfortable I get in the box."

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No, the start hasn't been stellar. Pearce is 3-for-17 with a pair of doubles, six strikeouts and one walk this spring. The bottom of the inning, though, brought some encouragement: a diving play toward the line and a good throw to first for the out.

Pearce has all of five career appearances at third base -- all in the Minors -- since being drafted in 2005. Want to break camp with the team? Show versatility.

Pearce, a first baseman during his pro career, is trying to oblige.

"He made a [heckuva] play," said right-hander Brad Lincoln, who was on the hill and having a rough inning. "It probably did save me a run."

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Pearce's nowhere close to alone in being asked to do it, but it's a hard task nonetheless: Come to the park without knowing if you're in the lineup, play multiple positions, get ready for the season and all the while prove you belong on the Major League team.

A trip to the Majors in 2011 would make Pearce a five-year big leaguer. Drafted by Pittsburgh, he's spent his whole career in the organization, watching the likes of Garrett Jones and Andrew McCutchen rise up the ranks.

Pearce, though, has never stuck. The most big league games he's played in a season was 60 in 2009. Last year, he played 15. He's been on the shuttle, so to speak.

"It probably would be a lot easier, it's tough to go up there and then sit and play and sit and play," Pearce said. "It's kind of hard to get in a rhythm."

The hope for Pearce, as it is for Garrett Atkins, Andy Marte and Josh Fields, is to be the Pirates' corner-utility infielder. The competition is tough: Marte homered in the "B" game on Tuesday, and Fields stabbed a line drive at third to end a 5-2 win over the Twins in the "A" game.

Pearce does know full well of the fray he's in.

"We brought guys in, and we brought four or five guys in and they're all competing for that one spot," Pearce said. "Of course, we know it's out there, but you want to control how you play. You can't control what other people think. You just give your best and hopefully you open some eyes."

What Pearce believes could help separate him, though, is the familiarity he has with the Pirates he came up with. They know his face in the clubhouse, and they can talk to him.

"I know all these guys, I would love to be with these guys," Pearce said. "I hope that would maybe play a factor into the decision."

Jones, Pearce's teammate and friend, said as much.

"If you feel close on and off the field, it helps the team chemistry," the right fielder said, "and you can help a good friend out more when you see him hit or if he's doing something differently."

There is a reality, though, and it tends to show up in the box score. Manager Clint Hurdle pointed to it when asked if chemistry would be a consideration: It's about production.

"Intangibles carry some weight," Hurdle said. "But you want to project the best skill set, who's going to help the club the best. There's nobody here who doesn't like Steve Pearce."

So there's not much left for Pearce to do but find his stroke. After one hit -- a single -- in four at-bats in the "B" game, Pearce didn't think he'd be asked to pinch-hit in the fifth inning of Tuesday's "A" game.

"I'm like, 'What?'" he said when he was told to grab a bat.

Hurdle said afterward that a pinch-hit role is one Pearce could fill if he makes the team. Thing is, Pearce didn't even get a real chance to show anything. Ronny Cedeno was thrown out at third to end the inning, ending Pearce's day.

That's the lot of a player trying to make the last spot on a roster.

"You got to make the most of the opportunities," Pearce said. "It would be definitely an advantage for me to go up there and get all those at-bats and see what I could do. But right now, my role is just a utility guy. Playing off the bench."

Evan Drellich is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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