Notes: Van Benschoten gets reprieve

Notes: Van Benschoten gets chance

HOUSTON -- Pitcher John Van Benschoten admitted that it's a second chance that he wasn't sure was going to come until 2008. But since being told on Friday that the Pirates management wanted him to make the start on Monday, Van Benschoten knows it's time to take seize the occasion.

"I feel like this is an opportunity," Van Benschoten said on Saturday. "I feel like I have to take advantage of what I have here, and show them that I can throw strikes, and that I can attack the plate and be bold out there."

Throwing strikes, attacking the plate and being bold will be key for Van Benschoten, who has spent the second half of the season learning to harness what has been an erratic fastball and finding consistency in his pitch command.

The start comes after the organization's new management wanted to take a look at Van Benschoten as a starter before the end of the season. As a result, the righty takes the rotation spot that had temporarily belonged to Tony Armas.

"This is definitely a statement year for me," said the 27-year-old right-hander, who is playing his first full season since right shoulder surgery. "I want to be involved in the club's plans for the future and I want to show them that I want to be a part of this team next year. I'm going to put it in their minds that I'm going to be there."

The odds seem slightly stacked against Van Benschoten, though for a pitcher who has already had surgery on both shoulders since being drafted in 2001, pitching against the odds is nothing new.

He will be making the start against a Padres club that's fighting for a playoff berth, and he will have to battle the effects of his psyche.

Encouraged by his month-long stint with Triple-A Indianapolis in August, the right-hander was immediately rocked for five runs in 1 1/3 innings in his first, and only, appearance since rejoining the Bucs. And his 0-5 record and 9.76 ERA in seven starts for the Pirates this year isn't exactly the way Van Benschoten envisioned his return to Pittsburgh.

Regardless, Van Benschoten is going to measure Monday's success with more than just results. That measure, the right-hander said, is simple: "If I happen to throw a ball down the middle and it gets hit, that's fine," Van Benschoten said. "I don't want to look back and see that I nibbled here and nibbled there. I want to attack the zone, and throw strikes and see what they do."

Mays vs. Morgan: His manager and teammates brought up the comparison shortly after Friday's game and ESPN's SportsCenter did so later on Friday night.

The magical over-the-head basket catch that Morgan made in the third inning of the series opener was played a handful of times on SportsCenter, including once right after the show replayed a clip of Willie Mays making what is now known as "The Catch" in the 1954 World Series.

After watching and dissecting both on television on Friday night, Morgan came to his own conclusion.

"Mine was better," the center fielder said. "I didn't have as much room. There's no wall for him."

Morgan smiled, admitting that even he was impressed after watching his defensive gem up close. And then he followed up with a bold prediction.

"I'll make one like that again," Morgan declared.

Pearce making statement: They're not going to show up in the box score and they're not something that can be grasped in the 30-second highlight reel. But maybe that's what makes the instinctive understanding that rookie Steve Pearce has shown in right field since joining the club on Sept. 1 so impressive.

"He's really in tune to what he's doing," manager Jim Tracy said on Saturday, lauding the quick adjustment that Pearce has made to his new position. "He's very sure of himself. You see every sign of him playing like he belongs here."

At the least, Pearce looks like he's been there for more than six weeks, though that's not the case. He has consistently been showing the innate ability to run the right outfield routes, instinctively read the ball off the bat and move effortlessly to cut off balls in every direction.

Pearce also had his manager tipping his cap after Friday's game for his quick thinking in backing up Freddy Sanchez on a throw to second, which actually ended up in right field when it bounced off Sanchez's glove.

"If he's standing there spectating, then in our best case situation, it's [runners on] second and third," Tracy said of the situation. "But [Pearce is] right there. That's what wins you ballgames."

With Xavier Nady back in right field on Saturday, Pearce got the nod to play first base, his natural position, in order to spot Adam LaRoche a day of rest.

Bucs bits: Along with Nady, Jason Bay returned to the lineup for Saturday's contest. The two outfielders came into the game a combined 12-for-25 against Saturday starter Wandy Rodriguez. ... Though they find themselves low in the National League Central standings, the Pirates have more division wins (24) than any other team in the division. ... After Friday's home run, Jose Bautista is now one home run shy of his career-high mark of 16.

On deck: The Pirates will face the Astros for the 15th and final time this season at 2:05 p.m. ET at Minute Maid Park. After missing three starts with lower back tightness, Paul Maholm (10-14, 4.32 ERA) will make his return to the mound against Houston righty Brandon Backe (0-1, 5.91).

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.