Notes: Sanchez closer to return to field

Notes: Sanchez closer to return to field

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Though it's given players like Josh Wilson and Luis Rivas more opportunity to showcase their middle-infield defensive skills as they compete for a backup spot, it's approaching the midpoint of Spring Training games and Freddy Sanchez has yet to be cleared to take his spot at second base.

The Pirates continue to be cautious with Sanchez's return from minor shoulder surgery, which he had just over five months ago. Sanchez is continuing to increase how hard he throws and is taking ground balls during the team's infield work before games. But he's still not able to do so at 100 percent effort.

As a result, the team is taking a better-safe-than-sorry approach.

"He's getting there, we're not pushing it," manager John Russell said. "We just don't see any rush to get him out there to the way he's progressing nicely."

The good news is, however, that Sanchez has reported no soreness or discomfort in his shoulder recently. He still did not have an estimated timetable for when he will be cleared to return to the field, but he is not concerned that the setback will have any effect on his ability to be ready to go on Opening Day.

Still, Sanchez would like to get a little practice in before March 31.

"I'd rather have a week or two to get on the field before the season starts," said Sanchez, who missed almost all of March last year recovering from a knee injury. "Hopefully, I'll be ready to go within another week or so."

The Pirates open the season three weeks from Monday.

In the meantime, however, Sanchez continues to get adequate at-bats because of the use of a designated hitter in early Spring Training games. Sanchez has been the team's DH in six of its 11 spring games so far, and has nine hits and five RBIs in 23 at-bats.

Narrowing it down: The Pirates are expected to make their first large round of cuts on Monday, 20 days after the first full-squad workout. The majority of the cuts are expected to be pitchers, as the Pirates have just three weeks to narrow down their list of pitchers from the 37 currently participating to the 12 that are expected to be on the 25-man roster on Opening Day.

Up to this point, only right-hander Josh Sharpless and catcher Carlos Maldonado have been reassigned to Minor League camp. Both were sent out on Thursday after neither showed up in adequate physical shape this spring.

Leyland's lines: After missing Wednesday's split-squad game between the Pirates and Tigers, Detroit manager Jim Leyland was able to get his first look at the Pirates so far this spring. Being that Leyland began his managerial career in Pittsburgh and still makes his offseason home there, it's a franchise that is still very close to his heart.

As a result, he weighed in on his outlook for a club that hasn't had a winning season since Leyland managed it to the NLCS back in 1992.

"I think they've really got some nice pieces," said Leyland, who managed the Pirates from 1986-96. "Last year, when I saw the Pittsburgh club in Bradenton, [Fla.], I thought -- and I mean this sincerely -- that they'd play .500. If they finish out the puzzle with the right piece and it fits, they've got a real chance to be very good and I don't think it's going to be long. But you've got to be willing to do it."

Leyland also gave new Pittsburgh manager John Russell a raving endorsement.

"John's waited a long time for an opportunity, and I think he'll do an outstanding job," said Leyland, who is beginning his third season with the Tigers. "It's like anything else -- you can't emphasize it enough and I know people get tired of hearing it -- John Russell's [going to] do fine if he's got good players. Jim Leyland does fine if he's got good players. [Cardinals manager] Tony La Russa does fine if he's got good players. If you don't, you're not going to do fine. It's that simple."

Disappointing homecoming: Lakeland native Steve Pearce had plenty of supporters in the stands at Joker Marchant Stadium on Sunday with it being his first Spring Training game in his hometown. However, the first baseman/right fielder responded by having his most frustrating day of the spring so far.

He went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts and stranded six runners on base. Pearce also committed his first fielding error of the spring in right field.

Bucs bits: Ty Taubenheim, who was scheduled to pitch two innings of relief on Sunday, missed the game in Lakeland in order to stay with his wife, Anna, who gave birth to the couple's first son on Saturday night in Bradenton. Taubenehim is expected to rejoin the club on Monday. ... Prior to Monday's game, the Pirates will have their annual meeting with Major League Baseball's Player's Association and MLBPA executive director Don Fehr. The meeting is expected to last about two to three hours.

On deck: The Pirates will host the Phillies at 1:05 p.m. ET on Monday at McKechnie Field in the team's final Spring Training game before their only day off. Monday's afternoon affair will give the club its first look at Byung-Hyun Kim, the 29-year-old reliever that the club signed as a free agent on Feb. 24. Kim had been behind in his offseason throwing program, explaining his absence in games so far this spring.

Making the start for Pittsburgh will be Ian Snell, who is slotted to increase his workload to four innings. The Phillies have named J.D. Durbin as their starter for Monday's game.

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