DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Nate McLouth is ramping up his case to be the Pirates' starting center fielder.
McLouth, who is competing with Nyjer Morgan for the job, banged out two doubles, a single, and drove in the Pirates' only run in Pittsburgh's 4-1 loss to Toronto on Wednesday.
"I'm starting to get to that point where I'm getting into the 20s in [at bats] and I'm starting to feel a lot more comfortable," said McLouth, who has reached base in every game he's played.
The 26-year-old leadoff hitter raised his average to .400 (8-for-20) with the 3-for-3 day. He has walked three times this spring.
"When you're leading off, that's your job to get on base somehow. That's what you're supposed to do," McLouth said.
Pirates manager John Russell acknowledged McLouth is playing well but isn't ready to name a starter yet. Morgan, who is batting .269 (7-for-26), did not play in Wednesday's game. Both players run extremely well and are above average defensively, especially Morgan, who has already drawn notice for his highlight reel grabs.
A key in the decision will be how well each handles top of the order duties.
"Obviously [McLouth] is doing very well, working hard," Russell said. "Fortunately we have two guys in center who are pretty good players."
A 25th-round selection in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, McLouth owns a .249 career batting average in 284 Major League games since he first arrived in Pittsburgh in 2005. He showed noticeable improvement last season, and set career highs in average (.258), on-base percentage (.351), home runs (13) and stolen bases (22).
He came to camp this year with a different mind-set than the last three seasons.
"I have a legitimate shot at starting or playing every day, whereas the last couple or three springs maybe not so much," McLouth explained. "And that's all you can ask for really as a player, is to have a chance to control your own destiny as far as playing every day and I'm just trying to make the most of it."
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.