BRADENTON, Fla. -- To be successful in a sport dominated by big-market giants, the Pirates are always given the mandate of having to follow the template of the Tampa Bay Rays. They need to secure young players with long-term contracts, unearth hidden gems at the bottom of the free-agent barrel. The Bucs are checking off that first item, as they've signed young outfielders Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen to guaranteed six-year deals trailed by options within the last seven months. The team could be following the Rays' lead even more closely on the second. Juan Cruz, who last season was the latest free-agent reliever signed and was resurrected by the Rays, is now trying to help the Bucs. Signed to a Minor League contract on Feb. 1, Cruz tendered his second scoreless outing of the spring in Tuesday's 7-4 exhibition victory over the Yankees.
This should sound familiar: A year ago, Tampa Bay did not sign Cruz, likewise to a Minor League contract, until Feb. 3, and he would contribute a 5-0 record and a 3.88 ERA in 56 appearances to the Rays' American League Wild Card drive.The 33-year-old Dominican right-hander again received raves from both his manager and pitching coach. "He firmed up his mechanics a bit by doing something we had talked about," said Ray Searage, the Pirates' pitching coach. "It's coming. I like him." "Cruz was very efficient again," said manager Clint Hurdle, who was even more effusive about about another non-roster candidate, calling Ryota Igarashi's own second scoreless outing "very good; he kept the ball down extremely well, with good velocity and location." Cruz and Igarashi both "have opportunities to win a job in the bullpen," Hurdle said.