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Stiff competition leaves bench spot up for grabs

Stiff competition leaves bench spot up for grabs

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The free-for-all among candidates to be the left-handed bat on the Pirates' bench took a decided non-roster turn on Saturday. And did not get any easier to judge.

The judge, Clint Hurdle, loaded his bench against Phillies right-hander A.J. Burnett with the competition.

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Three contenders not on the 40-man roster -- Chris Dickerson, Travis Ishikawa and Michael Martinez -- continued to burn by going 5-for-10 collectively and signing the 5-3 win before a record crowd of 8,566 at McKechnie Field.

Ishikawa hit a game-tying homer in the eighth, minutes before Dickerson delivered the go-ahead single.

Meanwhile, the three competitors on the roster -- Travis Snider, Jaff Decker and Andrew Lambo -- hung in with a 4-for-11 day.

Five more games remain before the Bucs break camp. Does Hurdle now wish for more time to make some tough decisions?

"No," he said. "Thursday will be time to go, so we're gonna have to make decisions. That's what the game is about."

Ishikawa has drilled three homers in 20 at-bats since coming off the shelf, where he had been kept by a strained right hamstring.

"We've tried to feed him at-bats, and he's been able to take advantage of them," Hurdle said. "He's grinding out at-bats, so he's competing well."

Martinez is quickly working himself into irresistible status. His singles in the second and the fourth -- both balls smoked -- gave him 12 hits in his last 25 at-bats. He finished 2-for-3, bumping his average up to .394. And he did that while starting at second base -- one of three positions at which he has appeared.

With the possible exception of Lambo -- who wore another 0-for-4 collar and now is 4-for-42, with all the hits singles -- no one is playing himself out of the competition.

"Everyone played a part," Hurdle agreed. "Snider scratched out a couple of hits, Dickerson bookended a couple of hits. Couple early hits from Martinez. Decker is on base all day [with two singles and two walks]."

And all the survivors remained on the island.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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