PIT@MIN: Dickerson flares an RBI single to left

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Chris Dickerson has already been through too much to take anything for granted. Since his smashing rookie debut with the 2008 Reds, for whom he posted an OPS of 1.021 in 31 games, he has spun through three other organizations without getting a foothold.

The Pirates are No. 4, and Dickerson is building a solid case to be the choice as a left-handed-hitting fourth outfielder. He has reached base in nine of 10 games, is carrying a .429 batting average, has two steals and has handled himself well at all three spots in the outfield.

This is how well it is going for the 31-year-old Californian: a day that belonged to Tampa Bay pitching, a game in which his competitors shared a collar, ended with Dickerson on deck, the late-game sub never having to bat.

Still, Dickerson understands his role and situation despite the encouraging numbers.

"I can't get comfortable. Strange stuff has happened to me, so I'm not really concerned with it," Dickerson said.

Dickerson has played up to his confidence, which was evident the early-January day the Pirates signed him as a free agent. Addressing his chances of earning a job in the outfield, he said, "If I do what I'm capable of, there shouldn't be any question."

"There's nothing to it," Dickerson said of the ongoing competition. "I'll let my performance do the talking. I'll just continue to play the kind of baseball I am playing right now, and see where it goes."

Hurdle sees new version of Oquendo in Martinez

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The past couple of years, Clint Hurdle would often talk wistfully of having his own Jose Oquendo, the versatile player who extended the bench of the 1986-95 St. Louis Cardinals by alternately filling in at every position on the field.

Hurdle may have finally found him.

Michael Martinez has played all over the infield and the outfield, and he is a fleet runner and a switch-hitter. If not earlier, Hurdle was likely smitten with the 5-foot-9 Dominican when he laid down two bunt hits in the same game on Wednesday.

"Yeah, he could," Hurdle said Thursday in response to whether Martinez could be his new Oquendo. "He's been fun to watch. He has moved all over the diamond, made two more nice plays again today [playing shortstop], he's put the ball on the ground, has hit sharply from both sides.

"He's a very versatile guy who has come in and had a very good camp to date."

Martinez, who has spent parts of the last three seasons with the Phillies and signed as a free agent with the Bucs on Dec. 18, is hitting .368 in 10 games. He is in camp as a non-roster invitee, a considerable obstacle since the Pirates' 40-man roster is full.

When Pittsburgh claimed Brent Morel on waivers earlier this month, the club had to clear room for him by designating infielder Chase d'Arnaud for assignment. The Pirates were able to retain d'Arnaud when he passed through waivers, but adding anyone else would again raise the same risk.

First number, last word

2: Major League teams, out of 30, which have not yet had a starting pitcher work longer than three innings in an exhibition game this spring; the Orioles are one, and the Pirates are the other.

"They have more than enough ability to pitch in more than just a long [relief] role." - Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, assessing the potential of right-handers Jeanmar Gomez and Stolmy Pimentel.

Worth noting

Andrew McCutchen shrugged off being the favorite to repeat as the National League Most Valuable Player Award winner, according to a respected online oddsmaker.

"I don't care about that. It's not about now, but where we are at the end. We'll see," McCutchen said.

• While the Pirates host the Phillies and start Brandon Cumpton at McKechnie Field on Friday, their Opening Day starter, Francisco Liriano, will go four innings (or 70 pitches) in a Minor League start at Pirate City.

• The Jeff Branson Factor? Starling Marte (five strikeouts in 20 at-bats) and Pedro Alvarez (four in 22) have both cut down their strikeout rates midway through Spring Training, likely a reflection of the hitting coach's sermons on better anticipating how pitchers work them.