BRADENTON, Fla. -- As the Pirates entered Spring Training tasked with rebuilding their bullpen behind Jason Grilli, Jared Hughes and Tony Watson, they were very comfortable with the long list of credible candidates.
Brooks Brown was not one of them. But the 27-year-old right-hander may be forcing himself not only into the line, but to the head of it. He added to his impressive spring on Sunday by working a perfect ninth to save the Bucs' 8-6 victory over the Astros.
Saves in exhibition games could be the ultimate meaningless stat, since Minor Leaguers flood lineups by the end of games. Still, Brown has two saves in the Pirates' three wins, and has allowed one run while striking out five in 4 2/3 innings in his team-leading four appearances.
All provide good evidence why the Pirates signed the seven-year Minor Leaguer last November. Brown has gone 43-59, with an ERA of 4.23, in 165 games (131 starts) between the Arizona and Detroit organizations.
"We signed him for a reason," manager Clint Hurdle said, "and he is showing reasons why our guys who saw him liked him. He keeps his fastball down and it has good life, and throws a breaking ball that can be a swing-and-miss pitch. He has shown up very well so far."
Brown, a first-round pick by the D-backs in 2006, has spent most of his career at the Double-A level. In 2012, he went 4-4 with a 4.90 ERA for the Tigers' Triple-A Toledo club, splitting his time between the bullpen and the rotation.
Bucs will have one less participant in Classic
BRADENTON, Fla. -- And then there were four ... Pirates participants remaining to head to the World Baseball Classic, that is.
The latest player forced to invoke an exit strategy was catcher Ali Solis, who suffered back spasms after catching two innings in his Grapefruit League debut on Saturday against Detroit. Solis had been counted on to be Mexico's starting catcher.
So the Bradenton-to-Phoenix shuttle for Pool D play lost another passenger. Jason Grilli (Italy) and Jameson Taillon (Canada) were still on that flight late Sunday afternoon. Chris Leroux (Canada) will also head to Phoenix -- but not until Wednesday -- while Wandy Rodriguez (Dominican Republic) is set to depart on Monday for Puerto Rico and Pool C competition.
Additionally, Minor League infielder Stefan Welch has already hooked up with Team Australia (he went 1-for-3 in an opening 4-1 loss to Chinese Taipei, homering for the Aussies' lone run).
Previously, Russell Martin (Canada) and Ivan De Jesus (Puerto Rico) had decided against participating in the Classic.
Leroux is scheduled to start against Mexico on Saturday, and delaying his departure until Wednesday will enable him to make one more Grapefruit League appearance to strengthen his bid to earn a spot on the Bucs' staff. For the same reason, he does not plan to stay on Team Canada for any subsequent Classic rounds -- even if it does advance.
"I don't want to be away too long, and hurt my chances of making the team," Leroux said.
Manager Clint Hurdle is comfortable with putting four important pitchers into others' hands. Rodriguez and Grilli are critical '13 pieces, Leroux is a top contender for the staff and Taillon is the organization's No. 2 prospect, behind fellow righty Gerrit Cole.
"There's no hesitance, or any type of anxiety," Hurdle said. "We're absolutely trusting the pitchers we're sending out there. There's constant communication between [Classic countries'] pitching coaches and our pitching coach."
"I don't worry about stats in Spring Training. They don't tell the whole story." -- Pirates right-hander Kyle McPherson, after allowing four runs Sunday -- one on a 25-foot single, three on a wind-blown pop up that landed 30 feet behind second base.
• Martin, listed at catcher when the Pirates' original lineup for Sunday's game was posted Saturday morning, got the day off once he communicated to Hurdle that he didn't yet feel ready to resume defensive play.
The backstop, who has nursed a sore shoulder for five days, planned to "play some catch to see how it feels, and we'll go from there." He reported feeling good after returning to game action as the DH in Saturday's game.
• Jose Contreras (Tommy John surgery) was ecstatic over his latest bullpen session, in which he said he "even threw a couple of changeups, and [felt] no pain. I felt great." He won't throw for a couple of days, and will throw another bullpen on Tuesday.
• Checking up on former Pirates, current Astros: Outfielder Robbie Grossman (6-for-13 after Sunday) and lefty Rudy Owens (one earned run in 2 2/3 innings) were part of last July's deal for Wandy Rodriguez; Erik Bedard, in camp as a non-roster invitee, allowed no earned runs in two innings in his only start.
• Slogan T-shirts are a big thing in Spring Training camps, and the Pirates' latest -- obtained by reliever Bryan Morris -- reflects the label of "Say I Won't" apparel in the front and lists responses to the negativism on the back.
• Sunday was the official reporting day for Pirates Minor Leaguers, whose camp opens on Monday with the first workout at Pirate City. That usually is the precursor for the initial cuts from the Major League camp, which are expected later this week.
• The Pirates will probably continue using a designated hitter through games this week, then begin having their starting pitchers bat.
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.