BRADENTON, Fla. -- Russell Martin's decision to withdraw from the World Baseball Classic has left Team Canada scrambling for a catcher 12 days before its opening game against Italy.
Not that Martin was going to catch for Canada, anyway. In fact, the inability to play his preferred position of shortstop is what moved him to ask out. Neither the Pirates nor Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt -- a former big league catcher -- were comfortable with the idea of Martin moonlighting at a different position.
"I feel sorry for [Team Canada], but sometimes you just have to look out for what's best for you," Martin said. "You have to make a personal choice. But I'm really sorry for how all this went down."
Chris Robinson, an eight-year Minor Leaguer without big league experience, was left as the only catcher on the roster for Team Canada, which will play in Pool D in Phoenix against Italy, Mexico and Team USA.
Although Pirates general manager Neal Huntington declined comment, deferring to Team Canada, the Pirates are certainly pleased by Martin's decision. By not taking a timeout from Bucs camp, Martin will have more time to familiarize himself with the pitching staff he inherited when he signed a two-year, $17 million contract as a free agent this winter.
"I simply didn't want to catch [in the Classic]. It's just too much grind," Martin said. "The catcher's out there the whole game, and it just takes your body so long to recover from catching 20 innings or so.
"This will allow me to stay and work here, get to know these guys. It's better for the team and for myself."
Pitching excites Pirates in early spring
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Clint Barmes had a spotlight moment on Sunday, when he hit a two-run homer to break a scoreless tie in the fifth inning against the Braves and started the Bucs to a 9-2 victory, but that was not the highlight of the shortstop's day.
Nor was it his sharp opposite-field single in the third on an off-speed pitch, although Barmes did consider that a better sign of offensive health.
Nope. Barmes got the biggest kick out of watching James McDonald, Jonathan Sanchez and Jason Grilli team up to blank Atlanta on one hit during his five innings on the field. The effort of those three, and of the four who followed, continued Pittsburgh's strong pitching in the early stages of preseason play.
"That's what has been really exciting," Barmes said. "Pitching and defense win games, without doubt, and to see the staff -- the good, young arms -- [it's been] everything I heard. I have not seen every guy, but the guys I've been able to watch, it's been exciting. It's good to have a lot of strong, young arms. And we also have guys who know now to pitch. That's huge."
And when it comes to making some quick noise with his bat after a trying 2012 season, Barmes remains more interested in the team's results.
"I don't worry about what anybody thinks," Barmes said. "My goal ever since I've been playing this game is contributing to winning every game every time I walk on the field. That's all that matters at this point, anyway."
• Former Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan, in Jupiter, Fla., with the Red Sox and facing the Cardinals, entered his game at almost the same moment as his replacement in Pittsburgh, Jason Grilli.
Hanrahan allowed two hits, including a homer to Daniel Descalso, in his fifth inning for Boston.
Grilli pitched a hitless fifth against the Braves, working around a one-out walk of Ernesto Mejia by striking out Ramiro Pena and Reed Johnson to end the inning.
• When the ball got away from James McDonald in the second half of last season, it stayed away. In his first outing of the spring Sunday, he was able to quickly recover from an out-of-control experience.
"That's what I took away today as a big plus: When I was up and away, I was able to make an adjustment and get it back down in the zone," McDonald said after throwing the first two innings of the Pirates' 9-2 Grapefruit League win over Atlanta. "That was a big thing for me."
• Sunday's game was the first in the preseason between the Pirates and Braves in three springs. They last met in Grapefruit League play in March 2010.
• Sunday's game was also the Pirates' first of only four against National League teams this spring -- and of six against teams they'll see during the regular season (they have two Interleague dates with the Astros).
• Jeff Karstens is undergoing physical therapy and light tossing, frustrated, but patient with his healing biceps tendinitis.
"The doctor looked at it earlier this week and he didn't see any red flags," Karstens said. "So there's no reason to be too concerned. Yeah, it's frustrating, but it's only February."
"When he can stay balanced and hit the ball hard up the right-field alley, that's what I've seen him do in his good seasons. But getting on top of a high inside fastball - that's not bad to see, either."
-- Manager Clint Hurdle on Clint Barmes, who roped an off-speed pitch for an opposite-field single before turning on a fastball for a two-run homer in Sunday's 9-2 win against Atlanta
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.