BRADENTON, Fla. -- There was good and bad -- and most importantly, lessons learned -- in James McDonald's start against the Blue Jays on Sunday afternoon.

An inability to throw first-pitch strikes hurt McDonald early in the Pirates' eventual 5-0 loss to Toronto. McDonald fell behind consistently in the first inning, which saw four Blue Jays hitters reach base and two score.

"I've got to focus on getting strike one," said McDonald, who had thrown two scoreless innings his first time out. "Early innings, just I got a little out of whack."

Encouraging, though, was how McDonald bounced back from the shaky beginning. He retired the side in order in the second and would have worked around a one-out double in the third had Corey Wimberly made a clean throw to first on the ground ball he fielded.

The error lengthened the inning and forced manager Clint Hurdle to pull McDonald after 2 2/3 innings due to his pitch count. In all, McDonald allowed four hits, four runs (two earned) and one walk. He struck out two.

"The rhythm wasn't what we really wanted," Hurdle said. "He demands a lot out of himself and expects a lot of himself. It could have gotten a lot uglier if he hadn't made the pitches when he did."

Again, results are quite arbitrary at this point in spring, and McDonald hardly seemed concerned about being knocked around. His arm strength is where he wants it to be four weeks from Opening Day, and McDonald's velocity is picking up as well.

"I was pleased with some of the pitches I threw," McDonald said. "Some of the results to me were good. It might not look that good out there because they hit it in play. But it was the pitch I wanted and I executed it. Things are going fine."

Five Bucs face risk with no options left

BRADENTON, Fla. -- There are a number of factors that will be considered as the Pirates piece together their Opening Day roster, and roster flexibility is among them.

Five players on the club's 40-man roster -- Jose Ascanio, Kevin Hart, Charlie Morton, Chris Resop and John Bowker -- are out of options this season. This means that none of them can be optioned to the Minors without first clearing waivers. Of course, when a player is placed on waivers, he becomes available to any of the other 29 clubs.

Unquestionably, the Pirates are going to have to run such a risk with some of these out-of-option players, as there is not enough room to keep all five. But in a situation where two players are equally deserving of a roster spot, expect the out-of-options one to get the nod.

"It's a situation where it plays a factor," general manager Neal Huntington said. "It's not the decision factor. You start to take a look at which decisions are reversible and irreversible, and sometimes the irreversible decision is the one that forces your hand a little bit."

Both Resop and Morton appear on track to start the season with Pittsburgh. Resop proved last season that he can be a valuable bullpen piece, while Morton has emerged as the favorite to win the fifth spot in the Pirates' rotation, with his strong spring showing and Scott Olsen's hamstring setback. And should the Pirates not use Morton as a starter, the right-hander could also slot into the 'pen.

The outlook is not so clear with Ascanio, Hart and Bowker. Ascanio and Hart have both been slowed by injuries and are still days away from being ready to pitch in games. The Pirates could buy some time by placing either right-hander on the disabled list to begin the season.

Bowker is among a number of players fighting for a bench spot. The makeup of the bench will come into better focus once the club determines how it plans to use Ryan Doumit. Still, Bowker is seen as a long-shot to be kept on as an extra outfielder.

Hurdle and staff to address Bucs' road woes

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Of all the things that went wrong in the Pirates' 105-loss 2010 season, the team's inability to win away from home was among the most glaring of deficiencies.

Manager Clint Hurdle wasn't around to witness the historical struggles last year, but he is beginning to offer some suggestions on how to ensure that such road woes don't plague the team again.

"We've got some plans that we've just barely scratched the surface of," Hurdle said. "More talk will ramp up the last two weeks of Spring Training when we cut the club size. We are going to approach things differently in some areas."

Routine appears to be the primary thing that Hurdle and his staff will be addressing. Having players maintain a schedule similar to the one that they are used to before home games is something that Hurdle believes can help.

"We're going to try and find ways to get them up a little earlier, get them moving a little earlier, get the preparation done a little more succinctly on the road, find more time for ourselves to prepare," Hurdle said. "Maybe implement workout patterns on the road to make us more comfortable in some of the visiting cities."

The Pirates finished 17-64 away from PNC Park last year, making the club just the third to win fewer than 20 road games in a 162-game season.

Pearce's ability to play third will be major factor

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The ability to play third base could turn out to be the biggest factor in whether or not Steve Pearce begins the season on the Pirates' bench or playing in Triple-A Indianpolis. To this point, though, all of Pearce's work at third has come during morning infield drills.

While the Pirates do plan on having Pearce see some game time at third base, general manager Neal Huntington said a few factors have played a role in Pearce sticking at first base and right field so far in Grapefruit League play.

First of all, the club wants to make sure that Pearce gets the reps he needs to be comfortable at a position he hasn't played regularly since college. The need to have Pedro Alvarez, Josh Fields, Garrett Atkins and Andy Marte all log time at third base has also limited the opportunities for Pearce to slide over there.

Pearce made the start in right field on Sunday, marking his first start of the spring in the outfield. He has spent plenty of time at first base, where the 27-year-old is most comfortable.

The makeup of the Pirates' bench is something that might not come into focus until the final days of camp. There is a chance, though, that whoever the club takes as a backup to Lyle Overbay at first base will also have to be able to step in for Alvarez at third. Pearce still has to prove that he can.

Bucs bits

Though the Pirates don't know exactly when Joe Beimel will make his first game appearance, there is little reason to believe that the left-hander won't be ready for the start of the season. "He's where he needs to be," general manager Neal Huntington said. "As long as everything progresses, he should be more than ready to go by Opening Day." Beimel threw off the mound on Sunday morning ... Shortstop Ronny Cedeno carried a bat around the clubhouse on Sunday morning, a sign of how anxious he was to take some swings again. A bruised right middle finger has had Cedeno sidelined since Thursday. Cedeno resumed hitting on Sunday and should be ready to get back into games soon ... Right-hander Evan Meek is scheduled to make his first appearance in Monday's game against the Rays. Meek was slowed earlier in camp with right calf tightness ... For the first time this spring, the Pirates did not employ a designated hitter on Sunday. Toronto did use a DH, as all American League clubs do through the entirety of Spring Training ... South African infielder Gift Ngoepe struck out in a pinch hit at-bat on Sunday.