PIT@HOU: Jones' single plates Alvarez for early lead

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Garrett Jones was healthy and a factor Friday in his first game action since missing more than a week with tightness in his left side.

Jones, who had not played since reporting tightness following the Bucs' March 6 game against the Red Sox, played the first six-plus innings of Pittsburgh's 3-2 win against the Astros on Friday, going 2-for-3 with an RBI and two singles.

Jones drove in the Bucs' first run, sending a blooper barely above shortstop Tyler Greene's head, flew out to the left-field wall in the fourth and dropped a single into center in the seventh, when manager Clint Hurdle lifted him in favor of Josh Harrison as a pinch-runner.

"He felt fine. He was able to get the innings in on the field and get the at-bats," Hurdle said. "He drove the ball real well to left-center and found the grass a couple of times."

Sanchez states case for big league rotation

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The Pirates are running out of time to make a decision on Jonathan Sanchez, so the veteran left-hander could be out of luck, at least as far as making this team's pitching staff is concerned.

But Sanchez took a stride in making some Major League team's staff with a crisp start in Friday's 3-2 win against the Astros.

Sanchez allowed one hit -- a leadoff single to Jose Altuva -- then retired the next nine batters he faced, three on strikes. He delivered first-pitch strikes to nine of the 10 batters he faced and did not walk anyone -- the first time since May 17, 2011, and in 34 outings that he has pitched more than an inning without issuing a walk.

"It felt great out there. Like old times," said Sanchez, a 13-game winner with a 3.07 ERA for the World Series-champion Giants in 2010. "Spring Training is for fixing little things, making adjustments, and I'm getting there."

Sanchez figures to have only one more start before March 24, when he can contractually request his release if not yet added to Pittsburgh's 40-man roster. That is a further complication, since the Pirates do not have a vacancy on that roster.

"I gotta make a decision that day," the lefty said. "I'm just thinking about my next start, try to do the same things I did this time, and leave it to them."

"He's here for a reason: We're still looking at how he can fit in," said an impressed Clint Hurdle. "The stuff today was fresh, good tilt in the breaking ball. From his earlier outings, he's covered a lot of distance."

General manager Neal Huntington called Sanchez's opt-out clause a "moot point," considering "we pretty much hope to have the rotation set" by March 24.

"That's something we negotiated in, because of his veteran status, and we're fine with that," Huntington said.

Sanchez did indicate he would not be receptive to declining to opt out and opening the season in the Minors, if the Pirates approached him about it.

"I've been in a big league rotation seven years," he said. "That's where I want to be."

Worth noting

• A.J. Burnett will be pitching on six days' rest when he starts Saturday in a Minor League game. Burnett's schedule was adjusted to line him up to make his April 10 Opening Day start on regular rest.

Having Burnett stretch out in Pirate City while top prospect Gerrit Cole starts Pittsburgh's game in Fort Myers, Fla., against Minnesota will also allow Hurdle to see more "guys that we have to make decisions on."

• Chase d'Arnaud (strained left thumb) has a Sunday appointment with Dr. Thomas Graham, a renowned hand surgeon of the Cleveland Clinic.

• Left-hander Tony Watson, who has not appeared in a game as he works through some mechanical issues in bullpen sessions, is scheduled to make his first appearance since Feb. 28 in Sunday's game against the Yankees at McKechnie Field.

Quote to note

"As the story goes, somebody pulled his uniform out of his bag and pulled a prank on it. But a large contingent thinks he forgot it, so let's leave it right there."
-- Hurdle, on why catcher Russell Martin wore an unmarked No. 94 uniform in Friday's game instead of his own No. 55