Pirates catcher Humberto Cota will begin the 2005 season watching from the dugout.

Pittsburgh placed the backstop on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain on Saturday. The move opened the door for newly-acquired catcher David Ross to earn a spot on the team.

Cota, who suffered the strain while blocking a pitch on March 26, had hoped to return to the field Saturday in the Bucs' final exhibition game. However, after taking into account Cota's two-month stint on the DL in 2004 because of a similar injury, the club decided to err on the side of caution.

"With all of the twisting and turning you do throwing and hitting, you've got to be careful with this area," said Pirates GM Dave Littlefield. "We just think it makes sense to get him healthy and move forward from there instead of risking getting him out there and possibly re-injuring it."

Ross, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers on March 30 for cash considerations, batted .207 with 16 home runs and 35 RBIs in 118 games during his three seasons with the Dodgers. He will begin the year as the back-up for 40-year-old catcher Benito Santiago.

"I'm just going to try to fit in wherever I can and do whatever is expected," said Ross.

The Pirates will add Ross and veteran pitcher Rick White to their 40-man roster Saturday. Right-hander John Van Benschoten (shoulder) and southpaw Sean Burnett (elbow) have been placed on the 60-day DL. The Bucs will begin the season with one spot open on their 40-man roster.

Tike hits third: Tike Redman began Spring Training fighting to keep his center field job. With that mission accomplished, his next task will be to provide production from a lineup spot typically reserved for players with much more power.

During a staff meeting Saturday night the Pirates brain trust determined that Redman, with his ability to get on base and put the ball into play, would be the best option to begin the season as the club's No. 3 hitter.

Redman, after struggling at leadoff spot, batted sixth in the order for the final months of 2004. It was assumed by most observers that he would reprise his role with Jason Bay, Craig Wilson and Ty Wigginton once again representing the middle of the Bucs' batting order.

"As we looked at this and hashed it around a lot, at least to get started we're going to give Tike the opportunity to bat third," said Littlefield. "We want to get as many guys up in the early part of the order who can get on base and drive in runs."

Redman certainly does not fit the typical mold of a No. 3 hitter. In 155 games last season, Redman batted .280 but hit just eight home runs with 51 RBIs, a .310 OBP and a .374 slugging percentage. However, Redman has the ability to make contact (52 strikeouts in 546 at-bats) that the club is looking for at the top of the order. Bay, the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, had 26 home runs and 82 RBIs but struck out 129 times in 411 at-bats. Wilson set a team record with 169 strikeouts while pacing the club with 29 home runs and 82 RBIs.

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"We had issues with the group that we had. We had shown the propensity to strike out too much," said Littlefield. "We had concerns about the swings and misses. We know these guys aren't finished products and it is going to be a work in progress with the order.

"It's a situation like a lot of things on this club," Littlefield added. "We don't have the perfect setup in a few different areas."

The club considered opening the season with Matt Lawton hitting third, but that would have left a hole at the leadoff spot.

"We've got a guy in Lawton who is an established veteran and has shown he can get on base," said Littlefield. "In some ways you'd like to bat him third, in other ways you'd like to bat him first. We don't have the alterative guy who is the perfect fit to handle the [leadoff] spot."

Littlefield pointed out that Redman's position in the starting lineup was certainly not set in stone.

"What we start off with may not always be what we stay with," said Littlefield. "We're going to see how it goes and hopefully Tike continues to improve and show more consistency."

Bay is expected to begin the season batting fourth, followed by Wilson, Wigginton, Jose Castillo and Santiago. Jack Wilson will continue to bat second.

Bucs bits: Ben Grieve, who was released by the Pirates on Friday, is expected to sign a minor league deal Saturday with the Chicago Cubs. ... The 4,897 fans the Pirates averaged for their 14 games at McKechnie Field this spring established a new record for the facility.