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Ohlendorf's absence creates opportunity

CINCINNATI -- Pirates right-hander Ross Ohlendorf, who's on the disabled list with upper back soreness, expects to be out of action until at least mid-May.

"Hopefully, I'll be back in about a month," Ohlendorf said Monday. "But it's still too early to really know for sure."

Ohlendorf has been out since April 8, when he took himself out a game against Colorado after pitching 2 23 innings. Ohlendorf felt discomfort in his back near his shoulder blade. A similar injury in the same spot caused Ohlendorf to miss the final month of the 2010 season.

General manager Neal Huntington downplayed the possibility of Ohlendorf being out for an extended period.

"It is more of a day-to-day situation," Huntington said. "We build one day off the other."

Yesterday, Ohlendorf said his back no longer is sore and he is in the early stages of a cautious rehab process. He is scheduled to throw short toss from 75 feet today.

"I need to get up to 120 feet, and the plan for that is about two weeks from now," Ohlendorf said.

Once he reaches 120 feet, Ohlendorf could begin throwing off the mound in bullpen sessions. If all goes well, the next phase would be a rehab assignment -- one or two starts, most likely -- in the minor leagues.

Pitching in
Options to replace Ross Ohlendorf in the starting rotation:
Player, team Throws W-L ERA G GS IP H BB SO
Jeff Karstens, Pirates RHP 1-0 4.50 4 1 10.0 11 5 11
Brian Burres, Indy LHP 0-2 2.55 3 3 17.2 14 5 14
Brad Lincoln, Indy RHP 0-2 4.66 2 2 12.0 10 5 10

Jeff Karstens pitched Sunday in Ohlendorf's place and allowed five runs in 4 13 innings against Cincinnati. However, there is no guarantee Karstens will get another spot start.

"I'll pass on that (question)," manager Clint Hurdle said Sunday. "We'll wait and see."

If Karstens returns to a relief role, the Pirates must find someone to fill in Friday against Washington.

"I have not yet talked to Clint about that," Huntington said before last night's game against the Reds.

One option is left-hander Brian Burres, who Sunday racked up eight strikeouts in seven scoreless innings for Triple-A Indianapolis. Burres' next turn in the rotation is Friday. Also, the Nationals are batting just .194 this season against lefties.

However, Burres is not on the 40-man roster, which means management would have to do some player shuffling to get him to Pittsburgh.

Right-hander Brad Lincoln could be called up from Indy to pitch on six days' rest. Lincoln pitched five innings Friday and gave up three runs and six hits. He missed the first few days of the season after being struck on the arm by a line drive during spring training.

The easiest course of action might be to give Karstens another start and hope for the best. Yet, he threw 76 pitches Sunday and probably couldn't give much more than that Friday.

The Pirates might not be able to afford another potentially short outing from Karstens if the bullpen continues to be overworked.

"Back-to-back nights of 4 13 innings from your starting pitcher can cause you some challenges," Hurdle said, referring to James McDonald's brief outing Saturday.

The Pirates don't have another off day until April 25. So overworking the bullpen could cause big headaches over the next six games.

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