Leroux attempts to join rotation with Pirates

Rob Biertempfel
| Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, 11:08 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Chris Leroux wants to get a crack at making the Pirates' starting rotation, but he likely will enter the season as a long reliever and spot starter.

“You remember Jeff Karstens?” pitching coach Ray Searage said, referring to the swingman who spent five seasons with the Pirates. “We've got that type of pitcher in Chris Leroux. We'll see how things play out in spring training. Hopefully, he falls into the bullpen because if he's in the rotation, something (bad) happened.”

A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald already are locks for the rotation. The Pirates hoped to sign free agent lefty Francisco Liriano as their No. 3 starter, but that deal is in limbo because Liriano seriously injured his non-throwing arm in late December.

The Pirates traded for Indians right-hander Jeanmar Gomez on Wednesday, but they will continue to search for starting pitching via the free agent and trade markets. The team had budgeted about $12.75 million over two years for Liriano.

“Whatever (role) the Pirates throw at me, I'm going to be ready for it,” Leroux said.

Leroux, 28, is entering his fourth season with the Pirates. Last year, he seemed set to make the Opening Day roster as a reliever until a strained pectoral put him on the 60-day disabled list.

After he came off the DL, Leroux was designated for assignment, then sent to Triple-A Indianapolis. He pitched in long relief but kept lobbying Indy manager Dean Treanor for a chance to start. The right-hander got the chance when Rudy Owens was traded in late July.

“Going seven innings and throwing 100 pitches, I don't think many people realize how hard that is on your body,” Leroux said. “I was used to throwing 20 pitches max for the past six years. So to be thrown into that (starter) role, it was tough.”

In 21 outings (seven starts) with Indy, Leroux went 4-0 with a 3.11 ERA and 1.037 WHIP. He averaged 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Although he put up solid numbers, Leroux didn't come back completely from his injury last summer. His fastball velocity dipped into the 89- to 94-mph range. In 2011, Leroux's fastball was in the 92- to 97-mph range.

Leroux believes the solution is better conditioning, which is why he spent the winter working out with a personal trainer in Phoenix.

“I did some good work, a lot of arm maintenance, and I really hit the legs and core hard,” Leroux said. “Last offseason ... I don't want to say I didn't work very hard, but I didn't work as hard as I should've, and it came back to bite me.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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