Pirates notebook: Wilson eyeing bullpen job

Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, March 17, 2013, 6:27 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Next year, Justin Wilson might be in the mix for a spot for the Pirates' starting rotation. For now, the left-hander is making progress toward winning a bullpen job.

Wilson tossed three shutout innings in relief Saturday against the Minnesota Twins, lowering his Grapefruit League ERA to 0.90. Opponents are batting .222 against him.

“We're looking for a couple guys in the bullpen who can pitch multiple innings,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He's got a history of having length.”

A fifth-round pick in 2008, Wilson has made 98 of his 112 outings in the minors as a starter. His curveball is sharp, his fastball can touch the mid-90s mph, and he also throws a cutter and a changeup. But control problems — he's averaged 4.5 walks per nine innings — indicate Wilson might have a better future as a reliever.

Wilson had more strikeouts (138) last season than anyone in the Pirates' farm system. He also was part of two no-hitters for Indy — combining with two relievers in late April, and tossing eight no-hit innings in a rain-shortened game in August.

With the Pirates, Wilson worked 4 23 innings in eight relief outings. He gave up 10 hits and three walks and struck out seven.

“Going up to Pittsburgh last year and seeing how it works is helping me this year to be more confident and more ready,” Wilson said. “Coming into camp, I had a better feeling for where I stand.”

Irwin struggles

Right-hander Phil Irwin worked 2 13 innings Sunday against the New York Yankees and gave up six runs on seven hits and two walks.

“I pitched behind a lot,” Irwin said. “Sometimes, you have to fail to figure out what you need to do to succeed. Obviously, this didn't go well, but there are still things I can take from this and learn from.”

Irwin probably will start the season in the rotation at Triple-A Indianapolis. His first four outings this spring went well — he worked eight innings, gave up five hits and got nine strikeouts — before struggling against the Yankees.

“It was a tough day for Phil,” Hurdle said. “But that's part of spring training. You pitch well, you get bigger looks and different opportunities. For whatever reason today, he was behind in the count and his fastball was up. Everything we know about Phil, we didn't see today.”

Jeff Locke pitched the fifth through the eighth innings and gave up two unearned runs. He did not allow a hit, walked one and struck out two.

Locke still is in the hunt for the No. 5 job in the rotation.

Back in action

Closer Jason Grilli is scheduled to pitch Monday against the Boston Red Sox. It will be Grilli's first outing for the Pirates since March 3. He pitched for Italy in the World Baseball Classic. “We still have plenty of time to get him the work he needs,” Hurdle said. “He doesn't need 20 innings in spring training. We still have a chance to get him close to 10.”

Lefty Wandy Rodriguez reached his pitch limit with the Dominican Republic in the WBC. Hurdle said Rodriguez flew back to Florida on Saturday, was given Sunday off and will be back in camp Monday.

Reliever Tony Watson (sore lat) threw 23 pitches in a minor league game without any issues. It was his first game action since Feb. 28.

Around the horn

The sellout crowd of 8,541 was the largest ever to see a game at McKechnie Field. ... To celebrate St. Patrick's Day, the Pirates wore green caps and bench coach Jeff Banister filled out the lineup card in green ink. ... The Yankees called up outfielder Exicardo Cayones from minor league camp for the game. Cayones was one of two prospects the Pirates traded to New York last spring for right-hander A.J. Burnett.

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

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