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Pirates notebook: Karstens alters delivery, with positive results

| Monday, March 18, 2013, 9:06 a.m.
Pirates pitcher Bryan Morris (left) is congratulated by catcher Michael McKenry after recording the final out of their 4-3 win over the Red Sox on Monday, March 18, 2013, in Bradenton, Fla.
Pirates first baseman Gaby Sanchez misplays a popup during the first inning of an exhibition game against the Red Sox on Monday, March 18, 2013, in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Jeff Karstens surprised Pirates coaches Monday by making a big change to his delivery.

Karstens used an over-the-head windup during his four-inning stint in a minor league game at Pirate City. It was the first game action of the spring for Karstens, who had been slowed by biceps tendinitis.

“I just decided to do it, and it worked,” Karstens said. “I'm old enough now to know what do instead of just trying to appease a coach. It was something that helped me today.”

Karstens threw 50 pitches, gave up one hit and struck out three. The right-hander will make his first Grapefruit League start Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles.

Karstens didn't tell pitching coach Ray Searage about his new-look windup until after the game.

“I'm fine with it,” Searage said. “As long as it's something he's comfortable with, something he can use to make pitches, something he's used before, I'm OK with it.”

Karstens first tried the windup in 2004 when he was in Single-A, but he didn't use it long.

“I walked the first two batters I faced, so I scrapped it,” he said. “I wound up pitching a complete-game shutout.”

Irwin among 6 cuts

Phil Irwin's first spring training with the Pirates ended with a thud.

The right-hander gave up six runs Sunday in a loss to the New York Yankees. Irwin was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis on Monday.

“My thoughts coming in were, just go in there and compete, show them what I can do. Let the chips fall, and whatever happens, happens,” Irwin said.

Also on Monday, left-hander Kris Johnson, right-handers Gerrit Cole, Kyle Waldrop and Brooks Brown, and catcher Ali Solis were reassigned to minor league camp. There are 43 players left in Pirates camp, including 12 non-roster players.

Irwin, a 21st-round pick in 2009, will open the season in Indy's starting rotation. He made five outings in camp, but the first four were out of the bullpen. Against the Yankees, Irwin gave up six hits, including a two-run homer to Kevin Youkilis, and walked two.

“Things had gone pretty well (in camp) up to that point,” Irwin said. “I'm learning a lot right now, what I can and can't do out there, how I need to prepare, how much I need to focus on different things. Now I've got my first start. It didn't go so well, but it's not going to be my last start.”

McDonald rebounds

When Shane Victorino led off with a triple Monday, it signaled another rocky first inning for right-handerJames McDonald.

Sure enough, the Red Sox scored two runs in the inning on three hits and a walk. It was the second game in a row McDonald had a rough start.

“Sometimes, he gets tentative,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “The first hitter gets on, and things slow down. We've got to keep him working and take the cerebral part out of it. He needs to trust the catcher and make pitches.”

McDonald bounced back, retiring 11 of the next 14 batters. He struck out six in five innings.

“I got locked back in, kept my composure and finished strong,” McDonald said. “I didn't let the game get away from me. I felt confident every pitch, every moment out there.”

Snider's strange trip

Against the Yankees on Sunday, Travis Snider ran himself into a bizarre fielder's choice.

After Snider led off the third inning with a single, Josh Harrison hit a fly ball to the right-center field gap. Snider already made the turn at second base when the ball popped out of center fielder Melky Mesa's glove.

“I misread it off the bat,” Snider said. “I was convinced it was a (hit) in the gap. I didn't check. Playing in the outfield, I should have known that as much as the wind was blowing out, there was a cross-wind coming in from the right, and a ball off a right-hander's bat is going to stay up in the air longer.

“I was thinking, score. Then I turned around and see the ball on the ground. I didn't know what was going on. Should I run to first? Stay at second?”

Snider ran back to first base but belatedly saw Harrison and first base coach Rick Sofield waving him back to second. Snider was tagged out in a play scored 9-3-6.

“It's one of those plays you hope to get out of the way in spring training and not see again — ever,” Snider said.

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

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