Share This Page

Karstens' injury muddles Pirates' rotation

| Sunday, March 24, 2013, 6:18 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens throws in the bullpen at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla.

BRADENTON, Fla. — With four days to go before the Pirates break camp, the final two spots in the starting rotation have yet to come into focus.

Right-hander Jeff Karstens likely is headed for the disabled list after being scratched from his scheduled start Sunday against the Baltimore Orioles. The club said Karstens, who declined a request for comment, is bothered by “continuing shoulder discomfort” due to biceps tendinitis.

At the start of spring training, Karstens was set to be the No. 4 starter, with the fifth job up for grabs. Now general manager Neal Huntington is mulling backup plans for both spots.

“We've kept four guys stretched out as Plan B, hoping we wouldn't have to use Plan B,” Huntington said. “It looks like we're going to have to use it. Now, we've got a decision among four (pitchers) for two spots. We were hoping to have four for one.”

The fifth spot has been a battle among Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Jonathan Sanchez and Jeanmar Gomez. No clear leader has emerged.

“So now the uncontrollable things begin to factor in: roster status, option status, opt-out status,” Huntington said. “Those begin to carry some weight in the process. When that happens, you err on the reversible versus the irreversible decisions.”

That could bode well for Sanchez. He can opt out of his minor league contract and sign elsewhere if the Pirates do not put him on the active roster before Tuesday morning.

It wasn't until last week that Gomez entered the thick of the rotation competition. Gomez is out of minor league options, so the Pirates can't send him to Triple-A Indianapolis unless he clears waivers.

Midway through camp, there were signs McPherson was the favorite to claim the No. 5 job. But the right-hander was roughed up in three of his past four outings, including a nine-run nightmare last Wednesday against the Atlanta Braves.

Last Saturday, Locke gave up three runs and seven hits in four innings against the Boston Red Sox. Pitching coach Ray Searage said Locke still is evolving into a big league pitcher.

“He's more confident and more poised on the mound now,” Searage said. “He's got a better idea of what he wants to do. It's good to have a conversation with the kid now, and he's on the right page. It's nice to talk to him about certain situations, whereas last year, he had to have a crash course on everything. You didn't want to overload the poor kid.”

Karstens first felt pain in his shoulder Feb. 19 and called off a bullpen session that day. He has not pitched in a Grapefruit League game, but he has worked in a couple of minor league games.

Karstens threw 50 pitches in a game Monday at Pirate City. He used a new overhead windup, which he said reduced the strain on his shoulder.

Right-hander Chris Leroux started in Karstens' place Sunday and gave up eight runs in one-third of an inning. Although Leroux wants to be a full-time starter — a role he had with Canada in the World Baseball Classic — he's already tabbed for the bullpen.

Francisco Liriano (broken arm) hopes to be ready by the first week of May. Charlie Morton (elbow surgery) is out until at least June.

“We've got some internal depth, but if there's a chance externally to improve, we'll always look for that,” Huntington said.

Because of the job auditions, the top three guys in the rotation — A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald — have been pitching in minor league games instead of facing ‘A' game competition. McDonald is scheduled to throw 100 pitches Monday at Pirate City.

“With Wandy and A.J., it's almost a conditioning exercise,” Huntington said. “Sure, you'd love to see them compete at this level. But the pitch count is almost more important that the competition.”

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

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.