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Pirates' Welker among those vying for bullpen spots in spring training

| Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, 10:30 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Before he really thought of himself as a member of the Minnesota Twins, Duke Welker was back in a Pirates uniform.

At the end of August, the Pirates swapped outfielder Alex Presley and a player to be named later to the Twins for first baseman Justin Morneau. The trade was finalized Oct. 5 when Welker was sent to Minnesota.

The regular season was over, so Welker didn't pitch for the Twins. He didn't even meet many people in his new organization.

“I talked to Alex, and I talked to the Twins' general manager (Terry Ryan),” Welker said. “That's about it.”

Forty-four days later, the Twins and Pirates made another trade: Left-hander Kris Johnson went to Minnesota, and Welker returned to Pittsburgh. Both teams' needs had shifted — the Twins were searching for a starting pitcher, and the Pirates wanted bullpen depth.

“This would feel weird if I had actually played in a game for Minnesota,” Welker said last week during minicamp at Pirate City. “It's like I never left.”

Welker heard rumors he was the player to be named later before it was announced, so the move didn't faze him. And he also is not surprised he'll be heading to spring training camp with the Pirates when pitchers and catchers hold the first workout Feb. 13.

“In this business, you just go where you're told,” Welker said with shrug.

The Pirates drafted Welker in the second round in 2007. The hard-throwing righty made his big league debut last year and appeared in two games.

This spring, Welker will be among a handful of pitchers vying for what could be just one or two open spots in the bullpen. Welker has one minor league option left, so he probably will open the season at Triple-A Indianapolis.

McPherson on mend

A year ago, right-hander Kyle McPherson went into spring training with hopes of earning a job in the starting rotation.

Things quickly spiraled downward.

McPherson was hammered in Grapefruit League outings and saw Jeff Locke claim the rotation spot. After continuing to struggle with Indy, McPherson went on the disabled list and had Tommy John surgery in mid-July.

“A lousy year,” McPherson said.

During last week's voluntary workouts, McPherson was soft-tossing and throwing from 120 feet. He expects to start throwing fastballs on flat ground next week and hopes to be working off a mound by the start of spring training.

Although he's not a candidate for the rotation this season, McPherson still has something to prove.

After being taken off the 40-man roster in November, he wants to show he still can figure in the Pirates' long-term plans.

“I'll treat this like a normal spring training,” he said. “I'll take care of every bullpen (session) and every (simulated) game that I get.

“I'm going to treat it like I'm working my way back into the rotation, which in a way I am.”

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

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