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Pirates GM says Volquez in Opening Day rotation

| Sunday, March 16, 2014, 5:42 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Edinson Volquez delivers to the plate against the Rays Saturday, March 15, 2014, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Edinson Volquez delivers to the plate against the Rays Saturday, March 15, 2014, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Edinson Volquez delivers to the plate against the Rays on Saturday, March 15, 2014, at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Jeff Locke throws in the bullpen at Pirate City during spring training in Bradenton, Fla.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Few guarantees are publicly offered in mid-March, but Pirates general manager Neal Huntington on Sunday all but guaranteed Edinson Volquez will be in the Opening Day rotation despite the right-hander's rough spring performance.

“Barring injury, we see Edinson in our rotation to start the season. We believe in the stuff. We believe we can help him make adjustments,” Huntington said. “I'm not going to say he's a lock, but as we came into spring training, we anticipated he would be in our Opening Day rotation.”

Volquez always has had quality off-speed pitches and premium velocity. But he has struggled, and he continues to struggle with, fastball command. Volquez has a staff-worst 11.00 ERA this spring and has allowed five walks in nine innings. He has a 4.8 walks-per-nine-innings rate for his career.

Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Wandy Rodriguez are locked into rotation spots. The Pirates signed Volquez to a one-year, $5 million deal this offseason.

“We've seen some really, really good signs,” Huntington said of Volquez. “The ability to locate a 94 mph fastball down and away from a right-handed hitter. A sharp, biting breaking ball. A changeup with deception and fade in the bottom of the zone. … We've also seen him make mistakes up in the zone.”

Locke's rotation spot in doubt

If Volquez is in the Opening Day rotation, Jeff Locke likely will not be. Locke's spring was put on hold because of an oblique strain. The left-hander said he threw a bullpen session without pain Friday and is scheduled to throw live batting practice Monday.

“I could get stretched out in time. Whether they stretch me out in time is another thing,” Locke said. “As long as everything feels good (Monday) ... I'm ready to go.”

Locke has one option year remaining, which means he could begin the year in Triple-A. Locke also could begin the year on the disabled list.

“Jeff is healthy. Now, we just have to get him built up,” Huntington said. “The clock becomes your enemy. He's a candidate to still make our club.”

Huntington mum on RF derby

Huntington did not offer specifics on who is distinguishing himself in the right field competition, but he hinted there has been some separation. Travis Snider entered Sunday batting .308 in 26 at-bats. Jose Tabata is batting .120 in 25 at-bats.

“Some guys are capitalizing on the (right field) opportunity,” Huntington said. “We have other guys that are being impacted by that a little and getting outside themselves.”

Of course, right field is reserved as the long-term spot for top prospect Gregory Polanco.

“The game plan is at some point for Gregory Polanco to take over right field,” Huntington said. “Is that this year or next year? Earlier this year, later this year?”

Around the horn

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin will visit Pirates camp Monday and will speak to the team. … Perhaps the biggest development for the Pirates this spring is that Rodriguez continues to pitch without pain. “Knock on wood, Wandy's been great. He feels healthy. He's thrown the ball well.” Huntington said. … The Pirates will delegate instant replay review duties to a staffer, Huntington said Sunday. The Pirates general manager declined to say who would have those responsibilities. “We'll have somebody whose responsibility is to evaluate the replay and provide that information to the (assistant coaches), and they will relay that information to (manager) Clint,” Huntington said.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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