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Ohlendorf contines to work into the starting rotation

Rob Biertempfel
| Thursday, March 12, 2009

DUNEDIN, Fla. — During spring training, a line of raw data — runs, hits, strikeouts — does not necessarily tell the whole story about a pitcher's performance.

The box score from the Pirates' game Sunday against Houston showed that Ross Ohlendorf worked 31/3 innings and allowed two runs on six hits. He hit a batter and struck out two.

A rather blah outing?

"Overall, I thought it was all right," Ohlendorf said. "I'm pretty happy with it."

What the statistics do not show is Ohlendorf's numerous sliders, even though that pitch wasn't clicking for him. The right-hander had hoped to throw more changeups but didn't because the Astros had too many right-handed hitters in the lineup.

"If it was a normal (regular-season) game, I wouldn't have thrown so many sliders," Ohlendorf said. "Once I realized it wasn't very good, there were some situations where I threw it just to see if I could get it back. I probably would've just stuck with a fastball, or, maybe, gone with a change-up (in a real game)."

As manager John Russell and general manager Neal Huntington have been stressing all spring, what happens at this time of year is about the process more than the results.

"Today, he was more trying to work on his slider," Russell said after the game. "Joe (Kerrigan, pitching coach) said he had a real good one in the 'pen, but we didn't really see it until the last couple he threw.

"His changeup was better. His fast sinker was really good. He worked both sides of the plate. It was a good outing for him."

Raising Ross
The Pirates are building up Ross Ohlendorf's durability after converting him from a reliever to a starter:
Year Team G GS IP
2004 Yakima 7 7 29.0
2005 South Bend 27 26 157.0
2006 Tennessee 27 27 177.2
2007 Scranton/WB 21 9 66.1
Yankees 6 0 6.1
2008 Yankees 25 0 40.0
Scranton/WB 5 5 22.1
Indianapolis 7 7 46.2
Pirates 5 5 22.2

Three years ago, while he was in the New York Yankees' farm system, Ohlendorf was a starter and the changeup was his second-best pitch. But when the Yankees made him a reliever, Ohlendorf ditched the change.

"Out of the bullpen, you're looking for more swings and misses," Ohlendorf said. "For me, the slider is more of a swing-and-miss pitch, and the change-up's more of a contact pitch."

After he was traded to the Pirates last July, management decided to switch Ohlendorf back to starter. He's got size (6-feet-4, 235 pounds), a fluid motion and a good bit of velocity on his fastball.

Huntington is a firm believer in the changeup — he's called it the most underappreciated pitch in the game — and is eager to see Ohlendorf make it work. For some pitchers, the changeup forces batters to pound the ball into the dirt. Ohlendorf, however, seems to get more pop-ups with it.

In his first outing this spring, Ohlendorf did not throw a single change; he was working on fastball command. But at this point in spring training, Kerrigan instructs his pitchers to start out throwing changes only to opposite-handed hitters. That dovetails with Ohlendorf's usual game strategy.

"Some right-handed pitchers don't throw any changeups to right-handed hitters," Ohlendorf said. "It moves away from them, so you throw most of your changeups to opposite-handed guys. I usually throw more sliders to righties and changeups to lefties."

Sunday, in Ohlendorf's third spring start, there were only two lefties, plus switch-hitter Drew Sutton, in the Astros' lineup.

"I threw at least three changeups," Ohlendorf said. "If there would have been more lefties, I would've thrown more. It's definitely a pitch I need to throw."

Ohlendorf struck out righty hitter Chris Johnson to begin the fourth inning. After John Gall pulled a single into left field, Ohlendorf was removed from the game.

"I was hoping to get through four (innings)," Ohlendorf said, looking forward to his next outing Saturday against the Yankees at McKechnie Field. "But, I threw 15 or so (pitches) an inning, which is fine."

The Pirates are monitoring Ohlendorf's pitch count, gradually nudging him into longer outings. Last season, he was stretched out at Triple-A Indianapolis but wore down quickly after a late-season call-up.

"When we got him (to the majors) last year, he started to kind of fade," Russell said. "But we thought it was important to go ahead and give him his starts and build up his arm. Coming into this year, he's ready for the challenge of starting all year."

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