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Pirates sever ties with oft-injured Ohlendorf

Rob Biertempfel
| Friday, Dec. 9, 2011

DALLAS -- The Pirates ran out of patience with Ross Ohlendorf, releasing the right-hander early Thursday morning.

Ohlendorf, a fourth-round pick in 2004, came to the Pirates in 2008 as part of a six-player trade with the New York Yankees. In 2009, he went 11-10 with a 3.92 ERA in 29 starts.

However, Ohlendorf went 2-14 with a 5.14 ERA and a 1.53 WHIP over the past two seasons while being hampered by injuries to his lower back and shoulder.

"I knew chances were I wasn't coming back, but I was really hoping they wouldn't release me. I really like Pittsburgh and was looking forward to being with that group," Ohlendorf said. "This past year was really tough, but I still feel like I have the ability to be a major league starter.

"If I had stayed healthy, I wouldn't be in this position."

Problems arose, Ohlendorf said, when then-pitching coach Joe Kerrigan changed his delivery in July 2009 to an overhead motion, in which he lifted his hands over his head before firing a pitch.

After sustaining an early-season right shoulder posterior strain this past season, Ohlendorf said, he began throwing while rehabbing the injury at Pirate City.

"I think another week would have helped. I started throwing too soon," Ohlendorf said. "In hindsight, I tried to come back too quickly."

Before last season, Ohlendorf won his arbitration case against the Pirates and was awarded $2.025 million. He is arbitration eligible again this year and is in line for another raise.

"Health was the biggest challenge," general manager Neal Huntington said. "It was a very tough decision because there's a chance Ross goes out and is worth $2 million this year. There also is a chance that the injury recurs and his stuff doesn't come back. We wanted to allocate the money elsewhere."

Infielder added

The Pirates took shortstop Gustavo Nunez, 23, from the Detroit Tigers' system in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft. The Pirates lost right-hander Brett Lorin, who was taken by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Nunez last season played in 96 games with High-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie. He hit a combined .276 with five homers, 26 RBI and 18 stolen bases. Baseball America ranked Nunez the Tigers' 23rd-best prospect entering last season.

"He's the classic defensive profile for a young shortstop," Huntington said. "(He has) the ability to field, throw and run. We recognize the challenges he faced at Double-A with the bat, and we also recognize that he finished the season on the disabled list. It was a $25,000 gamble."

The Pirates must keep Nunez on their 25-man roster all season or offer him back to Detroit for half the $50,000 draft fee.

Intriguing lefty

In the Triple-A phase of the draft, the Pirates selected left-handed reliever Aaron Poreda and catchers Francisco Diaz and Charles Cutler.

Poreda, 25, was a first-round draft pick in 2007, but control problems -- he averaged 8.1 walks per nine innings this past season -- caused his star to fall. Last season, he went 4-3 with a 5.43 ERA and 1.837 WHIP in 41 outings at Triple-A Tucson.

"We were all kind of shocked to see him available," director of baseball operations Tyrone Brooks said. "We've got a long history of scouting him. It's a real low-risk move for us. There's still value -- he has a big frame (6-foot-6, 240 pounds), there's arm strength there, and there's still a workable breaking ball we can do things with."

Late-night trade

Around midnight Wednesday, the Pirates acquired infielder Yamaico Navarro from Kansas City in exchange for minor leaguers Brooks Pounders and Diego Goris.

Navarro, 24, hit .264 in 59 games last season at Triple-A. In 22 games in the majors for the Royals and Boston Red Sox last season, Navarro hit .250 with a homer and nine RBI.

"We really like the way the ball comes off his bat," Huntington said. "We've had him on our radar for a couple of years."

Navarro and Nunez will vie for a backup infielder job in spring training.

Summing it up

During the four-day winter meetings, the Pirates added four players to the major league roster who together will be paid about $7.25 million. Before arriving in Dallas, they signed Rod Barajas for $4 million and Clint Barmes to a two-year, $10.5 million deal.

"We made some bigger moves that make our major league team better," Huntington said. "We made some smaller moves that make our organization deeper. We'll still look for moves that make us better, but we feel like we've taken a big step forward."

Huntington said he still has enough payroll flexibility to make another move, though certainly not a blockbuster. The Pirates' payroll is expected to be around $50 million in 2012.

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