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Relief pitchers jockeying for bullpen position with Pirates

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

BRADENTON, Fla. — With eight days left in spring training, the Pirates technically have eight relievers competing for four bullpen jobs. But as the race tightens, there appears to be just one open spot.

Closer Joel Hanrahan is assured a spot, as are right-handers Jason Grilli and Chris Resop. Evan Meek, nonroster invitee Juan Cruz and lefty Tony Watson, although not sure things, seem well positioned to break camp with the team.

That leaves five pitchers — Chris Leroux, Daniel McCutchen, Jared Hughes, Ryota Igarashi and Daniel Moskos — fighting for the last spot.

"We knew we would have some good competition for the bullpen," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Some guys have thrown well; others haven't thrown as a well as we expected. The intent is still to take the best seven north — to find the right six in front of Joel to get him the baseball in a winning situation."

Cruz, who was slated to pitch last night against Baltimore, was scored upon in only one of his first six outings. The 33-year-old right-hander has pitched for the six major league teams and last year went 5-0 with a 3.88 ERA in 56 games with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Because of his service time, Cruz is among 30-odd players who gained special status under the terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. If Cruz is not on the 25-man roster by Thursday, he must either be waived or given a $100,000 payment before being sent to the minors. Even if the team pays the cash, Cruz can still opt out of his contract and become a free agent if he's not in the majors by June 15.

"It probably causes us to make a decision earlier, which is OK," Huntington said. "Some clubs may think that $100,000 to send a guy to Triple-A for 2.5 months is a good use of resources. I find it rare that we would be in that situation."

Leroux is out of minor league options, so the Pirates could lose him on waivers if he doesn't make the club out of camp. Then again, his stats this spring — a 12.79 ERA, five walks and nine hits allowed in 13 innings — already have spooked scouts from other teams.

"You don't want to bail out on a guy too quickly," Huntington said. "Chris has shown the velocity, the breaking ball and an improved changeup. We've got to make the right short- and long-term decision for the team. He's not a lock. But there are some things we've liked and others we'd like to see as we go forward. We'll weigh all factors in as we make the decision."

Watson is firmly in the mix despite a 7.71 ERA. But his numbers might not be as ugly as they seem; three of the six runs he'd allowed came in his spring debut March 3 against Toronto. Watson also was scheduled to pitch last night, and his two previous appearances were solid — no hits, one walk allowed in two innings.

"Things usually get better for me as spring training goes on," Watson said. "It's been that way again this year."

Moskos hasn't yielded an earned run in seven outings. But if the Pirates opt to keep just one lefty reliever, Watson will be the choice because of his performance in the majors last year.

Watson was used in 43 games and went 2-2 with a 3.95 ERA, a 1.317 WHIP and 8.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Moskos made 31 appearances and went 1-1 with a 2.96 ERA, a 1.562 WHIP and averaged 4.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

Bullpen derby

Pitchers in the mix for the seven jobs in the Pirates' bullpen:

Pitcher (Throws) Note

Joel Hanrahan (Right) Closer has $4.1 million contract

Jason Grilli (Right) Will be primary set-up man

Chris Resop (Right) A lock for a roster spot

Juan Cruz (Right) Nonroster invitee has impressed

Chris Leroux (Right) Out of minor league options

Daniel McCutchen (Right) Could be odd man out

Jared Hughes (Right) Tall, athletic, hard thrower

Evan Meek (Right) Arm strength seems to be returning

Ryota Igarashi (Right) Giving up a lot of hits and runs

Tony Watson (left) Showed poise, strikeout stuff last season

Daniel Moskos (left) No earned runs allowed in 7 outings




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