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Pirates

Pirates notebook: Luebke gets final bullpen spot

| Thursday, March 31, 2016, 6:27 p.m.
Cory Luebke, 31, has not pitched in the majors since 2012 and has undergone two Tommy John surgeries.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Cory Luebke, 31, has not pitched in the majors since 2012 and has undergone two Tommy John surgeries.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — The Pirates broke spring training camp Thursday night with one opening day roster spot up for grabs.

General manager Neal Huntington said it's more like one-and-a-half spots.

The winner of the final bench job won't be revealed until Saturday, when the Pirates and Cincinnati Reds play a scrimmage in Indianapolis. The bullpen situation was worked out Thursday morning.

Left-hander Cory Luebke, who could have triggered an out clause in his contract if he wasn't guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster, was told he will be in the bullpen. The Pirates still must make a corresponding move to get him on the 40-man roster.

Righties Jorge Rondon, A.J. Schugel and Jim Fuller were reassigned to minor league camp. Jared Hughes is bound for the 15-day disabled list with a sore left lat.

That puts Kyle Lobstein in position to open the season with the Pirates as a long reliever … probably.

Active rosters don't have to be finalized until Sunday, so Lobstein could end up at Triple-A Indianapolis if the Pirates make a trade or waiver claim before then.

“That doesn't mean anything is imminent,” Huntington said. “We understand it's a tough spot for Kyle because he's kind of in limbo. But by the process of elimination, it looks very good for him.”

When Hughes comes off the DL, Lobstein likely will go to Indy.

The rest of the bullpen will consist of Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, Neftali Feliz, Ryan Vogelsong and Arquimedes Caminero.

The group includes three lefties (Watson, Luebke and Lobstein) and two backup starters (Lobstein and Vogelsong).

“Three lefties. That'll be weird,” manager Clint Hurdle said with a smile.

“It's a little bit odd to have your sixth and seventh starters on your major league club to begin the season,” Huntington said. “But we feel that's the best alignment of our group. We like that Triple-A rotation and are excited about what they can become. We may get to a point in April or May when we reconsider some things.”

Bench decision due

Catchers Ed Easley and Jacob Stallings also were reassigned to the minors.

One of three players — Cole Figueroa, Pedro Florimon and Jason Rogers — will fill the final bench spot.

Huntington said management already has picked its man but won't announce who it is until it's certain Michael Morse is over his hamstring injury.

Morse went 2 for 2 as the designated hitter in Thursday's 13-8 win against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tough call

Huntington said the decision to give the final starting rotation to Juan Nicasio instead of Ryan Vogelsong was not a slam dunk.

“It was the most intense conversation we've had,” Huntington said. “There were strong convictions on both sides.”

Ultimately, Nicasio's numbers were impossible to ignore. In 15 innings, he did not allow a run and racked up 24 strikeouts.

Nicasio signed with the Pirates as a reliever but wanted another shot at the role he held from 2011-14 with the Colorado Rockies.

“In my heart, I think I can be a starter,” Nicasio said. “I worked hard to be a starter. I prayed to God to give me an opportunity to be a starter again. When you work hard, you can make it happen.”

Vogelsong declined to speak to reporters, saying he did not want to divert attention from Nicasio.

Around the horn

Jung Ho Kang (knee) and Elias Diaz (elbow) will begin the season on the 15-day DL, per Huntington. ... Andrew McCutchen's six homers are the most by a Pirate in spring training since Matt Hague hit seven in 2012. ... Melancon did not allow a run in seven one-inning outings. He gave up two hits, walked none and struck out six. ... Francisco Cervelli reached base in his final eight games and in 12 of 13 games overall. “He homered in the first game and in the last game. Bookends,” Hurdle said. ... Hurdle said the starting position players will get a couple of at-bats each in Saturday's exhibition game. “We don't want to stretch them out by any means,” he said.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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