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Pirates sorting out starting rotation

| Monday, March 16, 2009

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — When the Pirates opened spring training, left-hander Paul Maholm was the only lock for the starting rotation.

It appears right-hander Ian Snell and lefty Zach Duke are poised to join the list.

"They're not locks," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Sunday. "But they certainly have cemented inside tracks."

That leaves two rotation openings for four candidates: right-handers Ross Ohlendorf, Virgil Vasquez and Jeff Karstens and left-hander Tom Gorzelanny.

"Ohlendorf has thrown the ball well at times. Virgil Vasquez has thrown the ball well at times," Huntington said. "I can't say that anybody has stepped up and really put a stranglehold on those final two jobs."

Ohlendorf has a 0.96 ERA in three starts. He has not issued a walk and has seven strikeouts.

Vasquez missed the first week of spring games because of a sore arm. He has pitched in two games and allowed two runs, five hits and two walks.

Sunday, Gorzelanny and Karstens pitched in the Pirates' 7-7, 11-inning tie against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Gorzelanny worked the first three innings and yielded two runs and five hits. It was Gorzelanny's longest outing in four starts and the first time he did not allow a walk. His ERA is 7.00.

"It's the middle of March, and I'm sure they're starting to narrow down the decisions," Gorzelanny said. "But it could go to the end. All I need to focus on is staying out there, pitching well and continuing to improve. I feel like things are going well and, hopefully, it will get me where I want to be."

Karstens pitched three scoreless innings and gave up just two hits. He lowered his ERA to 4.66.

Karstens has pitched four times this spring but has not yet started a game. Instead, he's worked the middle innings, "piggybacking" on another starter's outing.

Yesterday's game could be the last time this spring the Pirates have to piggyback pitchers. The team is expected to make a large round of cuts this afternoon.

The Pirates have 53 players in camp, including 26 pitchers.

"We need to get our numbers down to a point where we don't have two starters taking up seven innings in a game, because we need to get our relievers some work," Huntington said. "But we can't reduce it so far that we don't have depth and competition."

Huntington said Maholm and Duke might pitch in a minor-league game to free up innings for other pitchers.

Duke has a 1.86 ERA in four Grapefruit League starts. He's tossed 9.2 innings and has allowed seven hits and one walk.

"I'm definitely where I'd like to be ... actually, I think I'm a little bit beyond," Duke said. "Both of my secondary pitches are a lot further along than they have been at this point in the last couple of years. It's a very encouraging sign."

Snell pitched just two innings for the Pirates before joining Puerto Rico's team in the World Baseball Classic. In his first start, Snell gave up one run and four hits in three innings, walked one and struck out five.

Snell will start tonight against Venezuela.

Additional Information:

Today's game

Rays vs. Pirates

7:05 p.m. · McKechnie Field, Bradenton, Fla.

TV: Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh

Pirates probable starter: LHP Paul Maholm

Rays probable starter: RHP Andy Sonnanstine

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