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Pirates

Bucs' Karstens battling to make rotation

| Saturday, March 21, 2009

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Karstens will be the first to admit his spring hasn't exactly been a smooth one.

"It's been really up and down," he said. "It went really well the first time, not so great the second time. The third time, I made some progress."

In Friday's 11-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox, Karstens — who raised some eyebrows last August when he flirted with a no-hitter — didn't make a good case as to why he should earn the final spot in the rotation over Virgil Vasquez.

In his first start and fifth appearance this spring, Karstens allowed four runs, three hits and an uncharacteristic three walks through three innings.

"I guess it's one of those days," the right-hander said. "Control is going to be a big part of who makes the fifth spot. (Someone has) got to take it, and nobody is really kind of taking it right now."

Pirates manager John Russell said Karstens' performance was "OK" and that he still has "three or four more starts" to work his way into the rotation.

"The next outing is when they'll start to get a little more stretched out, so that's hopefully when we'll see a little more progress," Russell said. "As they get stretched out, that's what you're going to see, hopefully more consistency."

Karstens said he doesn't think about the competition for the rotation spot, particularly when he's on the mound.

"Whatever happens, happens," Karstens said. "I don't feel pressure. Things will take care of themselves if they're meant to be."

Karstens, 27, credits his laid-back approach to his California roots and the confidence he has in his abilities. But he knows he will have to eliminate the highs and lows to be the guy the Pirates are looking for.

"Anybody who gets that spot, it's going to be who gives us the best chance to be consistent every (start)," Karstens said.

In four previous middle-innings appearances this spring, Karstens had a 4.66 ERA in 92/3 innings. Yesterday, he struggled making the start and pitching against front-line hitters.

Facing a 2-0 pitch in the second inning, Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek blasted a three-run homer to right field. He knocked in J.D. Drew and Jason Bay, who had reached on back-to-back walks.

"Those two walks really burned me," Karstens said. "Varitek hit a 2-0 fastball. That's what they do. They make you pay."

Since pitch command is one of Karstens' biggest strengths, Russell wasn't concerned about his three walks yesterday. He said Karstens was working on a "mechanical thing," which was most likely the arm slots he's been trying on all spring.

"He's always been a command guy," Russell said. "He's always been able to throw strikes. Pretty much all his outings this year, he's been around the strike zone."

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