Not many roster decisions left

Charlie Morton

With a couple of weeks remaining in spring training, the Pirates' roster picture -- barring a surprise or two -- was about as clear as can be.

The fifth-starter competition -- if it ever really was a competition -- almost certainly will be won by Charlie Morton, who had a 2.25 ERA in the early going and, more important, is out of options. Brad Lincoln, the other pitcher in the mix, also has pitched well, but he is coming off a rough 2010 season and might benefit from a good stretch in the minors.

"I think the comfort level is picking up," manager Clint Hurdle said of Morton. "You're watching him get on the mound, get set, get a sign and deliver. There's not a lot of fidgeting. He's very confident out there. He's been very, very aggressive."

Morton, 28, was a disastrous 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA in 2010, but he settled down somewhat late in the season.

The only declared locks in the bullpen are closer Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek, but Chris Resop, Jeff Karstens, Joe Beimel and Scott Olsen also will make it, leaving one spot that probably will go to Jose Veras.

The bench looks as if it will be made up of catcher Ryan Doumit (unless he is traded), first baseman/right fielder Garrett Jones, utilitymen Garrett Atkins and Steve Pearce, and, in the toughest call, shortstop Pedro Ciriaco. Jones actually will be in a right-field platoon with Matt Diaz. If Doumit is traded -- and the Pirates are trying hard to shed his $5.1 million salary -- that would open a spot for Jason Jaramillo or Dusty Brown to back up Chris Snyder behind the plate.

Maybe the murkiest remaining issue of the spring is Hurdle's lineup: He has made it clear he would prefer Andrew McCutchen, last year's leadoff man, to bat third. But the top four of the order in 2010 -- McCutchen at leadoff, followed by Jose Tabata, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez -- was one of the few things that went right for the Pirates.

"I think we need to look at ways to become more diverse and more dynamic and score more runs than last year," Hurdle said. "I do believe McCutchen has the skill set to hit third in the lineup. We'll see how it plays out."


--CF Andrew McCutchen and RHP James McDonald each was injured in the Pirates' game March 11 at Port Charlotte, Fla., but it appeared that neither injury was serious. McCutchen, who left the game because of pain in his left wrist, was back in the lineup the next day and went 2-for-3 with two RBI and two runs scored. X-rays on his wrist were negative. McDonald felt discomfort in his left side after pitching two-plus innings and was shut down from throwing for a few days, but he thought he would be back soon.

--C Ryan Doumit has a strained right oblique and is not expected to resume playing until March 18-20 at the earliest. He tweaked the oblique March 9 during batting practice, and the team announced the injury two days later. Doumit deemed the injury "not serious," adding, "It feels like a bee sting." The Pirates have been trying to trade Doumit and his $5.1 million salary, but that is highly unlikely for as long as he is hurt.

--RF/1B John Bowker (left wrist) and SS/2B Josh Rodriguez (right quadriceps) have lost valuable playing time and, in all likelihood, whatever chance they had to make the 25-man roster as bench players. Bowker showed decent power down the stretch for the Pirates last season. Rodriguez was the Rule 5 draft pick.

--LHP Paul Maholm is the best bet to be the Pirates' Opening Day starter, and he has backed that up with a solid spring, including four scoreless innings against Baltimore on March 10. He gave up a solo home run to Vladimir Guerrero on a hanging slider but was otherwise effective and efficient. "I was aggressive, able to get some groundballs," Maholm said. He was 9-15 with a 5.10 ERA last year and was consistently hit hard.

--Manager Clint Hurdle aims to have the Pirates be far more aggressive in running the bases, as evidenced by their 18 steal attempts through 14 games, most of any team. That will have the greatest impact on CF Andrew McCutchen, by far the team's fastest runner, but it also will be seen in runners going from first to third on singles and the like. This spring, that has resulted in some embarrassing outs -- SS Ronny Cedeno twice was thrown out at third to end innings March 7 -- but Hurdle is shrugging that off as part of the learning process.

BY THE NUMBERS: 113 -- Times the Pirates struck out through 14 spring games, most of any team. That's an average of eight per game and included 16 vs. the Yankees on March 9.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I usually start out the year as a platoon guy and then, by August, I'm playing every day. That's how it's worked the past five years." -- Matt Diaz, on his right-field platoon role with Garrett Jones Recommended Stories

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