Pirates right hander Jeff Karstens throws off the mound during workouts in Bradenton, Fla., last spring training.
By Bill Brink Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates moved on from Jeff Karstens after the 2012 season, but they never cut the rope completely.
Karstens needed a place to start. The Pirates needed someone to replace Francisco Liriano in the event that he didn't sign. The team continued discussions with Karstens' representatives, and eventually the timing matched.
"It happened quick," Karstens said recently. "Sometimes, things just work themselves out."
At the start of spring training, it appeared Karstens would fit behind A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald in the rotation while Liriano, who eventually signed, let his broken non-throwing arm heal. Now, though, a physical issue has slowed Karstens' progress, just as physical issues affected him in 2012.
Tightness in Karstens' right biceps has prevented him from facing batters this spring. He recently threw 15 fastballs off a mound and is scheduled for a bullpen session today.
A year ago, Karstens left his third start because of shoulder inflammation and missed two months. Later, a hip injury, which first affected him during the shoulder rehabilitation, caused him problems.
"I started [working out] a lot earlier this offseason," Karstens said. "Usually, you kind of wait a little bit, but this offseason it was two weeks after the season ended and then right back into it."
When Karstens has been healthy, he has performed. He compiled a 3.59 ERA for the Pirates in the past two seasons and a 1.19 WHIP. He doesn't walk many -- only 1.7 batters per nine innings in 2011-12 -- and lowered his home run rate in 2012.
Last year, Karstens' Fielding Independent pitching, a statistic that removes the variance generated by balls in play and scales a pitcher's strikeouts, walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs allowed in a similar fashion to ERA, was 3.32. That ranked 21st among pitchers with at least 90 innings.
That 90-inning mark is an issue. Injuries limited Karstens to 902/3 innings in 2012.
"At the end of the day, [health] was the biggest question mark in all that happened," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We're more than happy to bring him back and get him engaged in a rotational opportunity because of what we've seen from him when he's been healthy and be able to get the ball and get on the mound."
The Pirates cut ties with Karstens at the non-tender deadline rather than pay him the $3.7 million to $4 million or so he would receive in his final season of arbitration. Once negotiations slowed with Liriano after his arm was broken, though, the Pirates brought Karstens back for $2.5 million.
"There was always options," Karstens said.
"It was just a matter of me being comfortable and the opportunity being good. I think that's something that every guy looks for when going to sign somewhere, is the opportunity."
Karstens also liked playing in the East and having spring training in Florida after getting married in January. Karstens' wife works in Baltimore.
"I'm just happy to be back, that's all I can say," he said. "The process was more stressful to my wife than me."
Russell Martin, who was scheduled to catch and bat second Tuesday against the Baltimore Orioles, was scratched from the lineup because of "upper-body soreness," Hurdle said.
Martin participated in individual drills with Mike LaValliere before the game but returned the ball with an underhand, rather than overhand, toss.
"He'd been getting after it in a crazy fashion," Hurdle said. "Sometimes, you got to help them help themselves."
Martin will not play today, either, and the his condition will be re-evaluated Thursday, Hurdle said.
Martin recently decided not to play for team Canada in the World Baseball Classic.
He said he withdrew due to reluctance on the part of Team Canada and the Pirates to allow him to play shortstop, as well as to spend more time learning the Pirates' pitching staff.
Orioles game rained out
The game Tuesday against the Orioles at McKechnie Field was canceled due to rain.
Hurdle said Wandy Rodriguez, the scheduled starter, will pitch today along with A.J. Burnett.
They likely will use the lineup that had been set for Tuesday and consisted mostly of major league regulars.