BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Karstens likely will start the season on the disabled list with a shoulder injury, meaning the four pitchers who were fighting for the final spot in the starting rotation are fighting for two spots.
Karstens was scratched from a scheduled start Sunday after he told the team early in the morning that his shoulder was bothering him again, general manager Neal Huntington said.
"He felt like he couldn't pitch," Huntington said.
Karstens has been battling the injury -- officially right biceps tendinitis -- since Feb. 18, when he missed a batting practice session. He started throwing batting practice earlier this month and made two starts in minor league games at Pirate City, most recently a week ago throwing 50 pitches.
The Pirates were leaning toward making Karstens the No. 4 starter, though any setback would have jeopardized his scheduled season debut April 7.
"We still don't know the long-term prognosis," Huntington said. "We don't even have a really good short-term or moderate prognosis. We're working through that as we speak."
But Huntington said it is "most likely" Karstens starts the season on the disabled list, what would be his second trip to the DL in as many seasons.
"We've got to shut him down and take it one step at a time," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It takes him out of the picture to start in the opening. That's about all we've assessed."
The Pirates non-tendered Karstens, who was eligible for arbitration, in part because of injury concerns. Karstens spent more than two months on the disabled list -- leaving a start early with right shoulder tendinitis and later sustaining a hip flexor injury in a rehabilitation start.
The team signed Karstens to an incentive-laden $2 million deal later in the offseason, which would benefit him if he stayed healthy.
Through a team spokesman, Karstens declined comment.
The Pirates still have four candidates for the rotation -- left-handed pitchers Jeff Locke and Jonathan Sanchez, and right-handed pitchers Kyle McPherson and Jeanmar Gomez. Right-handed pitcher Chris Leroux, who started in Karstens' place, is not a candidate for the rotation and likely will make the team as a reliever.
While Huntington said the Pirates will continue to monitor the league as other teams make roster moves and cuts, he said the team doesn't have as much urgency to find a pitcher in free agency because of the short-term need and the organizational depth.
"If we didn't have Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton waiting in the wings sometime in May, maybe June, there may be a little bit more intent," he said. "But as we sit here right now, we feel comfortable with the four guys we've got competing for the final two spots."
Pirates starter Francisco Liriano threw 40 pitches in a bullpen session Sunday morning, using his entire arsenal.
The next step in his recovery from a broken bone in his right, non-throwing arm is to throw to batters in batting practice, and Liriano is not sure when that will take place.
He said Saturday he believed he was less than one month away from joining the team. Huntington said the Pirates will not push Liriano's training.
"We've got to get him through spring training," Huntington said. "There's a reason why starting pitchers need the length of spring training that we have. Position players can do it in less. Relievers can do it in less. The pitchers need to get built up."
The Pirates likely will make all of their roster decisions by Thursday before the team leaves Florida.
Huntington said the Pirates don't want to carry players to Pittsburgh or have them play in an exhibition game Saturday in Altoona only to option them to the minor leagues before opening day.
"[Clint Hurdle has] been through that [as a player], and he doesn't really want to put somebody through that, nor do I," Huntington said.
Game: Orioles 12, Pirates 10.
Starter: Chris Leroux -- 1/3 inning, 5 hits, 8 runs, 7 earned runs, 2 walks, 0 strikeouts, 1 home run.
Top batter: Andrew McCutchen -- 2 for 3, 2 runs, 2 RBIs, home run, walk.
Of note: The Pirates and Orioles tied, 0-0, three days ago in a game in Sarasota, Fla.
News of the day: Catcher Russell Martin started for the Pirates, but he didn't finish the first inning after being ejected with one out in the first. With the Pirates trailing, 6-0, Martin started arguing with home-plate umpire Chad Fairchild about the size of his strike zone. "He's a good guy," Martin said. "I know he is. But I probably let my emotions get back to me, and I'm sure he did to. We both had our reasons and disagreements. It was frustrating." It is rare in laid-back spring training games for tensions to rise enough to warrant an ejection. "I'm really just treating it like it was a regular-season game in my intensity and the way I go about it," Martin said. Chris Leroux, who learned that morning he would start in place of injured pitcher Jeff Karstens, said he respected Martin for sticking up for him. "I'm just glad that he kind of had my back," Leroux said. "I'm glad he noticed the same things I noticed." As rare as it is for a player to be ejected, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said there was something even more unique in that first inning. "I have never in 39 springs had to replace a pitcher and a catcher in the top of the first inning with one out," he said. "Never seen it. Never been a part of it. Never watched it." Hurdle added the Pirates brought Martin in because he could help provide some energy and passion. Though Martin left the game in the first inning, the Pirates rallied and eventually tied the score, 10-10.
Buried treasure: Vanderbilt men's basketball coach Kevin Stallings visited the Pirates Sunday at McKechnie Field instead of watching the NCAA tournament. His son, Jacob, is a catcher in the Pirates' minor league system. ... The Pirates have until Tuesday morning to add to the roster or release infielder Brandon Inge and pitcher Jonathan Sanchez. If the Pirates keep both players without adding them to the 40-man roster, each is owed a $100,000 retention bonus.
Michael Sanserino: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1722 or on Twitter: @msanserino. First Published March 25, 2013 4:00 AM