SARASOTA, Fla. -- Not so long ago, Oliver Perez was considered one of the game's premier strikeout pitchers.
He apparently will have to prove that still holds true to his new manager.
Shortly before the Pirates' 7-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds at Ed Smith Stadium last night, manager Jim Tracy offered perhaps a telling comment by omitting Perez when discussing with the media the number of strikeout pitchers in his rotation.
"We don't have strikeout pitchers," Tracy said. "We have one guy who possibly could be that. Ian Snell, on a given day with his good stuff going, can strike some people out. The other guys, that's not their mission. Those three left-handers, their mission on any given day when they're going to be really good, will not be to go out there and strike out 12 or 13 guys. That's not the kind of pitchers they are."
In 2004, Perez led Major League Baseball by averaging 10.97 strikeouts per nine innings. He averaged 8.47 last season and has six in as many innings this spring.
The decline can be largely blamed on Perez's not having fully regained the fastball velocity he showed two seasons ago, although there are indications it has gradually-- albeit modestly -- improved over the past two starts.
"I feel like I'm getting stronger," Perez said yesterday, hours before Tracy's comments. "I was very strong in Mexico this winter, and I'm starting to get back to that now."
Rotation a 'concern'
In a more general view, Tracy identified the rotation as his greatest concern entering the season.
"We're young on the mound," he said. "The four names we have right now, the oldest guy we've got is 24. That's not to say they can't be good. I didn't say that. And I'm not using it as an excuse for us to perform poorly. It's not. And it won't be."
Snell and Perez are 24, Paul Maholm 23, Zach Duke 22.
Cuts coming tomorrow?
The Pirates made no cuts yesterday and are not expected to make any today, meaning the active roster should stay at an unwieldy 35 -- 10 above the limit -- at least until tomorrow, when only four days of spring training will remain.
"It's a good position to be in," general manager Dave Littlefield said. "It's something we've worked very hard to get to."
"The choices we have are very intriguing ones," Tracy said.
The most intriguing should involve third baseman Jose Bautista, outfielder Nate McLouth and reliever Matt Capps, all young players who have performed above and beyond.
Bautista especially has stood out with a .346 average, four home runs and superb defense.
Of Bautista, Tracy said, "I don't know what's going to take place over the next 72 hours or so, but is Jose Bautista genuinely someone you can see playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates? I think the answer to that, obviously, is yes."
Snell was tagged for four runs and five hits, including a towering two-run home run by Ken Griffey Jr., in his penultimate spring start. He shrugged it off mostly because he limited his sliders and changeups, given that his first regular-season start will be April 6 in Cincinnati. "This doesn't really matter," Snell said.
Craig Wilson apparently is unfazed by speculation he will be traded soon. His home run off Eric Milton in the third inning was his third in two days, his team-best fifth of the spring.
Jose Hernandez, a virtual lock to be on the 25-man roster, hit a two-run home run in the second off Milton. His average improved to .308.
A passed ball charged to catcher Ronny Paulino with the bases loaded in the eighth broke a 4-4 tie. It came on a Britt Reames curveball.
Tracy said the requirements for the two unnamed spots in the bullpen will be that they are right-handed and capable of long relief. One is sure to be Ryan Vogelsong, and the other is likely to be Giovanni Carrara, who filled such a role for Tracy in Los Angeles.
Maholm will make his final spring start today against Tampa Bay at McKechnie Field. Scott Kazmir is scheduled to pitch for the Devil Rays.
Maholm will remain behind in Bradenton Sunday, while the Pirates are in Milwaukee, to pitch in a minor-league game.