Spring Training: McLouth bumps Gerut in surprising move

Santos named fifth starter, four players cut to finalize roster

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Nate McLouth would not board the bus.

Having seen teammate Jose Bautista -- pillow in hand -- get pulled off a bus earlier in the week to be told he was cut, McLouth wanted no part of a sequel.

So, he sat superstitiously at his stall yesterday morning at Bradenton's McKechnie Field, fidgeting as he watched other players receive the dreaded summons to Pirates manager Jim Tracy's office.

"I'm going nowhere," McLouth said. "I'm staying right here."

Turned out he was right.

He did end up on that bus for the exhibition in Fort Myers, and he did get a call to Tracy's office upon arrival. But the message delivered, one few would have forecast going into spring training, was that he had made the 25-man roster that was completed last night.

"It's exciting," McLouth said. "It's the first time I've made it out of spring training. It's the stuff you dream about. I can't wait to get going."

The Pirates had virtual locks for their extra outfielders in Craig Wilson and Jody Gerut. As McLouth put it, "Pretty much everybody had me penciled in -- if not inked -- to go back to Indianapolis."

But McLouth had an exceptional spring, batting .345 with three doubles, three home runs and eight RBIs, plus a team-high seven steals. And that played a large role in Gerut being the one optioned to Class AAA Indianapolis yesterday.

At age 24, it will represent McLouth's first real chance to stick in the majors. He spent 41 games with the Pirates late last season and batted .257.

"Nate McLouth did an outstanding job for us," Tracy said. "He's deserving."

Keith Srakocic, Associated Press
Nate McLouth was selected for the Pirates' 25-man roster yesterday.
Click photo for larger image.
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Wednesday: Jason Bay realizes he could be bigger in another city, but he doesn't believe he would be better

Thursday: Get inside the head of Jim Tracy for a glimpse of the strategies he will apply from the Pirates' dugout. Plus, take our quick quiz to see how closely your moves match those Tracy would make.

Yesterday: Columnists Ron Cook, Gene Collier and Bob Smizik offer their views on the Pirates. Plus, Paul Meyer's team-by-team capsules and preseason power rankings, and the results of the post-gazette.com baseball survey.

Tomorrow: For years, the Pirates have been accused of having no plan. Is that the case? Why is it taking so long to win? Dejan Kovacevic examines the team's baseball operations from Panama to PNC Park. Plus, a position-by-position outlook, and the three reasons why the Pirates will -- or will not -- have a winning season.

Monday: Oliver Perez will take the mound in Milwaukee for the opener, but which version of the Perez will the Pirates get? Plus, the team's game and broadcast schedules, along with our picks for the top events in Pittsburgh and across the majors.

Tracy said Chris Duffy will be his center fielder for the opener Monday in Milwaukee, but he indicated strongly that McLouth will spend time there, too, in addition to frequent use off the bench.

McLouth's addition was the highlight of a busy day for the Pirates, who made several other moves to pare their roster to the 25-man limit on the penultimate day of spring training.

The rest:

Victor Santos was chosen for the lone vacancy in the rotation.

Brandon Duckworth, a non-roster invitee who was Santos' competition, was assigned to minor-league camp.

Relievers Terry Adams and C.J. Nitkwoski, also non-roster invitees, were assigned to minor-league camp last night after pitching in the afternoon exhibition.

Relievers Matt Capps and Ryan Vogelsong made the team.

Utilityman Jose Hernandez's minor-league contract, which pays him $850,000 in the majors, was purchased to add him to the roster.

Injured starter Bryan Bullington was placed on the 60-day disabled list to make space on the 40-man roster for Hernandez.

There had been doubt early yesterday about the health of relievers Damaso Marte and Roberto Hernandez, but both were deemed healthy enough to accompany the Pirates to Milwaukee. Marte, slowed by a stiff neck, and Hernandez, revealed yesterday to have a strained calf, will pitch in the exhibition finale today against the Minnesota Twins.

The rotation was completed in ignominious fashion, with Santos winning a job by apparent default.

Santos was 0-2 with a 6.27 ERA and gave up 33 hits in 18 2/3 innings. He beat out Duckworth, who was 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings.

Littlefield pointed to Santos' 295 innings the past two seasons with the Brewers as being influential. Duckworth made eight major-league starts in those two years.

"Santos provides some more recent experience," Littlefield said.

Another factor likely was more prominent, though.

Because Santos was a Rule 5 draft pick from Kansas City, the Pirates must keep him on their 25-man roster. If they do not, they must put him through waivers and, if he clears, make him available to the Royals for $25,000. The Royals are missing two starters to injury and surely would have claimed him if no one else did.

"Would you still have Santos if he wasn't on the club?" Tracy said. "I don't think we're in the business of giving resources away."

The most surprising move was the demotion of Gerut, who batted .349 in the spring and was The Sporting News American League Rookie of the Year in 2003 with the Cleveland Indians. The Pirates acquired him from the Chicago Cubs in July for outfielder Matt Lawton.

Gerut has been slowed by knee surgeries since his rookie outburst, and the team told him he did not provide the speed off the bench they had been seeking.

"They're putting me up against the picture of me that they had as a rookie, and it isn't quite there yet," Gerut said. "They want the same guy, but that's going to take some time until I'm healthy enough. I think I am, but they don't."

Littlefield said Gerut's health was not an issue, but he acknowledged Gerut's speed was.

The Pirates will be responsible for all of Gerut's $875,000 while he is in the minors.

The most surprising player to make the team, beyond a doubt, is Capps.

The organization's plan entering spring training had Capps projected for a return to Class AA Altoona, but his exceptional spring altered that in a big way: He had a 1.13 ERA -- one earned run in eight appearances -- while striking out four, walking none and limiting hitters to a .172 average.

Capps' control was commonplace for him: With his three teams last season, he struck out 68 while walking six. Three of those walks were intentional.

"He does nothing but throw strikes," Tracy said. "He's done it all spring, and he did it all last year."

Tracy pointed to long shots such as McLouth and Capps as evidence that the best players were chosen.

"There aren't any handouts behind this desk. We feel good about the decisions we've made. Nothing's been given away."

The Pirates' opening day payroll will be $47.1 million. That does not include Gerut's salary.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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