Spring Synopsis: Maholm delayed by stiff back

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The game: Paul Maholm, bothered by a stiff lower back, was scratched from his scheduled start yesterday against the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers, Fla.

General manager Neal Huntington said Maholm could have made the start if it were the regular season, but the team, mindful that Maholm had back trouble late last season, chose to be "cautious."

That caution will extend beyond the spring, though: Zach Duke and Maholm will flip spots in the rotation, Duke now pitching the third game of the season in Atlanta, Maholm the fifth game in Miami.

"Nothing serious," Maholm called it.

He did long-tossing yesterday, will throw batting practice tomorrow in Atlanta and have a simulated game there Tuesday.

Phil Dumatrait took his place and pitched three scoreless innings that led to a 3-1 victory, the Pirates' fifth in the past six games while using mostly regulars. He allowed a hit and two walks while striking out three.

Jose Bautista provided nearly all the offense, homered to left in the second inning off an otherwise effective Francisco Liriano and led off the seventh with a double. Those were the only two extra-base hits by either team, and the 2-for-3 day raised his average to .241.

Today: The Pirates' Matt Morris will start against the Twins' Kevin Slowey, 1:05 p.m. in Bradenton, Fla.

Also looking ahead, the Pirates and Atlanta Braves set their pitching matchups for the opening series: Ian Snell vs. Tom Glavine in the opener, Tom Gorzelanny vs. rookie Jair Jurrjens Wednesday, Duke vs. Mike Hampton Thursday.

Camp roster: 25, with 12 pitchers, 2 catchers, 7 infielders and 4 outfielders.

Battle lines: All such lines were erased for the spring yesterday, but one battle that should extend into the season is that among the relievers for setup duty.

Tyler Yates, already assigned to that mix, made his Pirates debut and pitched a scoreless fourth inning with three groundouts and a walk.

Franquelis Osoria shook off that awful outing Monday with a 1-2-3 eighth, all on groundouts.

And John Grabow was scored upon for the third time in his final four appearances: He gave up a run on two line-drive singles and a walk in the fifth, capping his spring ERA at 4.32.

Damaso Marte also will see setup duty.

Fun in the sun: An average crowd of 5,409 had fun in the sun at McKechnie Field leading into the finale today, including seven sellouts in 14 dates and a season-high 6,106 for the Detroit Tigers three days ago. About 5,000 are expected today.

The average last season was 4,971, and the total attendance in 16 dates was a record 79,542.

Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh, standing-room-only tickets for the April 7 home opener -- costing $8 --will go on sale 9 a.m. Monday at the PNC Park box office, by phone at 1-800-BUY-BUCS or online at pirates.com.

Inside pitch: The rotation at Class AAA Indianapolis is nearly set, with four of five in place: John Van Benschoten, Bryan Bullington, Luis Munoz, Ty Taubenheim and ... word at Pirate City yesterday was that a fifth starter for that group is about to be added from outside the organization.

Countdown: 2 days to the season opener in Atlanta.


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