Spring Synopsis: Karstens hurts his cause

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The game: The Pirates are "close" to choosing a fifth starter, manager John Russell said after the 12-8 loss to Minnesota yesterday in Fort Myers, Fla., and that cannot bode well for Jeff Karstens.

Karstens was hit hard by the Twins in allowing five runs and 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings. That included a two-run home run by Jason Kubel, two walks, a hit batsman and wild pitch.

His spring ERA is 6.17, and his declared competitor, career minor leaguer Virgil Vasquez, is at 7.62.

"That's probably the last thing on my mind after the way I pitched today," Karstens said of the fifth-starter duel. "I know I've got to show up tomorrow and go about my business until they call me in to tell me I'm going to Indianapolis or I'm going to Pittsburgh."

"He was keeping the ball up, inconsistent down, too many pitches up over the plate," Russell said. "The one positive is it could have been a lot worse. There were guys on base every inning. He just didn't have any rhythm."

Asked again if one of Karstens or Vasquez could go to the bullpen, he replied, "I think, for depth, we're looking at both of them as starters. You can't have too many starters."

Vasquez is scheduled to pitch in one of the Pirates' two games tomorrow.

Jack Wilson hit a two-run home run, his first, in the third inning for a brief 2-2 tie.

Other news: No surprise given the circumstances, but general manager Neal Huntington is talking to several teams about acquiring pitching help, including Tampa Bay about starter Jeff Niemann, who is out of options. The Rays want prospects.

Injury update: Reliever Evan Meek and third baseman Andy LaRoche continue to be bothered by illness.

Meek, who had missed a week to a sore shoulder but is now fine in that regard, was forced to skip his scheduled return two days ago because of stomach flu and, now, has bronchitis.

"Can you believe this?" he said.

LaRoche still is troubled by the stomach flu.

Today: Paul Maholm, the opening day starter, will make his final spring appearance against the Boston Red Sox's Josh Beckett, 1:05 p.m. in Bradenton.

Camp roster: 35, with 18 pitchers, three catchers, eight infielders and six outfielders.

Fun in the sun: Nothing is more fun than winning, even in spring games, and the Pirates have had more than their share of large comebacks, including a five-run ninth yesterday.

"I know it's just the spring, but that shows me something," catcher Ryan Doumit said. "We're together. We're having a good time. We're not quitting. How much were we down against the Yankees the other day?"

They were down six runs Sunday and rallied to tie, against A.J. Burnett, no less.

Inside pitch: Another glaring sign that outfielder Craig Monroe will make the team: He was sent to Pirate City for extra at-bats, the sort of tune-up generally afforded to veterans.

Meet me in St. Louis: Five days until the opener.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Catch more on the Pirates at the PG's PBC Blog .


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