Pirates eye recovering pitcher Duchscherer

Ledezma signed for bullpen, Karstens outrighted, Diaz released

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The Pirates are one of several teams interested in pitcher Justin Duchscherer, one of Major League Baseball's more intriguing free agents this winter.

Duchscherer, 32, made an exceptional debut as a starter in 2008 with Oakland, 10-8 with a 2.54 ERA, but he did not throw a pitch for the Athletics last season after surgery on his hip and elbow, then a diagnosis of clinical depression.

The teams that have expressed interest, including the Pirates, are doing so cautiously given Duchscherer's history. Damon Lapa, Duchscherer's agent, is assuring suitors that his client is "a happier and healthier person," ready to resume peak form in 2010.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington is not intent on adding to the rotation -- Ross Ohlendorf, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton, plus either Kevin Hart or Daniel McCutchen -- but neither has he ruled it out. It is possible that the Pirates view Duchscherer in a relief role as a way to ease his return after a year's absence.

Also yesterday:

• The Pirates signed left-handed reliever Wil Ledezma to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. He will be a candidate for bullpen duty, part of what likely will wind up a large field.

Ledezma, 28, opened 2009 in Washington's bullpen but was demoted after five appearances with the Nationals and a 9.53 ERA, then released in July and signed by Toronto. In 160 major league appearances, including 40 starts, Ledezma has a 5.17 ERA.

• The Pirates released catcher Robinzon Diaz and outrighted pitchers Jeff Karstens and Justin Thomas to Class AAA Indianapolis.

All three had been designated for assignment 10 days earlier to make space on the 40-man roster, and all cleared waivers yesterday. Diaz could not be outrighted because of his service time, so he became a minor league free agent with no apparent plan to return to the Pirates. Karstens and Thomas remain the Pirates' property, and both will be invited to spring training.

That raised the number of non-roster invitees to four, along with outfielder Jonathan Van Every.

• The Pirates signed eight Latin American amateurs and assigned them to their Dominican Summer League team: shortstops Maximo Rivera and Ramses Pena; outfielder Luis Urena; right-handed pitchers Arquimedes Lorenzo, Cristopher DeLeon, Luis Alfonzo Valdez and Anuedy Merejo; and left-hander Darlin Alduey.

That raised their 2009 total for international signings to 43.

NOTES -- The Pirates' average salary this past season was $790,000, lowest in Major League Baseball for any team since 2006, according to figures obtained by the Associated Press from the players' union. The average salary in the majors was $2,996,000, with the World Series champion New York Yankees having the highest at $7.66 million. ... President Frank Coonelly, Huntington and alumni Steve Blass and Kent Tekulve will be among the Pirates' representatives serving breakfast this morning to the needy at the Light of Life Rescue Mission on the North Side.

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


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