Pirates' Hanrahan likely to miss start of season

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Even before the pitchers, catchers and early bird position players could soak up the midday sun and 58-degree clime for the first official workout of the 2010 season, the Pirates' bullpen absorbed a jab in its middle-inning section.

Joel Hanrahan has been shut down with an elbow injury lingering from last season, when he pitched just two innings over the final 18 games. He could miss anywhere from two weeks to months, the latter probably requiring a stay on the disabled list into April.

Hanrahan fashioned a 1.72 ERA after arriving from Washington in the Nyjer Morgan-Sean Burnett trade and a more-impressive 0.42 ERA and .162 opponent's batting average about the time he first hurt his right throwing arm. It flared again last month at Pirate City and once more when he resumed throwing before spring training. On Thursday, barely three hours before the team's inaugural workout, general manager Neal Huntington announced that Hanrahan had a flexor pronator strain and, after an examination by Pirates doctors, would have an MRI on Tuesday to check the inflammation and see Dr. James Andrews next Thursday in his Pensacola, Fla., office for a second opinion.

"I felt good coming into minicamp; probably cranked it up a little too much there," Hanrahan said. After the rest that followed: "I felt like I could throw, but I wouldn't do any help to myself or the team. It's like tendinitis, a little strain in the forearm. Nothing structural. [Surgery] is not even in the question right now. That's a positive. I just want to make sure it's gone and be healthy for the rest of the year."

Huntington continues to keep an eye on free-agent relievers still available -- he admitted to holding conversations with an unnamed few -- but he said he is satisfied with the current corps.

"We'd go get somebody else now if we were that panicked about our bullpen," he said. "There are still some guys out there we've talked to, but, at this point in time, we're content with the bullpen. We like [Octavio] Dotel at the back end, we like [Brendan] Donnelly and Evan Meek pitching late in the game.

"We'll have enough options internally to fill the middle of our bullpen. ... Especially as you start looking at [Jose] Ascanio, [Neal] Cotts and [Tyler] Yates coming at some point this summer. The reality is, Joel's probably not going to be ready for opening day. Is it May 1? Is it June 1? We'll know more as we get more doctor information."

About those other surgically repaired pitchers, Huntington said: Ascanio (shoulder), who likewise is to visit Andrews next Thursday, is on schedule for an early June return; Cotts (Tommy John elbow surgery) is ahead of schedule with a mid-June target return; Yates (his second Tommy John surgery) is on pace for July; and Jimmy Barthmaier (Tommy John surgery) for mid-May. Craig Hansen, who missed almost all of last season with nerve damage in his upper back, is scheduled to throw off a mound March 10.

"And that will completely dictate how we move forward from here," Huntington said. "It seems like the strength is coming back. It seems like the ball is coming out of his hand fine. But we're still a long ways away."

Non-roster invitee Jean Machi was held from Wednesday's workout for further physical exams.

No fifth starter?

With three off days scattered among the opening 12 games of the season, Pirates management is considering the possibility of using just four starting pitchers until late April.

Barring a game postponement, the Pirates have only one game through April 25 where a No. 5 starter would be needed, and that's April 14, when a reliever or long man could go instead. So the competition between Kevin Hart and Daniel McCutchen doesn't seem so immediate this spring training -- they could work in two starts apiece with Class AAA Indianapolis first.

"Maybe we do carry an extra bench player early," Huntington suggested. "But we've got to walk through the schedule and how Joe [Kerrigan] and [manager John Russell] want to put the rotation together" in April. For the time being, the Pirates aim to head north with a roster of 12 pitchers and 13 position players.

Vazquez update

Utility infielder Ramon Vazquez pulled a training-staff member up and down the hallway in a resistance drill after working a full practice in the fields, so he hardly appears limited by the arthroscopic microfracture surgery, revealed Wednesday, that he had on his right knee a week before Thanksgiving.

"He's on schedule to be healthy by opening day" April 5, Huntington said. "He won't be restricted in spring training, but he will be monitored. It's not the Amare Stoudamire [surgery that the Phoenix Suns star had], where it's the weight-bearing joint. It's still a microfracture procedure, but it's ... less invasive."

Chuck Finder: cfinder@post-gazette.com . First Published February 19, 2010 5:00 AM


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