MILWAUKEE -- The Pirates today will purchase the contract of Jeff Karstens from Class AAA Indianapolis, and he will start tonight against the Milwaukee Brewers.
To clear space on the 25-man and 40-man rosters, the team designated for assignment Rule 5 draft pick John Raynor, an outfielder who never got into the starting lineup and went 2 for 10. The team has 10 days to trade, waive or release him, and general manager Neal Huntington said in announcing the moves after the game late Monday night that he will try to arrange a trade to keep him in the system.
Karstens will be making his season debut after starting the year in Indianapolis, where he was 1-2 with a 7.31 ERA in five appearances, including one start.
Huntington acknowledged that the Pirates' epic pitching problems influenced the Raynor move.
"We would have loved to keep John in the organization," Huntington said. "But, with what's going on, it's really tough to do."
Huntington described a second motivation beyond getting at least one start out of Karstens: Add some offense at the next opportunity.
There now are 13 pitchers on the 25-man roster, one more than usual, and Huntington expects to pare that once the upcoming stretch of spot starts expires. That involves another Thursday -- either Brian Bass or Brian Burres will start that one in Los Angeles -- and yet another on the weekend, possibly Karstens, possibly one of those two.
When one of those pitchers is sent back, one of outfielder Steve Pearce or utilityman Neil Walker is likely to get the summons from Indianapolis. Both have been outstanding in the early going: Pearce is batting .400 with two home runs, nine RBIs, a team-high 12 walks and an exemplary .494 on-base percentage, and half his 26 hits have gone for extra bases. Walker, in addition to adding second base and the outfield corner spots to third base and catcher in his repertoire, is batting .309 with two home runs, 12 RBIs, eight walks and six steals.
Of Pearce, Huntington said: "Steve's given us a lot of quality at-bats and a quality approach. He's been much more consistent even than what we saw in Triple-A last year. How that plays at the major-league level, time will tell, but he's given himself a much better chance to succeed once he gets back here."
Of Walker: "Neil's done a nice job defensively, bouncing around the diamond. He's been everything we could have expected in this short a time. Offensively, the percentage of quality plate appearances is much better, and it's showing up in the walks and the power. He's giving himself a much better chance to have a good at-bat than a year ago. The given-away at-bats are much fewer."
Karstens invested much of his offseason on perfecting a new sinker, and it worked well at times in the spring. But he was inconsistent in Bradenton and remained that way in Indianapolis, alternating between strong and poor outings. The primary reason for his recall was his experience in making 13 starts last year.
Raynor's designation will be more complex than most, because of his Rule 5 status.
The first step is that he will be placed on waivers, Huntington said. But any team claiming Raynor would be subject to the same restrictions as the Pirates under Rule 5, meaning they would have to carry him on the 25-man roster all season to retain his rights. There is a good chance all teams will pass.
If that happens, then the Pirates are required to offer Raynor back to his original team, Florida, for half the $50,000 Rule 5 fee. Or, they could work out a trade with the Marlins, which Huntington reiterated would be his goal.