Questions remain for Pirates' roster

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- With two weeks left in spring training, some roster questions remain for the Pirates. Others, though, seem a long way from being answered.

First and foremost, there is the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation, where many signs point to Charlie Morton.

Morton, who struggled terribly last season at 2-12 with a 7.57 ERA, came into this spring vying for the No. 5 spot against primarily Scott Olsen and Brad Lincoln, although Brian Burres has made a push.

Morton has a 2.25 ERA in two starts this spring, has given up five hits in eight innings and has returned the sinker to his repertoire after the Pirates discouraged him from using it last season.

By contrast, Olsen has lost time to a hamstring injury and, at this point, it would be difficult for him to build up the spring innings necessary to begin the season as a starter. The Pirates sound open to having him in the bullpen.

Lincoln has been effective in three appearances this spring, with a 3.38 ERA. But he still can be optioned and, because of his rough second half last season, is a strong candidate to start the season in Class AAA Indianapolis.

The bullpen would seem set, with closer Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek as locks, and Chris Resop, Jeff Karstens and Jose Veras as the likeliest right-handers, and Joe Beimel and Olsen as the lefties. But several other pitchers remain in camp, and injuries -- such as James McDonald's strained side -- could change things.

Locks among the 13 position players are, going around the horn, catchers Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit, first baseman Lyle Overbay, second baseman Neil Walker, third baseman Pedro Alvarez, shortstop Ronny Cedeno, and outfielders Jose Tabata, Andrew McCutchen, Matt Diaz and Garrett Jones.

That leaves three spots, although the picture is muddied by the uncertain status of Doumit. The Pirates are trying to trade him and his $5.1 million salary. If he is dealt -- and maybe even if he is not -- one of the remaining spots needs to be allocated to a backup catcher, which would go to Jason Jaramillo or Dusty Brown.

One player making a strong push for a super-utility role is shortstop-by-trade Pedro Ciriaco. He has played second and third this spring, and he will play center field for the first time today in a B game.

"He's got a gun, the arm strength is there ... and that is one thing we have seen from Pedro," manager Clint Hurdle said of Ciriaco. "He is a skilled player. We just want to try to find the best fit for him."

Steve Pearce and John Bowker, both of whom play first base and right field, are on the 40-man roster, although Pearce has an option and Bowker doesn't. Pearce also has played third base well enough this spring to have impressed management.

There is also Rule 5 pick Josh Rodriguez, an infielder who must make the 25-man roster or be offered back to the Cleveland Indians. There also are four non-roster invitees in the mix for that final spot: Garrett Atkins, Josh Fields, Corey Wimberly and Andy Marte.

Pearce has spoken in determined tones for months of bouncing back from the knee surgery that robbed him of most of what had been a promising 2010.

"I just show up and keep going hard at trying to win a spot," Pearce said. "Really, that is all you can do. There are some other guys going through the same thing. It isn't something I think about. It isn't something I can think about."

Buried treasure

• Starter Paul Maholm gave up four earned runs in a 5-3 loss Wednesday against the Toronto Blue Jays at McKechnie Field. In the third inning, Maholm yielded an RBI single to Jose Molina followed by a two-run home run by David Cooper.

"It was a case where I hung two pitches and it cost three runs," Maholm said.

Center fielder Andrew McCutchen was 2 for 3 with a double.

• McDonald, who had left side soreness on Friday, said he will throw today and then a side session in the future, presumably Friday. "I'm good," he said when asked about the injury.

Two of the club's catchers are also battling injuries.

Snyder (back) hit and threw Tuesday and Wednesday after being scratched from the lineup Sunday. Snyder's stated goal is to be ready for opening day and said his status is day to day. Doumit (oblique) will get six or seven at-bats in a minor league game at Pirate City today. Wednesday, he ran bases, took batting practice and infield, showing no signs of distress from the minor discomfort he first felt this past weekend. "Feel just fine," he said.

Colin Dunlap: First Published March 17, 2011 4:00 AM


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