Pirates' Correia will start season opener

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- A week from today, right-handed pitcher Kevin Correia will get handed the baseball for the Pirates.

Correia, the newest member of the rotation, was named the opening day starter for the club's first game at Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs. The senior member of the rotation, left-hander Paul Maholm, will start the home opener April 7 at PNC Park against the Colorado Rockies.

"It is my first one as a major league starter," Correia said of the opening day start. "And to be able to do it at a place like Wrigley Field should be a lot of fun."

The decisions were announced Thursday by manager Clint Hurdle. It marks the fourth consecutive season the club has had a different starter for the opener -- Zach Duke started last year, Maholm in 2009, and Ian Snell in '08.

Hurdle also set the rotation order, which will feature Correia first, then Maholm, followed by three right-handed starters: Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton and James McDonald.

There is, however, some question as to McDonald's readiness for his first regular-season start, which would be April 5 at St. Louis.

McDonald has been battling an undisclosed injury to his left side and, although he has thrown a bullpen session, he hasn't appeared in a game since he was injured March 11. McDonald is slated to pitch in a minor league game or a simulated game Saturday. He is slated for another outing Thursday in Florida -- he will stay behind while the team heads north -- and, if all goes well, will meet the team on the road and make that first scheduled start. If not, the Pirates will use someone else for that fifth game, possibly Jeff Karstens, Daniel McCutchen, Brad Lincoln or Brian Burres.

As for what is solidified, though, Hurdle said about a week ago the opening day decision had been pared to Correia or Maholm, and it was a tough choice.

"There are two significant dates for every team, opening day and the home opener," Hurdle said yesterday. "Kevin and Paul have piggybacked each other throughout spring. We actually had pretty much of a split house internally [on the decision]. ... For every [stat] that would make you think this, there was another one that would make you think that. At the end of the day, I wanted these two guys leading the pack and thought this way."

Correia and Maholm have each started five spring games. Correia has a 1-2 record and 6.38 ERA and has given up 27 hits in 181/3 innings; Maholm has pitched 20 innings, giving up 26 hits with an 0-3 record and 4.50 ERA.

Correia, 30, has two starts at Wrigley (and four relief appearances) and has thrown a total of 112/3 innings there with an 8.49 ERA. He has, however, given up just one home run at Wrigley Field.

Correia was signed as a free agent in the offseason after he went 10-10 with a 5.52 ERA for the San Diego Padres last year, working 1401/3 innings and yielding 86 earned runs.

"It is a good honor," Correia said. "It is just not one start. The first one is important. It is nice to be able to go out there on a day that kicks off the season. But, in our rotation, we need every one of these guys to pitch like they are the best guy on the staff."

Hurdle also made particular mention of Morton, who will make his first start April 4 in St. Louis. Morton, whose struggles last season were well documented, has been solid this spring with a 1-0 record, 1.29 ERA and nine hits and eight strikeouts in 14 innings.

"Charlie has pitched better than anybody in camp," Hurdle said. "Good for him. That's why the next step will be the more interesting step. The season will come, and we will see what that brings. There is a lot of confidence that's been built."

Ohlendorf struggles in loss

Right-handed starting pitcher Ross Ohlendorf continued his spring struggles in a 11-7 loss to the host Orioles Thursday night. Ohlendorf (0-4) pitched 42/3 innings, gave up nine hits and five earned runs, walked two and yielded three home runs. His spring training ERA is 10.05. Neil Walker hit two home runs and Lyle Overbay another.

Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com .


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