Baseball 2011: Pirates' roster flashes versatility

Hurdle's nearly-complete group can move about field


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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With the Pirates three days away from opening the season Friday against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, the roster is almost complete.

Coming off a year in which the club faltered through a miserable 105-loss season, these are the pieces new manager Clint Hurdle has at his disposal:

Pitchers

The starting rotation is solidified, in this order: Right-hander Kevin Correia, left-hander Paul Maholm, and then right-handers Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton and James McDonald.

McDonald's status is in some flux because he is dealing with a left side injury and could miss his first start -- April 5 in St. Louis -- which would force swingman Jeff Karstens to make the start. Karstens is firmly entrenched, however, in a bullpen role with four other right-handers: Evan Meek, Joel Hanrahan, Chris Resop and Jose Veras.

The only announcement left on the roster involve the bullpen, and one of those became clear Monday night with word that right-hander Mike Crotta would make the team, according to a source with direct knowledge. There are officially two openings for Crotta, left-hander Garrett Olson and right-hander Chris Leroux still in the fold. Olson would seem a front-runner as he is the only healthy left-hander and is out of options. Crotta and Leroux have options.

A decision must be made before the opener, but it is highly likely to come during the team's two exhibitions in Philadelphia tonight and Wednesday.

Crotta, a 6-foot-6 sinkerballer who never has pitched above Class AAA, has performed as well as anyone in spring training, giving up just two earned runs.

"Just have to treat Philadelphia like any other trip," Crotta said Monday morning. "Now, I know they need to get rid of someone, sure. Baseball is a game of numbers and you look at that, you can't ignore what is going on with the roster. But all I can do is go out there and pitch."

Perhaps this all could be meaningless later in the season, though. Left-handers Joe Beimel (elbow) and Scott Olsen (hamstring) are rehabilitating from injuries, and, when healthy, could slide into the bullpen to complement the five right-handers who have jobs secured.

Infielders

First baseman Lyle Overbay, second baseman Neil Walker, shortstop Ronny Cedeno and third baseman Pedro Alvarez are starters. Steve Pearce made the team as a backup corner infielder and outfielder, and Rule 5 player Josh Rodriguez is the backup middle infielder.

If needed, Garrett Jones or John Bowker could play first base.

Hurdle on Sunday said that, as it stands, Rodriguez could play some third base if needed because Pearce hasn't had much experience at the position, although he played a few spring games there.

Outfielders

The starters are fixed, with Jose Tabata playing left field, Andrew McCutchen in center field and right field manned by the platoon of Matt Diaz and Garrett Jones. Diaz will play against left-handed pitching and Jones against right-handers.

Diaz has mashed lefties in his eight seasons in the big leagues, hitting .335 against them. Bowker will serve as the primary backup outfielder, although the club has tried Pearce in left field sporadically this spring and he has played right field 48 times in the past for the Pirates.

The real question is: What if something were to happen to Andrew McCutchen? Or, if the Pirates center fielder just needs a day off?

If that were to occur, there is a very good chance Tabata would slide to center with Diaz going to left and Jones to right, although there are concerns with Diaz's lack of speed if he were to play in spacious left field at PNC Park.

As for Bowker, while he made the opening-day roster in San Francisco a year ago, he has struggled against major league pitching, hitting .237 in three seasons.

Bowker, however, could be a left-handed option as a pinch-hitter, particularly in games that Jones starts.

"I just have to stay loose if I don't start," Bowker said. "I understand what my opportunities are, I know what would be needed of me in a role like that and I just want to have value to this team in whatever it is I do."

Catchers

Starter Chris Snyder's back injury will force him to the disabled list to begin the season for an undetermined amount of time. In his place, Ryan Doumit will be the regular behind the plate with Jason Jaramillo serving as the backup.


Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com . First Published March 29, 2011 4:00 AM


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