Correia's goal is to be best in starting rotation


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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Kevin Correia has experienced this before.

It's unusual, he said, for any team to have exactly five pitchers for the five spots in the starting rotation. Competition comes with the job.

"It's nothing new to me," he said. "I'm just going to do what I was going to do."

The additions of Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett to Correia, Jeff Karstens, James McDonald and Charlie Morton stiffened the competition for the rotation spots. Morton, who is recovering from offseason hip surgery, has progressed ahead of schedule but is still a couple of days behind the rest of the pitchers. If everyone remains healthy, the Pirates likely will move a starter into a long relief role. Correia and Karstens, who have experience out of the bullpen, could be candidates. James McDonald also has pitched in relief.

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"I'm not trying to be a guy who just makes the rotation as the fifth guy," Correia said. "I'm trying to be the best I can do. I feel like if I do that, it shouldn't be a problem."

Correia won 11 games in the first half of 2011 and had a 4.01 ERA, but went 1-4 in seven second-half starts before his oblique was strained and he finished the season on the disabled list. The oblique injury has healed, he said, and he started his offseason workouts on schedule.

"I just took it a little slower as far as core work just to see how it felt," he said.

Correia had injured his oblique before, so he was familiar with the injury's limitations.

"You can't really move much without your core, just shows you how important your core is," he said. "I've just got to be conscious of it."

Correia, 31, won four games in April and three each in May and June. His first-half performance earned him his first invitation to the All-Star Game. In the second half, his strikeout-to-walk ratio declined, his batting average against rose and he won one game in seven starts.

"I got in a situation a lot of starts where I was one good inning away from having a good start and winning the game," he said. "Just a small part of those starts. I don't feel like I went out there and pitched poorly in those starts."

The fact that those starts mostly occurred at PNC Park, he said, represented more pure chance than anything. He compiled a 10-3 record with a 2.64 ERA on the road but went 2-8 with a 7.71 ERA at home.

"I don't see how that could possibly happen again," he said. "I put zero stock into it whatsoever."

He made his final appearance of the season Aug. 19. Once he began his offseason conditioning program in November, though, he didn't face any limitations.

"All I did was kind of ease into it rather than jumping right into core and working all that," he said. "It does still get sore. I hurt it before years ago and it still gets sore sometimes. You just got to be more conscious of it, that's all. I didn't change anything, really."

Correia said he hasn't watched any film of his 2011 starts, but if he does, he'll focus on the good outings.

"It seemed ingrained in your head better, you know?" he said of watching the positive performances.

"Every year's different. I might invent a knuckleball this year and be unhittable."

Number's game

Some players get a watch when a veteran who joins the team takes their jersey number. Daniel McCutchen got a college fund for his unborn daughter, due in May.

A.J. Burnett, who took McCutchen's No. 34 jersey, will start a College America 529 plan for McCutchen's daughter, McCutchen said. Not quite yet -- the child has to be born first so she can get a Social Security number -- but soon.

"When a veteran comes in and takes a number, some of the guys usually get something," McCutchen said. "I know he has kids. He asked me what I wanted, I brought that up."

New stance

Andrew McCutchen moved his left foot farther away from home plate in his batting stance over the offseason.

"Right after the season, something told me to do it," said McCutchen, who hopes the change will improve his consistency at the plate. "I just listened to my conscience."

McCutchen hit .291 in the first half of 2011, but .216 in the second.

"Andrew just feels really comfortable with a little opening in the front side, just setting it down soft," manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's getting him back toward the pitcher."


Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published February 28, 2012 5:00 AM


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