Auditions for 2013 rotation begin

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NEW YORK -- When Kyle McPherson took the mound Monday night, he did so as part of the quest to help the Pirates reach 82 wins and to begin an early push for the 2013 rotation.

Manager Clint Hurdle said the Pirates might consider McPherson and Jeff Locke as candidates for the rotation heading into spring training.

"As we move forward, I think Locke and McPherson will be guys we look at pitching in spring training in the starting rotation, and have opportunities," Hurdle said.

The Pirates have A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez under contract for next season. Kevin Correia is a free agent after this year. James McDonald and Jeff Karstens, who missed a good portion of the season because of two separate injuries, are eligible for arbitration. Karstens made $3.1 million this season. Charlie Morton will be out until midseason in 2013 after Tommy John ligament replacement surgery.

"There's possibly a few holes in there and you'd like to be someone that fills them," Locke said. "I want to be a starting pitcher and I want to be a Pittsburgh Pirate. I want to do whatever it takes to find a way to this rotation next season."

Locke has a 5.47 ERA in six appearances, four starts, this season. He has allowed 15 runs -- and six home runs -- in 242/3 innings with the Pirates and has 23 strikeouts compared to five walks. McPherson entered a start Monday with a 2.25 ERA in 16 innings over eight games, one of them a start.

Locke said he felt more comfortable this season than when he made four starts near the end of 2011.

"It's just night and day," he said. "I feel so much more confident out here this year. The opportunity last year was obviously overwhelming and eye-opening. This year, it's not much different, but I feel like I know how to handle it better. I've done it before, so I can do it again."

Positive finish

If the Pirates finish with 82 wins, Hurdle said, the team can accept it as an accomplishment despite where they were earlier in the season.

"It would be [an accomplishment] for us right now because we'd win seven of our last 10 games," Hurdle said. "For us to win seven of our last 10 games, I think that would be a very positive statement to finish the season."

Entering a game Monday, the Pirates won seven of their past 24 games and were 5-16 in September.

Execution drops

Again addressing a now-common question, Hurdle pointed to a "lack of consistency across the board" as the main reason behind the team's second-half collapse. But he also offered the number of first-pitch strikes, WHIP and ERA as a few of many areas that declined in the second half.

"Our level of execution dropped across the board," Hurdle said. "You don't win games up here when you don't execute."

The Pirates' WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched) rose from 1.25 in the first half to 1.35 in the second. The ERA rose about a run, from 3.48 to 4.47.

"I do think individually you need to show people where they made strides and then challenge them, how do you finish that stride off," Hurdle said. "For me, at the end of the day, it'll always start with execution."

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