Phil Irwin feels strong in first spring work for Pirates

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- It was only one inning.

But one inning more than he had thrown this spring, and Phil Irwin will take it.

Irwin flashed his nasty curveball Thursday in his first appearance of spring training -- a scoreless and swift seventh after a being delayed by some tendonitis in his elbow.

"It felt really good. Felt strong, no problems," said Irwin. "I mean I came to camp to pitch, you know. And it's no good when you're sitting in the training room the whole time. The key is health. It's not ability. I believe I can pitch against major league hitters, but just have to figure out a way to stay on the field. It felt really good to get out there."

Irwin came into camp recovered from ulnar nerve transplant surgery in 2013, a necessity from long-ago Tommy John surgery. But in his second bullpen session at Pirate City, he felt a small flare up, which was diagnosed as tendonitis, and it set him back more than two weeks.

He said he felt relieved to get an inning in Thursday in a 4-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, and he made quick work.

He forced two quick infield popups then struck out outfielder Jeremy Moore looking at a curveball.

"He was working the corners and was in the zone the whole way," catcher Omir Santos said. "We went to the third hitter and he started throwing curveballs and they were even better."

Santos said Irwin threw less than 13 pitches, and the curve that got Moore was every bit as sharp as billed.

"He was in the zone. He didn't mess around. It was 12-6, and sharp, real sharp," Santos said.

Irwin is a candidate to provide starting right-handed pitching depth for the Pirates this season, something manager Clint Hurdle has stressed is paramount.

Left-hander Jeff Locke is out with some right side stiffness, and offseason acquisition Edinson Volquez is still finding his form.

Long reliever Jeanmar Gomez got his first start Thursday and prospect Brandon Cumpton will get his first start today in Bradenton against the Philadelphia Phillies.

"We've got to establish starting pitching depth," Hurdle said. "If you've ever been in a situation where you've lost three starting pitchers out of five like I have, you understand establishing some guys who have thrown some innings in case something crazy happens.

"I lost three pitchers in the starting five of the rotation one spring in Colorado. You want to talk about getting your attention."

The next steps for Irwin will depend on how his arm responds to the outing, and the availability of innings left in camp.

"We won't know any more until we find out how he feels after the outing," Hurdle said. "He's got one inning in. We'll need to see how he feels. Where it can go from there? The problem you have at this point in time in spring is you have X amount of guys who have to have innings and only got X amount of innings left. You have to see what available innings you have."

Wandy, Watson throw

Wandy Rodriguez pitched three innings at Pirate City Thursday against a Toronto Class A team. He gave up two hits and struck out one. Tony Watson pitched two innings in the same game, giving up no hits while striking out four.

Liriano for 70

Francisco Liriano is scheduled to pitch four innings or throw 70 pitches in a minor league game today at Pirate City.

Other pitchers scheduled to get work in relief of Cumpton at McKechnie Field are: Mark Melancon, Jay Jackson and Yao-Hsun Yang.

Martinez impressive

Utility infielder Michael Martinez, who spent the past three years with the Phillies, has had an impressive spring so far, flashing the kind of versatility the Pirates love.

"He's been fun to watch, moves all over the diamond. Switch-hitter. He made two nice plays again [Thursday]," Hurdle said. "He's put the ball on the ground on the bunt. He's hit it sharply from both sides. He's fun to watch. Very versatile guy that's come in and had a very good camp to date."

Martinez is batting .368 this spring and has had six hits in his past 12 at-bats.

Jenn Menendez:, 412-263-1959 and Twitter @JennMenendez.

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