Spring Training: Starting rotation still spinning
From left, pitchers Tom Gorzelanny, Ian Snell, Zach Duke, Paul Maholm, Matt Morris and Jaret Wright.
Byung-Hyun Kim works out for the first time with the Pirates pitching staff yesterday in Bradenton, Fla.
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The buzz of the Pirates' clubhouse yesterday morning was a multiple-page list of the coming week's pitching assignments posted in an adjacent hallway.
Tom Gorzelanny will pitch first, Ian Snell second on the Grapefruit League schedule.
Is that how they will open the season?
Some of the 38 pitchers in camp were assigned two or three innings to their outings, others just one.
Were they already separating the starters from the relievers?
It was pitching coach Jeff Andrews who produced the list, and he clearly had no intent beyond establishing each pitcher's work schedule. That was evident later in the day, when general manager Neal Huntington and manager John Russell confirmed it was no seismic management decision.
As Andrews put it, "We're just getting everybody ready to pitch."
Still, the posting brought about rounds of discussion about the makeup of the pitching staff, plenty of which remains uncertain on the eve of exhibition play.
Including the starters.
Although the bullpen has been the larger focus in this camp, with four glaring openings, there remain two key questions about the rotation:
1. Who will pitch opening day, March 31 in Atlanta?
Gorzelanny would appear to be in line, and not just because Andrews -- who will be influential on all decisions related to his pitchers -- chose him for the exhibition opener Thursday against the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, Fla.
In his first full season last year, Gorzelanny, 25, was a hit, going 14-10 with a 3.88 ERA.
An opening-day start would be his first and, to hear him tell it, he would welcome the honor but is not placing much emphasis on it.
"If it happens that way, that would be great," he said. "But I really just want to pitch."
It can be argued that Snell, 26, was just as good in 2007 despite a 9-12 record. He led the Pirates' starters with a 3.76 ERA and 177 strikeouts.
His stance on an opening-day start sounded much like Gorzelanny's.
"I really don't care, to tell you the truth," Snell said. "I had the home opener last year, and I'd like to get the 'opener' opener. But that's not my decision."
Zach Duke pitched the Pirates' opener last year in Houston and gave up two runs in seven innings of a 4-2 victory against the Astros. Snell pitched the home opener and lost, 3-0, to St. Louis despite holding the Cardinals to one run in seven innings.
Ultimately, the call for this opener will be made by Russell, and it is possible that he could satisfy both of his top two pitchers, to a degree: Whoever starts in Atlanta will have to pitch again in the finale of the Pirates' second series, April 6 at the Florida Marlins. That would leave the other pitcher for the home opener the next day against the Chicago Cubs.
Russell said he would wait until later in camp to align all of his starters, something that most managers do after the March 11 off-day.
"There's no hidden agenda," Russell said. "As we get deeper into camp, we can start making some determinations."
Some of those determinations will be how best to scatter the three left-handers -- Gorzelanny, Duke and Paul Maholm -- from right-handers Snell and Matt Morris.
"We've told each starter we're going to set up the rotation so that our team has the best chance for success," Russell said. "I think we have a unique-type staff with all the lefties."
Which leads to the other question:
2. Can someone supplant Duke?
The answer would appear to be yes, so long as two things happen: Duke must show little or no sign of improvement from the past two seasons -- meaning too many hits and too few swings and misses -- and newcomer Jaret Wright must show he is healthy and effective.
Other candidates could join the mix to challenge Duke, too, but management seems to be keeping the closest eye on Wright.
Wright, 32, is an 11-year veteran best known for being the Cleveland Indians' Game 7 starter in the 1997 World Series. He had solid seasons for the Braves in 2004 and New York Yankees in 2006, but nagging right shoulder pain limited him to three games for the Baltimore Orioles last season. He briefly considered retirement near summer's end, but three encouraging fall outings in Florida's Instructional League prompted him to stick it out, and he signed a minor-league contract with the Pirates.
Why come back?
"I'll be done playing no matter what soon enough, so this feels like borrowed time," Wright said. "I've got to squeeze in everything I can. Hopefully, it works out."
It has so far in the early stages of camp. Wright impressed some management officials with an exceptional sinker in his most recent pitching sessions Sunday, and he is adamant his arm is fine.
"I feel great," he said.
After Gorzelanny's start Thursday, Snell will face the Phillies Friday at McKechnie Field. The next three starts will go, in order, to Duke, Maholm and Morris. Management also advised against reading too much into that arrangement.
First Published February 26, 2008 12:00 am