Pirates' bullpen remaining in a state of flux
Wednesday, March 31, 2010

FORT MYERS, Fla. Pirates general manager Neal Huntington had hoped to have a hard time choosing who'd be in the bullpen because every candidate was lights-out in spring training.

"I can't say we've had that," Huntington said Tuesday. "But I can say we have some guys who've thrown well and who are capable of helping us win games."

While yesterday's roster cuts six pitchers and a catcher were sent to minor-league camp firmed up the bullpen, the decision-making process is not over.

"We'll continue to look externally to see if there's something that can help us," Huntington said, "but this is a solid group to build on."

Right-handers Jeff Karstens, Steven Jackson, Anthony Claggett, Brian Bass, Vinnie Chulk and Jeremy Powell were sent out and will open the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. Catcher Luke Carlin also was cut.

There are 14 pitchers left in Pirates' camp. Two of them Joel Hanrahan and Jose Ascanio will begin the season on the disabled list, though neither has been deactivated yet. Huntington said Hanrahan could be ready to come off the DL a week to 10 days into the regular season.

The Pirates seem set to open with a seven-man bullpen: right-handers Octavio Dotel, Brendan Donnelly, D.J. Carrasco, Evan Meek and Hayden Penn; and left-handers Javier Lopez and Jack Taschner.

Is that the way it will look Monday, when the Pirates open the season against Los Angeles Dodgers?

"If we were to break camp today, yes," Huntington said. 'But we've still got a few days left in spring training and there are (trade) conversations ongoing, so moves could still happen."

Taschner and Carrasco were signed this winter to minor-league contracts, so the Pirates will have to clear spots for them on the 40-man roster. That could be done via a trade infielder Ramon Vazquez is on the block and/or by designating someone (outfielder Brandon Jones is a possibility) for assignment.

Penn, who Monday was claimed off waivers from the Florida Marlins, is sort of a wild card. He's out of options, so the Pirates cannot send him to the minors without risking losing him on waivers.

Penn has started and relieved, but the Pirates first must figure out if he should stick on their Opening Day roster before deciding whether to slot him as a starter or reliever in the long term.

"I struggled in my last two outings, but the first part of the spring was good," Penn said. "I kind of got thrown out of my (rhythm), with starting and relieving for Florida. Health-wise, I'm ready to go."

Coming off a three-day layoff, Penn pitched Tuesday in a minor-league game at Pirate City. He is scheduled to pitch in major-league games Thursday and Saturday.

"This is an opportunity to impress people and show them I deserve to be on this roster," Penn said. "The (short time frame) doesn't matter. I'm on my game, then I'll show 'em what I need to show 'em."

Penn, 25, throws a mid-90s fastball, a solid changeup and a curveball. This spring, he's added a two-seam fastball.

"The sinker's been big for me, as far as getting me back in counts," Penn said. "It's something I'll continue to work with."
[HIGH-LIGHT]Relief workers[/HIGH-LIGHT]

The Pirates' likely Opening Day bullpen:

Pitcher (Throws) Prediction

Octavio Dotel (RHP) Closer has recovered from oblique strain

Brendan Donnelly (RHP) Will be main setup guy

D.J. Carrasco (RHP) Can go multiple innings, spot start

Evan Meek (RHP) Rivals Dotel for nastiest fastball in 'pen

Hayden Penn (RHP) Could be a future starter

Javier Lopez (LHP) Command makes up for mid-80s fastball

Jack Taschner (LHP) Needs to be effective against righties