By John Perrotto_The focus of the Pirates‚Äô spring training camp has been the starting rotation but the bullpen is even more unsettled with the April 6 opener at St. Louis less than two weeks away.
The rotation is 60 percent set with left-handers Paul Maholm and Zach Duke assured of spots along with right-hander Ian Snell while two jobs remain open in a three-man competition between Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and Virgil Vasquez.
Conversely, less than half of the seven bullpen jobs have been filled as the Pirates are still looking for four relievers to fill in behind closer Matt Capps, left-handed set-up man John Grabow and right-handed set-up man Tyler Yates.
‚ÄúQuite frankly, we‚Äôre, still waiting for people to step up,‚Äù Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. ‚ÄúNobody has really distinguished themselves.‚Äù
Left-hander Sean Burnett appeared to be all
but a lock when spring training began but he entered Tuesday night‚Äôs exhibition game against the Atlanta Braves at Lake Buena Vista, Fla., with a 10.13 ERA this spring as he has allowed 12 runs and 16 hits in 10 2/3 innings while walking three and striking out nine.
Right-hander Craig Hansen and rookie left-hander Donnie Veal throw hard but have continued their career-long pattern of wildness. Hansen has walked 10, hit one batter and thrown one wild pitch in 9 1/3 innings while Veal has walked 11, hit two and uncorked two wild pitches in 10 2/3 innings.
Hansen has a 4.82 ERA as he has given up five runs and five hits. Veal‚Äôs ERA is a fine 2.53 as he has allowed three runs and three hits.
Burnett, Hansen and Veal have a leg up on everyone, though, because of contractual issues.
Burnett and Hansen are out of minor-league options and would need to be exposed to the waiver wire if the Pirates tried to send them to the minors. Veal was selected in the Rule 5 draft at the winter meetings in December and must be kept in the major leagues all seasons or offered back to his original club, the Chicago Cubs, for $25,000.
Assuming all three wind up making the club, that would leave five pitchers competing for one job.
Right-hander Jason Davis, who was originally supposed to compete for a starting job when spring training started, is the front runner as he has given up only one run and seven hits in 11 innings for a 0.82.
However, working against Davis is his six walks and the fact that he is on a minor-league contract, which means the Pirates would have to clear a spot on the 40-man roster to add him.
Right-handers Evan Meek (3.48 ERA), Chris Bootcheck (4.91), Denny Bautista (5.59) and Jesse Chavez (11.74) are the other relievers still in camp.
Meek has pitched the best of the four but is currently sidelined by a tired shoulder and probably won‚Äôt be able to pitch until next week, which clouds his potential availability for opening day.
*John Perrotto covers the Pirates for Baseball America, Piratesreport.com and major league baseball for Baseball Prospectus