By John Perrotto_ Much of the focus in the Pirates‚Äô spring training camp has been on sorting out the starting rotation and there are two open spots with a little less three weeks remaining before opening day.
Right-handers Jason Davis, Jeff Karstens, Ross Ohlendorf and Virgil Vasquez are the candidates to join left-handers Paul Maholm and Zach Duke and right-hander Zach Duke.
The smart money says that
Ohlendorf and Karstens will emerge as the No. 4 and 5 starters. Ohlendorf gives the Pirates the big physical power pitcher they lack in the rotation and Karstens has greatly improved his sinker after making a mechanical adjustment with new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan.
While it does not carry quite the same intrigue, the makeup of the Pirates‚Äô bullpen is still up in the air. The Pirates say closer Matt Capps and set-up men John Grabow and Tyler Yates are the only relievers assured of jobs.
However, despite some recent rocky outings, Sean Burnett will certainly be part of the relief corps on opening day.
Burnett is out of minor-league options and could become a free agent as he already been outrighted to the minor leagues once in his career. More importantly, the Pirates want a second lefty reliever behind Grabow after being shunned by free agent Joe Beimel.
Rookie left-hander Donnie Veal and right-hander Craig Hansen are also assuredly going to make the club.
Veal is a Rule 5 draft pick with a lively fastball and the Pirates aren‚Äôt going to pass on a chance to keep him in the organization. He must stay on the major-league roster all season or be offered back to the Chicago Cubs for half the $50,000 draft price.
Hansen, another hard thrower who has shown vast improvement, is also out of options and would have to pass through waivers if the Pirates try to send him to the minor leagues. The Pirates won‚Äôt take that risk.
That leaves one spot open in the seven-man bullpen with right-handers Denny Bautista, Chris Bootcheck, Jesse Chavez and Evan Meek vying for it.
As overmatched as Meek looked early last season as a Rule 5 draftee is as comfortable as he has looked this spring. He has clearly outpitched the other three contenders and has a big leg up on winning the last job.
John Perrotto covers the Pirates for Piratesreport.com, Baseball America and covers Major League Baseball for Baseball Prospectus