BRADENTON, Fla. —
The Pittsburgh Pirates are giving two youngsters a fair shot at winning the fifth starter spot in their rotation.
Left-hander Jeff Locke and right-hander Kyle McPherson were impressive in their first outings of spring training. Neither got a chance to pitch Tuesday because the Pirates game against the Baltimore Orioles was rained out.
Orioles starter Chris Tillman was pushed back to start Wednesday against the Red Sox.
Locke got late-season callups in each of the past two seasons, and has tossed a total of 51 innings in the majors, going a combined 1-6 with a 5.82 ERA. McPherson made his big league debut last year – 0-2 with a 2.73 ERA in 10 games, three starts.
“You try to get your foot in the door,” McPherson said. “Once you get your foot in the door, you try to push it open and get established. That’s what Locke and I are doing at this stage of the game. We’re going to go toe to toe and see how it shakes out.”
The Pirates have veterans in the top four spots of their rotation: A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald and Jeff Karstens.
Rodriguez was scheduled to start Tuesday. Instead, he will follow Burnett on Wednesday.
Shoulder soreness forced McPherson to leave winter ball after just a few days last winter, so the Pirates don’t want to rush him early in camp. Against the Twins, he needed only 15 pitches to retire the six batters he faced.
“For Kyle’s first time out, our biggest interest was in the up and down twice,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’ve got plenty of time to get his pitch count where it needs to be.”
Locke was scheduled to work two innings against the Rays, but was so efficient he wound up going three.
“I kept going until they told me I was done,” Locke said, grinning.
“It felt good to get out there and compete, especially against someone wearing a different jersey.”
Locke walked one, struck out one and did not allow a hit. He threw just 32 pitches, 18 of them strikes.
If Locke seems a bit ahead of schedule, he said it’s because he arrived at Pirate City in mid-January, about a month before camp opened, and settled into a regular throwing routine.
“That definitely has something to do with how (good) I feel right now,” Locke said.
“We’ve tried to build our winter throwing program the last two years,” Hurdle said. “This is a by-product of that.”
Baltimore right-hander Luis Ayala won’t pitch for a few weeks, manager Buck Showalter said.
The Orioles want to rest him because he pitched in the Mexican Winter League. Ayala has also been dealing with flu-like symptoms.
Notes: Rodriguez will make one more start for the Pirates after pitching Wednesday then leave to pitch for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic. ... RHPs Jim Johnson and Darren O’Day aren’t scheduled for their first appearance until March 6 when the Orioles play Spain’s entry in the World Baseball Classic. ... RHP Jason Hammel, who missed much of the second half of the season after right knee surgery, is scheduled to start on Friday against the Pirates.