BRADENTON, Fla. — Right-hander Jeff Karstens made another case for being the Bucs Opening Day starter on April 5th at PNC Park in the Pirates 2-1 loss against the Tampa Bay Rays at McKechnie Field. On Saturday, Karstens allowed one run on three hits over five innings with three walks and five strikeouts in his second official Grapefruit League start this spring.
Although the Pirates have been mum on who they will give the Opening Day nod to, Karstens is a candidate for the job.
‘We’re going to continue to evaluate,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “Jeff has done a real good job. [Pitching Coach] Ray [Searage] and I were talking before the game. 2010 he was just about every trip to pitch backup innings. The emergence he did in ‘11, and what he’s done this spring to carry it over through last season. He’s definitely somebody we’ll have conversation about.”
The Rays’ designated hitter Luke Scott hit a chopper up the middle off Karstens to start the first inning. With one out, Matt Joyce drew a walk and both advanced into scoring position after Karstens induced a ground out. The righty was able to strand the two runners after getting Jeff Keppinger to fly out to end the frame.
“He’s been deceptive since I’ve seen him,” Hurdle said. “When you look at the radar gun readings, he might throw a 92 now and then, but it’s 89-91. He reads swings extremely well. He sets his fastball up with a change-up, occasionally cutter, slow, slow curveball. The fastball has the tendency to get on hitters. They look quicker than they anticipate.”
In the second frame, Karstens walked two batters and committed an error, but once again was able to work his way out of the jam.
“The first two innings I was a little out of it,” Karstens said of his performance. “I think I was trying to do too much. I kept hitting the outside corner, but it wasn’t the corner. I kept hitting [catcher] Rod [Barajas]. It was just a little off the plate, and I acknowledge that. I kept trying to move it back a little bit. I wasn’t getting it. It wasn’t like I was missing it by a ton…They were good pitches, just a little off the plate. Overall it was a good outing. I was able to do some things.”
Karstens lone run was a solo blast to designated hitter Luke Scott in the 5th to give the Rays’ a 1-0 lead.
Overall, Karstens said was happy with his outing.
“I’m always trying stuff,” Karstens said. “I didn’t really have a good change-up today so I used [Daniel McCutchen’s] change up today. I throw a circle, and he throws a split. Today, I was trying to throw a circle and it wasn’t working, so I went to his split that I throw every once in a while. It was a good pitch for me today. It’s something I did last year too. I played catch with it. I always have it in my back pocket. It just depends on if I’m feeling good with my change-up I always have something else to fall back on.”
Over the offseason, Karstens changed his workouts and added some muscle — bulking up to 190 on his lean frame. Karstens was listed as 185 pounds prior to the start of the 2011 season.
“Finally, Karstens said of his weight gain. “It’s just one of those things. You just try to go out there and be as consistent as possible with what I have.”
“I think his body composition has improved,” Hurdle said. “He’s never going to look ripped. That’s just the way he’s built. He has added some muscle mass. He’s stronger physically. The body is in better condition. He understands the workload better than ever before, and that’s important as well.”
“I talked to Carlos Pena a little bit,” Karstens said. “He said the fastball was kind of different. I didn’t get it, but the swings that I was getting today, I noticed there was something different. I don’t know why it’s coming out like that. I don’t know if it was the offseason workouts. Just trying to be nice and easy and kind of have the ball jump out of my hand instead of trying to force all this 190-pounds to the plate, and it’s not really doing much.”
Pena crushed a pitch off reliever Joel Hanrahan off the wall in right field for a leadoff triple in the 6th inning. It marked Hanrahan’s first hit of the spring. Pena scored on a wild pitch by Hanrahan to take a 2-0 lead before striking out his next three batters. Hanrahan has nine strikeouts over 4.0 innings this spring.
All-Star Andrew McCutchen took the first pitch by Shields for his first home run of the spring in the bottom of the 6th in the 2-1 loss to the Rays.
- Relief: Joel Hanrahan: IP, H, R, 3K, WP; Jason Grilli: 2IP, H, BB, K; Ryota Igarashi: IP, K
- Josh Harrison played the final three innings at shortstop and went 1-for-1 with a double — his fifth of the spring. Harrison has gone 9-for-15 with in his first nine games.
- Right-hander Jason Grilli tossed 2.0 scorless innings and has now pitched 6.0 scoreless frames this spring.
Sunday Game Info:
- The Pirates will face the Minnesota Twins in Fort Myers at 1:05. Right-hander Charlie Morton will face lefty Francisco Liriano. Jared Hughes, Evan Meek, Tony Watson, Juan Cruz and Chris Leroux are scheduled to follow Morton in relief.
- ALSO TOMORROW: The Pirates and Twins will play a “B” game in Fort Myers at 10:00 AM. Righty Brad Lincoln will start for the Bucs. Following him in relief are: Chris Resop, Daniel McCutchen, Daniel Cabrera and Shairon Martis.
- Although there were no lineups up after the game, here are the players expected to travel for both the ‘A’ and ‘B’ game :
Michael McKenry, Garrett Jones, Neil Walker, Clint Barmes, Jordy Mercer, Pedro Alvarez, Jake Fox, Nick Evans, Jose Tabata, Nate McLouth, Starling Marte, Gorkys Hernandez
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