Karstens and Leroux On Pace to Return at the End of the Month

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CLEVELAND, OH — The starting rotation and bullpen could both shake up towards the end of this month. Both Jeff Karstens and Chris Leroux should return from their rehab assignments, which will shuffle things around.

Karstens threw a 35 pitch bullpen session on Saturday afternoon without issue. The right-hander, who was originally placed on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation on April 18, had a set back in a rehab start due to an injured right hip flexor. He is scheduled to make a rehab start with Double-A Altoona on Tuesday.

“I anticipate him throwing about 80 pitches in that rehab outing,” Manager Clint Hurdle said. “I think talking to the trainers, It’s not just a set one and done. It might be two. As we move forward, he could have a TBA around July 1.”

How Brad Lincoln fares in the starting rotation on Sunday could determine his role with Pittsburgh. Lincoln will make his fourth start of the season against the Indians. The right-hander has struggled in back-to-back starts. He tossed 4.1 innings in his start on Tuesday allowing four runs on nine hits. Over his three starts overall, Lincoln has allowed 11 earned runs over 14.1 innings, good for a 7.02 ERA.

In relief, however, Lincoln has been dominant, posting just an 0.45 ERA. If Lincoln is pulled from the rotation following his outing on Sunday, you could see a left prospect in Jeff Locke or Rudy Owens get an opportunity at the big league level. Locke allowed two runs over 5.2 IP on Thursday for Indy, and overall in 2012 he’s posted a 3.27 ERA. Owens has also put up numbers worthy of a promotion. Owens allowed two runs over six frames his last trip to the mound, and has posted just a 2.34 ERA over 84.2 innings this season.

With Leroux on the brink of coming back from a right pectoral strain — an injury that has held him out of Major League action since before the season even started — the bullpen will have a bit of a shuffle. Who goes when Leroux is healthy will depend on a few different factors.

“You’re talking two weeks, three weeks down the road,” Hurdle said. “Is anybody dinged up? There’s so many variables with still a 12 day window out there. How healthy is our bullpen at that time. How many guys in the bullpen do we have that has options? How well Leroux’s pitched?”

So who could be the odd man out? Those left in the ‘pen with options are right-handers Lincoln and Jared Hughes. Hughes has been scored upon just twice in his last 19.2 innings and has posted a 2.01 ERA during his rookie season. The Pirates could cut ties with a struggling arm. Chris Resop posted a 5.40 ERA in the month of May and four runs over his last 4.0 innings in June.

“Leroux threw [Friday night], an extended inning, 28 pitches. We’ll get him a couple days down. We could be looking at him sometime in the last week [of June], 27th, 28th around there. If all goes well, towards the end of the month.”

Leroux has allowed two runs on four hits over 6.0 innings with a walk and a strikeout combined at High-A Bradenton and Triple-A Indy. The righty is working to build back his arm strength but is feeling healthy.

“Rehab is going really well,” Leroux said. “My velocity is coming back, and my breaking ball is getting sharper with each outing. The main thing I’m working on right now is just getting used to actually being out on the mound, everything else will come with repetition. I have to keep in mind though that these next 30 days that I have to rehab in Indy are actually like my spring training, so I try not to get too frustrated when things don’t go exactly like I feel they should. In any case, I am chomping at the bit to get back to Pittsburgh.”

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