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BRADENTON, Fla. — The southpaw derby isn’t officially on the Pirates’ Spring Training racing form. But it officially got under way Friday night, in the middle of the Bucs’ 6-3 exhibition loss to the Orioles.
If there is a seat in the bullpen waiting for a second left-hander to complement Tony Watson — and manager Clint Hurdle has never identified that as a necessity — Kris Johnson and Mike Zagurski upped their bids.
Working consecutively in relief of Kyle McPherson, both Johnson and Zagurski were perfect in their innings — Zagurski doing it more impressively by striking out the side.
Johnson’s outing improved his spring line to one run allowed in 3 2/3 innings, with five strikeouts. Zagurski has retired all nine men he has faced in three innings, also with five punchouts.
“It’s too early to get into any competition for a spot on the roster,” said Zagurski, a Major League veteran of 82 games, including 45 last season with Arizona. “The breaking ball, usually my strikeout pitch, was a little tighter tonight, and that’s a good sign.”
“All I’m concerned with is progression every time I go out there, getting a little better with every chance,” said Johnson, still seeking his first big league exposure.
Both Johnson and Zagurski could be chasing Justin Wilson, the Bucs’ fifth-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft who has allowed one earned run in six innings, and has fanned seven.
BRADENTON, Fla. — Jeff Karstens made 34 pitches in a two-inning session Friday afternoon at Pirate City — the second frame without a protective L-screen in front of him on the mound — and was pleased with how he felt, especially given that it was his second simulated turn in four days.
“Absolutely, that was significant for me,” Karstens said. “I was able to make adjustments in the second inning, mixing in more breaking pitches. And it was great to pitch without the screen. That really got the competitive juices flowing.”
The plan is for Karstens to again lay low for a couple of days, then throw a bullpen session. The next step after that would be his Grapefruit League debut.
Karstens has been held back by a mild case of biceps tendinitis, with his inclusion in the season-opening rotation still in jeopardy. Even if he progresses without any setbacks, that first exhibition outing would not come earlier than March 14, only three weeks before the Bucs will need a No. 4 starter.
Karstens would only be beginning to stretch out his arm, of course. Pittsburgh’s other starters are already at the four-inning mark.
“I thought I’d be seeing Grilli in three days. I guess not.” — Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, watching on the clubhouse television as Jason Grilli’s Team Italy dismantled Canada to bolster its chances of advancing in the World Baseball Classic.
• Kyle McPherson was down to hurl the first four innings of Friday night’s game against the Orioles, but had to leave after a 28-pitch and three-run third. McPherson was still pleased with the work, especially with the feel for his curveball.
“No one wants to see a three-spot go up. But I was confident throwing the curve ahead or behind in the count,” McPherson said of his signature pitch. “Really, all my pitches felt good.”
“He showed three Major League pitches at times,” said manager Clint Hurdle, citing the changeup along with the curve and fastball.
• Russell Martin (sore shoulder) had been penciled in to resume catching on Saturday, but instead will do so in one of Sunday’s split-squad road games. He threw to second base in Friday’s drills and reported no issues.
• Also delayed a day is Charlie Morton’s first batting-practice session on the slow road back from Tommy John surgery in June. Morton will now throw on Monday, likely only a logistical concession to the fact the team and staff will be on the road at two sites on Sunday.
• Dave Arrigo, the Pirates’ team photographer, is already warming up his shutter finger for Sunday’s photo day in Pirate City. He’ll be shooting the approximately 130 Minor Leaguers – six times each, once hatless, then in turn wearing the caps of all five teams in the Bucs’ system (Indianapolis, Altoona, Bradenton, West Virginia and Jamestown). Gotta have all possible assignments covered, you know.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.