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Perrotto: Pirates’ Biggest Weakness Might Not be Such a Weakness



Jared Jones, Pittsburgh Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pittsburgh Pirates have no idea who the last two members of their starting rotation will be with opening day just two weeks and a day away.

Yet that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Manager Derek Shelton believes it is a sign of how strong the competition to fill in the spots after Mitch Keller and left-handers Marco Gonzales and Martin Perez. The Pirates open the season on March 28 against the Marlins in Miami.

“What’s happened is we’ve had some guys step up and have good springs and we’ve seen improvement,” Shelton said Tuesday after the Pirates beat the Atlanta Braves 5-1 in a Grapefruit League game at LECOM Park.

“I don’t think that’s isolated to one or two guys, I think throughout that group, we’re seeing everybody get better, which is the main thing. It’s still a competition and it’s a competition because of the fact that they’re all pitching well.”

Two pitchers signed as free agents in the early days of spring training had strong showings on Tuesday in their bids to win rotation spots.

Chase Anderson started and pitched three perfect innings. He had only one strikeout but threw 25 of his 36 pitches for strikes while featuring cut fastballs and changeups.

“I thought it was really good,” Shelton said of Anderson’s outing. “He was efficient, he was in the zone, and he went right after guys. He had pitched at the back half of games (this spring), so we wanted to get him at the front half of the game.

“Through two innings, I think threw 19 pitches. Really efficient but executed both of those two pitches to both sides of the plate, which was really impressive.”

Anderson was anything but impressive last season when the 10-year veteran had a 1-6 record and 5.42 ERA in 19 games (17 starts) combined with the Tampa Bay Rays and Colorado Rockies. However, he been outstanding this spring as he has yet to allow a run or a hit in seven innings over three games.

Left-hander Josh Fleming pitched two scoreless innings in relief and allowed only one baserunner, which came on a hit by pitch. Like Anderson, Fleming struck out only one but threw 13 of 21 pitches for strikes and got three of his other five outs on groundballs.

“That’s what he is and that’s what he’s done,” Shelton said of Fleming’s propensity to induce grounders. “It’s a situation where he’s able to throw (multiple) innings whether it’s starting a game, in the middle of a game, being a bulk (reliever), but a left-hander that puts the ball on the ground as often as he does is a really nice addition to our group.”

Fleming made three starts and nine relief appearances for the Rays last year and went 2-0 with a 4.70 ERA. He has pitched five times this spring and allowed four runs and eight hits in 7.2 innings.

Other pitchers still in the running for the rotation openings include lefty Bailey Falter and right-handers Roansy Contreras, Jared Jones, Luis Ortiz and Quinn Priester.

Jones, the Pirates’ third-best prospect according to Baseball America, has made a strong impression. He has been charged with two unearned runs in 7.1 innings.

The 22-year-old Jones has yet to pitch in the major leagues. Last season, he was 5-9 with a 3.85 ERA in 26 games (25 starts) combined with Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis.

Despite giving up five runs (three earned) in eight innings, Ortiz has impressed with a team-high 11 strikeouts.

Meanwhile, Falter has allowed six runs in 9.2 innings, Contreras has given up five runs in 6.2 innings and Preister has been charged with six runs in 7.2 innings.

The biggest concern coming into spring training was whether the Pirates could cobble together five capable starting pitchers. Performances by Anderson, Fleming, Jones and Ortiz are helping to allay those fears.

It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out over the final two weeks of camp.

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