Pirates name Correia Opening Day starter
Maholm, Ohlendorf, Morton and McDonald round out rotation
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Manager Clint Hurdle has set the starting rotation and it features Kevin Correia positioned on top.
Correia was informed on Thursday that he would get the ball to pitch in the Pirates' season-opening game in Chicago next Friday. He'll be followed on Saturday by Paul Maholm, who then lines up to take the mound for the Pirates' home opener against the Rockies on April 7.
Following Maholm will be, in order: Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton and James McDonald. This, of course, is with the assumption that McDonald will be able to sufficiently build up his arm after being sidelined much of the month with left side soreness.
For Correia, the opportunity to start the opener is a first in his nine-year career.
"It's a good honor for me, but I know there is a lot of work that is going to be involved with every five days," said Correia, who will be opposed by Chicago's Ryan Dempster. "It's not just one start. Every one is important. It is nice to go out there on a day that kicks off the season, but like I said in the past, in our rotation we need every one of these guys to pitch like they're the best pitcher on the staff at some point in the year for us to do what we need to do. I am excited about it, but I do know that there is a lot of work."
Correia and Maholm were the only two pitchers being considered as potential Opening Day starters, and Hurdle emphasized that starting the home opener is just as prestigious of an assignment. Without going into the specifics of what tipped the decision in Correia's favor, Hurdle said a variety of factors were considered.
"We actually had pretty much of a split house internally," Hurdle said. "I looked at every stat you could pull up to try and make some sense. And for every one that would make you think this, there was another one to make you think that. At the end of the day, I wanted these two guys leading the pack."
Correia, who became the newest member of the rotation when he signed a two-year deal with the club this winter, will be the fourth different Opening Day starter the Pirates have had in as many years. Only one of the last three -- Ian Snell, Maholm and Zach Duke -- is still with the organization.
"It's my first one as a Major League starter, so it's exciting," said Correia, who went 10-10 with a 5.40 ERA last season. "And to do it at a place like Wrigley Field should be a lot of fun."
Wrigley Field hasn't been the kindest of venues to Correia, though the right-hander has not pitched there nearly as much as Maholm.
In 11 2/3 innings, Correia has allowed 17 hits, 11 earned runs, walked seven and struck out nine. He did, however, throw six shutout innings during San Diego's trip to Chicago last August. Four of his six appearances there have been in relief.
"The park can play a number of different ways depending on the wind direction," Correia said. "I've never played there that early in the season. Just depending on the weather, you don't know what it's going to be like. It doesn't change the way I pitch a great deal."
Correia has made five spring appearances so far, and has one more scheduled before the regular season opens. In 18 1/3 Grapefruit League innings, Correia has given up 13 earned runs on 27 hits. He has walked six and struck out 15.
Though Maholm had left the Pirates' clubhouse by the time the club made the rotation announcement, he later posted on his Twitter account that he was "very honored" to be the one chosen to open PNC Park this season.
With the rotation set as it is, Maholm and Ohlendorf will pitch the pair of weekend games against the Cubs. Morton, McDonald and Correia will then each throw in the following three-game set in St. Louis.
For Morton, Hurdle's announcement makes his placement in the rotation finally official. Morton certainly proved he deserved a chance to begin the year with the big-league club by the way he has pitched in Spring Training. And with Scott Olsen's spring setbacks, Morton emerged early as the favorite to take one of the team's final rotation spots.
"Charlie has pitched better than anybody in camp, and good for him," Hurdle said. "That's why the next step will be the more interesting step. The season will come and we'll see what that brings. But confidence has been built."
The only fluidity in the rotation comes with McDonald's spot. The right-hander is set to throw on Saturday (likely in a Minor League game) in what would be his first start since leaving a March 11 game with left side discomfort.
If McDonald is able to throw about 50 pitches on Saturday, he will stay in Florida to pitch again on March 31. The hope is that McDonald could extend himself out to 80 pitches in that appearance. If McDonald can reach those pitch thresholds, Hurdle said the Pirates would be comfortable sending him to the mound against the Cardinals on April 5.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.