BRADENTON, Fla. -- Erik Bedard, the free agent left-hander signed in the offseason to lend veteran leadership to his younger partners in the Pirates rotation, can start leading on Day One.

Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle announced on Thursday he has chosen Bedard as the Bucs' Opening Day pitcher. He will face the Phillies and Roy Halladay on April 5 at PNC Park.

Hurdle conceded that his staff was "planning on giving the ball to A.J. [Burnett] to start the season," before a Feb. 29 bunting accident knocked Burnett, the other veteran newcomer, out of the season-starting picture.

Bedard will be followed in the rotation by Jeff Karstens and James McDonald for the other two games of the season-opening series against Philadelphia, then Kevin Correia will launch the road season on April 10 at Dodger Stadium.

Hurdle made his announcement following Thursday's exhibition at McKechnie Field. As routine for pitchers not scheduled to pitch in that day's game, Bedard had by then departed the park and was not available to comment on the third Opening Day assignment of his career.

Bedard dropped the 2007 opener while pitching for Baltimore, and in 2008 had a no-decision as Seattle's Opening Day starter. In those two starts, he allowed 13 hits -- including three home runs -- and seven earned runs in 9 2/3 innings.

"We looked at a whole bunch of factors," Hurdle said of the staff choice. "We looked at what the best matchups were for the first two weeks, heading into the month following.

"We felt this was our strongest rotation coming out. Bedard has done this before, it'll put Jeff in a good position to counter-balance the looks the Phillies will get, then with McDonald we get three different looks right out of the chute. And then Correia can try building on the momentum (10-3 record) he established on the road last season."

Karstens walks a fine line in Thursday's outing

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Jeff Karstens frowned when asked if he'd gotten a good workout in Thursday's outing against the Rays. Getting through 89 pitches was pleasing. But the Pittsburgh right-hander was gloomy over the pitches that missed, 16 in particular.

"Giving up hits is one thing. But free passes -- while my defense is just standing around out there -- can't happen," Karstens said. "That's 16 extra pitches. That can be another whole inning."

Karstens was merely caught up in the Pirates' most gaffe-filled game of the spring in the 8-6 loss to Tampa Bay. Pittsburgh pitchers issued four walks that turned into runs -- only two of them by Karstens -- committed three physical errors in the field, three mental errors on the bases, and squandered five different leads.

"The two-out walks were very uncharacteristic of Jeff, but our pitching was overall not sharp," said manager Clint Hurdle. "We were not able to finish innings. We had something like 14, 15 three-ball counts. Not very efficient."

Karstens is scheduled to pitch the Pirates' second regular-season game, an April 7 assignment against the Phillies. That allows him two more preseason outings to work out kinks.

"I'm not going to beat myself up over this. I know it's just one of those things," he said. "There will be times you go out there without your best stuff. I just have to focus; otherwise, this is what can happen with my release point and other stuff."

Worth noting

• Non-roster catcher Jose Morales, nursing a strained left oblique all spring, is losing hope of being able to get into action in the 10 days the club has remaining in Florida. The switch-hitter did take pre-game batting practice for the first time on Thursday, but still hasn't taken any swings from the left side.

• Jason Grilli's rocky outing (four roped hits, three runs and one loss in one inning) caught up to his unblemished spring. The right-hander had allowed only one hit through his first five appearances and six shutout innings.

• How you get to be known as The Hit Collector: Matt Hague, pinch-hitting in the eighth-inning, hit a routine popup above shortstop -- which didn't become so routine with sea gulls circling above Elliot Johnson, who never laid leather on the ball. It dropped for a single that raised Hague's average to .448 (13-for-29).

• Pedro Alvarez started at third and went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts, leaving him hitless, with eight strikeouts, in his last 13 at-bats.