PITTSBURGH -- Jeff Karstens is starting his seventh Major League season, and in the first six he did total 76 starts. All, however, came about as a consequence of developments with other pitchers on the staffs he shared, in 2006-07 with the Yankees and the last four seasons with the Pirates.This Spring Training was different for the erstwhile right-handed swingman, as Karstens tuned up for a secure spot in the rotation. "It's the first time I spent the whole time getting ready to start," Karstens said. "From being in the bullpen in the past, now I get to start the second game of the season. It's what I've worked for really hard this offseason, and I'm very excited." Pitching coach Ray Searage thinks fans, too, will be stoked as Karstens enters this new phase of his career. "He's always had a strong desire to prove people wrong -- that was his driving force," Searage said. "Three years ago, he was a backup on almost every trip, going from the 'pen into the rotation if someone got hurt. His desire to be one of the best will take him places a lot of people didn't think he'd go." Karstens' first 2012 stop, on Saturday night at PNC Park, will come against the Phillies and another of their aces, Cliff Lee. Coming off a solid preseason (2.12 ERA), Karstens is ready to give him a battle. "I'll play a little chess game with them," he said, referring to the Phillies' lineup, "and we'll see where that takes us."
Nutting: Bucs have talent to succeed in Central
PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates have opened other seasons under Bob Nutting's watch, and new beginnings always stir the senses. Still, the club chairman has never been quite as stirred as this time around."We're moving from the phase of building and having hope, to having faith and belief that we're going to perform," Nutting said. "I believe we're going to take another step forward. We've shown that we can succeed in the National League Central. We showed that through the first 100 games last season." Although the Bucs' incipient contention dissolved into a 72-90 finish, what's often overlooked is that mark represented an improvement of 15 wins over 2010. Taking a similar step this season would put the Bucs at 87-75, and possibly into at least contention for one of the NL's two Wild Card playoff spots. Not that anyone suggests another leap like that would be easy. And the toughest part could be a rugged first-month schedule featuring a slew of tough opponents, including three '11 postseason teams. "We do have a very tough schedule starting off," Nutting said, "and we recognize that. But we're a stronger team, in every area. We've matured as a team."
Season underway, Huntington looks ahead
PITTSBURGH -- For just about everyone else, Opening Day and a new season mean it's time to get down to serious business.But for a baseball general manager? In many ways, it's an end. Neal Huntington spent the offseason, every single day of it, considering or actually making moves to improve the Pirates. On Opening Day, the job is done, and the team moves along the assembly line to the manager. "As much as it is a huge portion of the job," said Huntington, referring to the composition of the Major League roster, "it's just part of a cycle. Ninety-nine percent of my energy is spent on the Major League team, but there are different parts to the cycle. "Now is when we start talking about the amateur Draft. Our scouts are out there, and they're killing it. As soon as we get out of Spring Training, I begin to turn my attention to the Draft." It is a concentrated timeline. The First-Year Player Draft traditionally begins on the first Monday of June, which this year would put it on June 4. Yes, less than two months after Opening Day. Just one of the reasons GMs tend to view the heightened excitement and the festivities through their unique filter. "As exciting as Opening Day is, it is just Game One," Huntington said. "Just one of 162 that we're looking at to get those bonus games in October."
One reason Clint Hurdle will liberally use Yamaico Navarro and Josh Harrison is he doesn't want their hot Grapefruit League bats to cool off. Another one is Hurdle knows the pain of being big in Spring Training and forgotten once the season starts: He recalls one year when he got 90 at-bats in Spring Training -- then 81 during the season, even though "I wasn't hurt all year." The Pirates will visit Altoona for an exhibition game with the Curve, their Double-A affiliate, prior to the 2013 season. Club president Frank Coonelly confirmed the date while attending Thursday night's season opener for the Curve, the Bucs' longest-running current farm club, since 1999. A date for the game will be picked once the official 2013 Major League schedule is announced. Nick Leyva is expected back in the third-base coaching box for Saturday night's game, after a four-day absence to attend to a personal matter.
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.