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03/18/09 4:39 PM ET

Pirates send Gorzelanny to Minors

Former staff ace optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates announced two cuts from big league camp early on Wednesday morning, then three more after the game against the Twins, and one comes as a bit of a surprise.

Left-handed starter Tom Gorzelanny and outfielder Jose Tabata were optioned on Wednesday morning, whittling down the total number of players in big league camp to 43. That number went to an even 40 when third baseman Neil Walker and lefty Dave Davidson were optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis and non-roster invitee Brian Slocum was assigned to Minor League camp later in the day.

"He was frustrated," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. "He doesn't want to be a Minor Leaguer. He doesn't quite understand why we've made the decision. We understand. He's a competitor and he wants to be a Major League pitcher."

The 2003 second-round pick declined comment after receiving the news he had been optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. Gorzelanny had been competing for a rotation spot this spring, but had not pitched well. In four starts, he allowed seven earned runs on eight hits and five walks while striking out four.

Gorzelanny established himself in 2006, when he had a 3.79 ERA over 11 starts. In his first full season, the southpaw won 14 games to lead the Pirates, and his 3.88 ERA was 15th in the National League. He made 32 starts in 2007 and topped the 200-inning mark.

He took a step backward in 2008, going 6-9 with a 6.66 ERA over 21 starts and 105 1/3 innings. He was sent to Triple-A in July to work things out, came back in late August, pitched ineffectively, then got shut down in September with a finger injury. Command has been an issue, with 68 walks in 201 2/3 innings in 2007, and 70 free passes in just 105 1/3 last season.

"It's something we've tried to study the past and tried to help him recover the past," said Huntington, who did give Gorzelanny credit for being in much better shape this spring. "At this point in time, we haven't been able to do that. We can only operate off of what we saw a year ago, what we've seen thus far this spring. We've not seen a guy attack the strike zone. We've not seen a guy command his fastball, and that's why the move -- as difficult as it is -- the move is to try to get him back to a position where he can command his fastball. His delivery has been very inconsistent, last year and this year.

"We need him to get that delivery consistent because that's going to allow him to command his fastball, it's going to allow his breaking ball to have more tilt, more plane. Right now, it's kind of flat and sweepy. The changeup just doesn't have the deception and fade it had a year ago. The delivery's affecting the quality of the pitches. The velocity's down a little bit, but there's no easy explanation for why he was so good two years ago and why he struggled last year and carried it into this Spring Training a little bit."

With Gorzelanny gone, that creates a touch more clarity in the competition for rotation spots. Paul Maholm is a lock, with Zach Duke and Ian Snell, who just finished a successful stint in the World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico, more or less sure things. That leaves the final two spots in the rotation. Ross Ohlendorf has pitched very well this spring and could be the No. 4 starter, with Jeff Karstens and Virgil Vasquez perhaps the two most likely candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation. Vasquez didn't help his cause with a poor outing against the Yankees on Tuesday night in Tampa.

"The reality is we're not going to use five pitchers all year," Huntington said. "We're going to use six or seven or eight starters, so we need Tom Gorzelanny to bounce back, to make some of the adjustments we've worked on. ... We anticipate that he's going to be a big part of this club as we go forward. It's just not going to be on April 5."

Tabata has been nothing but impressive since coming to the Pirates organization last summer. He's been optioned to Double-A Altoona, where he hit .348 over 22 games. This spring in big league camp, he opened many eyes by hitting .407 (11-for-27) over 11 games.

"Our coaching staff has been impressed with [Tabata's] work on defense, his work in the tunnels," Huntington said. "He's obviously gone out and performed very well in a three-week look in Major League camp, but against Major League pitchers. He's hit breaking balls, he's hit fastballs. He's played well defensively; he's run the bases well. There are some bright guys coming through our system and reasons to feel good about where we're going in the future.

"We're trying to help him achieve his vast potential. [Altoona] was the place we felt we'd best be able to do that. He's got the chance to be fun to watch for a lot of years. If he shows us what he showed us here on a consistent basis, it'll be sooner rather than later."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.