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03/27/11 5:51 PM ET

Snyder likely to start season on DL

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Concerns about Chris Snyder's back are likely to force the Pirates to begin the year with Snyder on the disabled list or with three catchers on the club's roster.

Though Snyder said he could potentially resume baseball activities as early as Monday, general manager Neal Huntington said after Sunday's game that it was "very probable" that Snyder will begin the year on the disabled list.

With Snyder expected to land on the DL, the Pirates will open the season with Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo as their two catchers. This also means that outfielder John Bowker will claim the club's final bench spot. Bowker would have been the odd man out, had the Pirates started the season with three catchers, which was a possibility that was discussed.

Though Snyder might not be out long, the Pirates cannot risk going into the year with one healthy catcher and one hampered by back issues. And considering that Snyder missed two weeks with similar back soreness earlier this month, it seemed ambitious to expect him to be ready for full-time catching duties in five days.

The club has not specified whether Doumit or Jaramillo will get the majority of starts behind the plate in Snyder's absence. It could be a scenario in which the duties are split fairly evenly. As for Bowker, he will serve as the team's fifth outfielder and another backup first baseman.

Rule 5 status gains roster spot for Rodriguez

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Wanting to give Josh Rodriguez a longer look, the Pirates are going to have a Rule 5 player on the 25-man roster for the fourth straight season.

After Sunday's game, manager Clint Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington informed Pedro Ciriaco that he would begin the year in Triple-A Indianapolis. By optioning Ciriaco to the Minors, the Pirates opened the door for Rodriguez to go north with the team as the backup middle infielder.

A number of factors played into the Pirates' decision to keep Rodriguez, one of which was his status as a Rule 5 player. Cleveland, which had publically stated that it would take Rodriguez back, would have had that chance, had the Bucs not kept Rodriguez on the 25-man roster. At the same time, Ciriaco has a Minor League option remaining, meaning the Pirates can shuttle him back and forth between Triple-A and Pittsburgh this season without consequence.

"We've got nothing to lose here," Hurdle said. "We need to try some things. We need to be creative and open-minded."

Ciriaco outperformed Rodriguez defensively, though Huntington said Rodriguez met the challenge of showing the club he is capable of backing up Ronny Cedeno at short. The Pirates certainly lose some speed by not keeping Ciriaco on the bench, but Rodriguez has the higher upside on the offensive end.

The Pirates will have Ciriaco bounce around to play second, third, short and center in Triple-A in an effort to prepare him for a super-utility role. The opportunity for Ciriaco to get more regular at-bats than he would have in the Majors is also something the Pirates think will be beneficial to the 25-year-old's development.

"His history, if you look at it, he's been somewhat of a slasher up there," Hurdle said of Ciriaco, who batted .333 this spring. "Will he always be? He might be. But with a little more focus down there and the volume of at-bats that he is going to get, I'm hoping he can tighten that up a little, because when he gets the ball in the strike zone, he's pretty efficient with it."

The challenge now for the Pirates is to find a way to help Rodriguez continue his development while also putting him in a position to succeed. Rodriguez has never played higher than Triple-A, where he hit .293 in 86 games last season.

"I'm not going to look at it as a lost season," said Rodriguez, who must stay on the 25-man roster or else be offered back to the Indians. "It's a big opportunity for me. I'll play my role. I'll come off the bench and basically do everything in my power to make the team better."

Move from starting to relief suits Crotta

BRADENTON, Fla. -- He came in camp under the radar -- publically, at least. But with five days remaining until Opening Day, Michael Crotta remains solidly in the mix for a spot in the Pirates' bullpen.

A career Minor League starter, Crotta has embraced the transition from starter to reliever this spring and done so with notable success. He didn't allow an earned run in his first 10 Grapefruit League innings, though that streak came to an end on Saturday when the Yankees tagged him for one run on two hits in an inning.

The Pirates have two bullpen spots left to fill and three candidates -- Crotta, Garrett Olson and Chris Leroux -- still in competition. Olson is likely in, since the Pirates could use a left-handed option. That means the final spot is expected to go to Crotta, who has never pitched higher than Triple-A, or Leroux, who does have 28 games of big league experience.

"I'm just trying to take it one day at a time," Crotta said. "There is a lot of stuff that's out of my control, and I understand that. There is no reason to get ahead of today. I'm happy I'm still here."

Crotta, a 6-foot-6 right-hander and 17th-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, has thrived this spring because of his ability to keep both his sinker and slider down in the strike zone. He's also been able to learn how to get his arm loose quickly enough to enter the game in relief.

Developing the mentality of a reliever was something Crotta worked on extensively this winter with pitching coach Ray Searage. Having dealt with some elbow issues at the end of last season, Crotta reported to Bradenton in December and remained there to work with Searage during the weeks leading up to Spring Training.

"I was kind of looking forward to giving it a chance and seeing what it was all about," Crotta said. "I'm going out there not so much trying to be perfect, but to be physically ready to throw in a game."

Maholm confident as season nears

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Confident that he will be able to avoid the inconsistencies that plagued him last season, Paul Maholm has wrapped up his Spring Training work and now must wait only six days before pitching in a game that really counts.

Maholm made six starts this spring, the final one coming against the Rays on Sunday. He allowed three runs on five hits (including two homers) in five innings in his finale. The left-hander also struck out five, finishing the spring with 18 strikeouts in 25 innings. Despite giving up seven home runs this spring, Maholm said he is pleased with how he feels as he prepares to leave Florida.

"I felt a lot more comfortable pitching in," Maholm said. "I think as far as pitch counts go, I got to 96 [mph] last time, and I'd say I threw about 70-75 [mph] today. I feel good. I'm just ready go into the cold stuff and see what we can do."

Maholm, who will be in the second spot in the Pirates' rotation, is coming off a season in which he matched his career high in losses (15) and compiled a higher ERA (5.10) than he has had in any year since making his Major League debut in 2005. Game-to-game consistency seemed to plague him more than anything, and that was evident in the fact that Maholm made six starts that lasted fewer than four innings.

"The fact that I wasn't as consistent as I should be bothered me," Maholm said. "I would have one good game and two bad games. That's not me. That's not what I need to do. I'm trying to make sure I do everything possible to make sure I'm ready for the season and not have a rough start or a rough patch."

Bucs Bits

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Right-hander Jeff Karstens is scheduled to throw five innings (80 pitches) in his outing on Monday against the Twins. The Pirates want to get Karstens stretched out, in case he is needed to step into the rotation for James McDonald during the first week of the season. ... Left-hander Joe Beimel threw a 30-pitch bullpen session on Sunday and reported no issues with his left elbow. Beimel will not begin the year with the big league club, but the quicker he can get back pitching, the sooner he will be ready to join the Pirates in April. ... Brad Lincoln (right forearm contusion) continues to progress, though it is too early to know whether he will be ready to begin the year in the Triple-A rotation. There is a chance that Lincoln could remain in extended Spring Training in Florida before joining the Indianapolis club. ... With another sellout on Sunday, the Pirates set a McKechnie Field attendance record this spring. A total of 88,003 fans came through the gates for the Pirates' 16 Grapefruit League home games.

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.