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03/29/11 11:05 PM ET

Crotta has 'awesome' experience this spring

PHILADELPHIA -- The math is simple when it comes to the Pirates' bullpen, and no one knows that better than right-handed reliever Mike Crotta.

The 26-year old Florida native knew that when he arrived in Bradenton, Fla., at the start of Spring Training, and in the days leading up to Friday's Opening Day in Chicago, he understands the math even more.

The Pirates have a decision to make about their final two bullpen spots, and they have three choices in Crotta, lefty Garrett Olson -- acquired through waivers from Seattle on March 18 -- and right-hander Chris Leroux.

"I feel like [Spring Training] couldn't have gone better for me," said Crotta, who was making his first trip as a player to a Major League ballpark for Tuesday and Wednesday's On Deck Series at Citizens Bank Park. "I [went to Florida] in the beginning of December because I had some elbow issue to work through. From the first day, I've just worked with [Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage] on getting the right mentality to be a reliever, and working on getting the ball down in the zone."

Crotta has been a starting pitcher throughout his five Minor League seasons since he was drafted in the 17th round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, but from Day 1 Crotta knew that, eventually, he would be a reliever. So with that in mind, Crotta knows that even if he doesn't make the Pirates out of Spring Training, he's very close to his ultimate dream.

"I've learned a lot this spring, and it's something I can take with me into my career," said Crotta, who has a 1.50 ERA in 12 innings of work, along with four strikeouts. "It's awesome to be here, and the whole experience is awesome. From the plane ride to playing in a game, it's all just awesome. I'm ready to go."

Ohlendorf sees progress in his outing

PHILADELPHIA -- Ross Ohlendorf sounded worse for wear as he stood in the middle of the Pirates' clubhouse on Tuesday.

The right-handed starter's voice was hoarse and he admitted to battling a cold, but that wasn't the reason for concern. In fact, despite a four-inning effort in which he yielded six runs -- four of which were earned -- on seven hits, Ohlendorf was actually optimistic.

"I wish Spring Training had gone better, but I feel as if I'm ready," said Ohlendorf, who only pitched into the fifth once in six spring starts. "I feel like tonight, that even though the results were similar to my other starts, I feel like I threw the ball much better.

"Where I didn't do well is I threw too many pitches. I felt that with the exception of a couple of at-bats, I wasn't getting hit as hard as I was in the last game, and the ball was coming out much better, and [catcher Ryan] Doumit did, too. I'm definitely heading in the right direction."

"That's good because that's what he's been saying all spring," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "His next start we'll see where he takes it."

The Pirates certainly hope that Ohlendorf is right, since he's definitely a part of a rotation that will be surrounded by a relatively young but explosive team that needs quality starts from its pitchers once the season begins on Friday at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

"I've made some adjustments that really helped," said Ohlendorf, who finished the spring with a 9.83 ERA. "I just need to continue to improve, because I feel like I threw the ball better tonight.

"I think my command was much better and I was down in the strike zone more. I had too many long at-bats."

"I have no concerns or misgivings," Hurdle said. "He's in our starting rotation. I've seen guys have springs in which they didn't get anybody out, and when the season started they rolled right through it."

Dubee using time with big club to learn

PHILADELPHIA -- For the second consecutive year, Michael Dubee found his way to Citizens Bank Park for the On Deck Series against the Phillies.

"The approach is simple: I'm here for the experience," said Dubee, who is the son of Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee. "It's good to be around a group of Major League players in a Major League clubhouse. You are in a big league ballpark in a big league city.

"I would like to be here as quick as possible, and everyone has that same goal. I've had two really good seasons in a row, and I can build on that."

Dubee pitched primarily for Double-A Altoona last season and went 6-2 with a 2.24 ERA. A year earlier, in 26 appearances with the Double-A club, he went 3-0 with a 2.91 ERA, and he certainly gives the Pirates some depth in their system.

That said, the 25-year-old right-handed reliever appears ready to take the next step, something his father understands will come with patience.

"He's put together two real good years, in my opinion, but that's also not my organization," the elder Dubee said. "I think he's progressing well, and it really is about what they want to do with him.

"We talk all the time. One of the real good things about Michael is he's a baseball guy. He explains every pitch he throws to every hitter that night, and he has great recall. He knows where he's at. I'm thrilled for him and as proud as can be as a father. When he was [in the Phillies' organization] it was great, but the longer he was here I really felt he needed to get out and hear a different voice. It's obvious that something is working right."

Dubee, who tossed one inning and struck out one batter on Tuesday night, looks to be returning to Double-A this year once the Eastern League begins its season, and after that, a lot depends on how well he pitches.

"The one thing I've learned is you can only worry about your approach to the game, and everything else will take care of itself," Michael Dubee said.

Worth noting

The Pirates will have just nine players on their Opening Day roster who appeared on last year's roster at the same point in time. Those nine will be Paul Maholm, Charlie Morton, Evan Meek, Ross Ohlendorf, Ronny Cedeno, Ryan Doumit, Jason Jaramillo, Garrett Jones and Andrew McCutchen. ... The Pirates established a single-season Spring Training record as they drew 88,003 fans in 16 games at McKechnie Field.

Mike Radano is contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.