PIT@MIL: Pimentel strikes out a pair in his MLB debut

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The battle for jobs in a Spring Training manager Clint Hurdle conceded "could very well be the most competitive from a pitching standpoint since I've been here" may revolve around Stolmy Pimentel.

The Bucs have six established starters vying for five spots, as well as a top bullpen that returns intact. Yet, both starters and relievers may have to protect their jobs from Pimentel, someone the Pittsburgh staff loves and who is out of options.

"So we know what's at stake there," Hurdle said following Sunday's workout. "He's a very exciting young man to watch. We like his makeup and his skills. And what we were able to get from him last year."

Pimentel, 24, was part of the four-player package general manager Neal Huntington acquired from Boston last winter in the Joel Hanrahan deal. As a September callup, Pimentel allowed two earned runs in five relief appearances covering 9 1/3 innings, with nine strikeouts and a pair of walks. Before that, in a combined 27 starts at Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, he'd fashioned a 3.35 ERA.

The Bucs will primarily consider him for a Jeanmar Gomez-like role, a long reliever able to make spot starts. In the long-term, though, Hurdle said, "We still envision him as a starter."

"He will have every opportunity to break [camp] with the big club," Hurdle stressed.

Hurdle still mum on Pirates' Opening Day starter

Clint Hurdle on goals during Pirates' Spring Training

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Clint Hurdle sounded close to naming his Opening Day starter to face the Cubs' Jeff Samardzija on March 31 in PNC Park. The manager hasn't yet, because the choice himself had not yet been told.

Whoever it is, he will be the Pirates' seventh consecutive different Opening Day starter, since 2013 honoree A.J. Burnett was introduced Sunday as the newest member of the Phillies. This is the second longest such streak in the Majors behind that of the Oakland A's, who will make it nine straight after '13 inaugural pitcher Brett Anderson's deal to Colorado.

The Bucs' rotation could include a trio of pitchers who had drawn Opening Day assignments elsewhere: Edinson Volquez (2012-13 Padres), Francisco Liriano (2009 Twins) and Wandy Rodriguez ('12 Astros).

One of them could join the recent lineup of Pirates Day 1 starters, 2008 through 2013: Ian Snell, Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, Kevin Correia, Erik Bedard and Burnett.

The last Pittsburgh pitcher to start consecutive Opening Days? Oliver Perez, in 2005-06.

First number, last word

1,500: The level of career Major League at-bats at which, according to Hurdle, players "get it" and can be reliably evaluated. The three projected Pirates starters who have not yet gotten there are right fielder Jose Tabata (1,380 at-bats), left fielder Starling Marte (677) and shortstop Jordy Mercer (395).

"To have the depth and the options we have -- when platoon players are getting $10 million over two years and middle relievers are getting $5-$6 million -- we have to feel good about our farm system and about how some of the prospects can help us on the Major League level." -- Huntington

Worth noting

• Three more beat Monday's reporting day for position players to camp: Pedro Alvarez, Gregory Polanco and Chris Dickerson pulled into Pirate City on Sunday.

• One reason the Pirates are comfortable with Burnett's decision to sign elsewhere and with their in-house pitching being deep enough to pick up the slack: in 2013, they got 37 starts out of "secondary" starters (behind their top five), the most of the 10 other postseason teams (the other nine averaged 23). And the Bucs were 24-13 in those 37 games.