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Karstens stays in the hunt

PORT CHARLOTTE — Locked in a battle for the No. 5 spot in the starting rotation, Jeff Karstens is trying to take it in stride.

“If it comes down to Virgil (Vasquez) getting the spot, that means I didn’t deserve it,” Karstens said. “I don’t look at it as a negative. It’s a long season. No team uses just five starters the whole year.”

That doesn’t mean Karstens isn’t battling all-out to win the job. Tonight, he was sharp — except for one pitch to Adam Kennedy — for five innings in the Pirates’ 4-2 loss against the Rays.

Karstens gave up five hits, including Kennedy’s two-run homer in the second inning. The right-hander walked two and struck out five of the 20 batters he faced.

“There’s still some stuff I need to work on,” Karstens said. “But overall I feel a lot better than I did the last time.”

In his previous outing, Karstens gave up four runs on three hits in three innings against the Red Sox.

Karstens said his arm slot is too high early in the game.

“I don’t do it (warming up) in the bullpen,” Karstens said. “But when I get in the game, it kind of takes over. We’re trying to get it right.”

Karstens said it mostly happens when he tries to throw his curveball.

“I think to get on top I have to get my glove up,” he said. “It’s muscle memory because I’ve been doing it so long. We’re trying to break that.”

Karstens will have one more chance to impress management. Tuesday’s game against the Twins will be his last start of spring training. Vasquez is slated to start Friday against the Blue Jays.

Karstens has one minor league option remaining, so the Pirates aren’t pressed into a keep-him-or-lose-him situation.

• Jack Wilson said his asthma began acting up as he was fielding grounders before tonight’s game. The combination of a dry, dusty infield and windy conditions make it tough.

“Lots of shortness of breath,” Wilson said. “I felt like I played 15 innings.”

Wilson lasted one inning, then called it a night.

The situation doesn’t happen that often during the regular season, Wilson said, because big league stadiums keep out the wind better than the small, relatively open spring training parks.

• Good news from tonight’s game: Brandon Moss went 3 for 4, scored the Pirates’ first run and drove in the second. He also made a slick, diving catch in right field.

• Bad news tonight: the Pirates sent 34 batters to the plate against six Rays pitchers and drew … zero walks.

• More bad news: Donnie Veal, the Rule 5 lefty, appears to be pitching his way back to the Cubs. Veal worked a sloppy 1 1/3 innings and allowed two runs on one hit, two walks and one hit batter. This spring, Veal has issued 12 walks in 11 innings.

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