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Ohlendorf is in; the rest is up for grabs

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BRADENTON, Fla. — It is unofficially official: Ross Ohlendorf has sewn up the No. 4 spot in the rotation.

“He’s put himself in a real good position, put it that way,” manager John Russell said tonight. “Each outing, he’s gotten better.”

The battle for the final rotation job is down to either Jeff Karstens or Virgil Vasquez. Karstens was sharp Wednesday against the Rays. Tonight, Vasquez yielded three runs on five hits in 5 2/3 innings against the Jays.

Karstens seems to have an edge, but Russell said no decision has been made.

“We’ll let you know,” Russell said, with a sly smile.

Russell and the rest of the braintrust met this morning at Pirate City to map out the next — and perhaps final — round of roster cuts. The Pirates still have 40 players in camp with just eight games to go.

“We went over a lot of scenarios,” Russell said. “I don’t know the exact day we’re going to announce everything. We’re not only looking at the fifth starter, but the depth and a lot of different things.”

• Brian Bixler and Luis Cruz are vying for the backup infielder’s job. Bixler went 1 for 2. He’s played in 19 of the past 20 games and is hitting .340. Cruz singled in his only at-bat, nudging his average up to .200.

“Great competition,” Russell said. “They’re both doing a nice job. Bix has hit a little bit better, but Luis is very steady in the infield. They’re going to make our decision pretty tough.”

What about Andy Phillips, who hasn’t played since March 7 due to a sore back?

“Until we can get him back on the field, we’re looking at the guys who are healthy,” Russell said.

Phillips took five at-bats today in a minor league game. He’s slated to play the infield Saturday in another minor league game. If all goes well, he should be back with the Pirates on Sunday.

• Nate McLouth singled in his first at-bat tonight. He has reached base safely in 15 straight games.

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