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Karstens nabs last rotation spot

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Jeff Karstens is in, Virgil Vasquez and Jason Davis are out, and Craig Monroe and Luis Cruz are practically set.

This morning, the Pirates reassigned seven players to minor league camp and optioned Vasquez to Triple-A Indianapolis. That means Karstens will open the season as the No. 5 guy in the starting rotation.

Karstens pitched in seven games, including three starts, this spring. He went 0-2 with a 6.17 ERA and allowed 30 hits and eight walks in 23 1/3 innings.

“There’s still some stuff I’ve got to work on, we all know that,” Karstens said. “They’ve given me this opportunity and it’s my job to run with it. If I don’t I know somebody else is going to be waiting in the wings.”

Vasquez appeared in four games and posted a 7.62 ERA. He allowed 17 hits and six walks in 13 innings. He will begin the season in Indianapolis’ rotation.

“I did what I do,” Vasquez said. “I’m not completely happy with the result, but I’m happy they liked what they saw and I’ll be one of the guys they look for in the future.”

Davis pitched well this spring (1.38 ERA, nine strikeouts in 13 innings), but it wasn’t enough to win a bullpen job. He was reassigned.

Relievers Chris Bootcheck and Denny Bautista were reassigned. Infielder Andy Phillips, outfielder Jeff Salazar, utilityman Garrett Jones and catcher Erik Kratz also were sent to minor league camp.

Phillips’ departure means Cruz will be a backup infielder with the Pirates — barring a trade or waiver claim in the next few days.

Monroe has an escape clause in his contract, which allows him to become a free agent if he is not placed on the active roster by today. He’s been told he’ll make the team, and GM Neal Huntington said the Pirates are “working through” Monroe’s status — meaning, they’ve got to clear space for him on the 40-man roster. That should be done by this afternoon.

Huntington indicated there are five candidates for four remaining bullpen jobs. Donnie Veal, Craig Hansen and Sean Burnett are locks. That leaves right-handers Evan Meek (who has been slowed by the flu) and Jesse Chavez (who has a 9.90 ERA) vying for the last spot.

• Lineups for today’s game:

RED SOX — 1. Jacoby Ellsbury cf, 2. Dustin Pedroia 2b, 3. Chris Carter 1b, 4. Rocco Baldelli dh, 5. Jed Lowrie ss, 6. George Kottaras c, 7. Chip Ambres lf, 8. Ryan Kalish rf, 9. Gil Velazquez 3b. Josh Beckett will pitch.

PIRATES — 1. Nyjer Morgan lf, 2. Freddy Sanchez 2b, 3. Nate McLouth cf, 4. Ryan Doumit c, 5. Adam LaRoche 1b, 6. Brandon Moss rf, 7. Andy LaRoche 3b, 9. Paul Maholm lhp.

And that, my friends, would be the Pirates’ Opening Day lineup.

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