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Pregame: Another spot start?

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CINCINNATI — Ross Ohlendorf will miss at least one more start while he’s on the disabled list. But given Jeff Karstens’ performance Sunday, will he get another chance for a spot start, or will the Pirates turn to one of their Plan Bs — Brad Lincoln or Brian Burres?

I asked manager Clint Hurdle about it after yesterday’s game, but Hurdle wasn’t willing to dance.

“After that game, I’ll pass on that one,” Hurdle said. “We’ll wait and see.”

Karstens lasted 4 1/3 innings (76 pitches/55 strikes). He frittered away a 4-0 first inning lead, and allowed five runs on eight hits.

Karstens insisted the problem in the fifth inning, when the Reds scored three times to take a 5-4 lead, was more about him not making pitches than him running out of gas. Hurdle also offered a kind assessment.

“It was his first start. He did the best he could in the situation he was in,” Hurdle said. “We were looking to take a good, hard look at 75 (pitches) and maybe we could get through five (innings) before he got to 75. Seventy-six was enough.”

Still, the Pirates might not be able to afford another potentially short outing from Karstens the next time around if the bullpen continues to be overworked.

“Back-to-back nights of 4 1/3 innings from your starting pitcher can cause you some challenges,” Hurdle said, referring to James McDonald’s brief outing Saturday. “We were able to adapt, improvise and overcome (Sunday) in a lot of different ways.”

The problem is, those challenges didn’t end yesterday. The Pirates’ bullpen might be shorthanded for tonight’s game against the Reds — Evan Meek and Chris Resop have pitched in back-to-back games, Jose Veras and Joel Hanrahan each went 1 2/3 innings yesterday.

Remember also that the Pirates don’t have another off day until April 25. So overworking the bullpen now could cause bigger headaches over the next six days.

Keeping Karstens in relief and calling up a starter from Triple-A Indy could strengthen the bullpen. It would end the charade of keeping Daniel McCutchen around as the long reliever. McCutchen pitched just two-thirds of an inning yesterday and was yanked for a pinch-hitter in the sixth.

»»» Pedro Alvarez, who went 2 for 11 with four strikeouts in the first three games of this series, has been benched tonight. Steve Pearce will start at third base. More on this after the pregame confab with Hurdle.

»»» Ronny Cedeno chose on his own Sunday to bunt with runners on first and third and none out in the eighth inning. Garrett Jones did not get a good break off third base and was out at the plate on a bang-bang play. Hurdle was no upset with Cedeno’s decision to bunt.

“We’ve talked a lot about when it’s appropriate and when it’s not,” Hurdle said. “That was a time when I thought it was a good chance for him to take.”

»»» Here’s a good note from Dan Hart, the hardest working media relations guy in the biz: The four starting pitchers in the Pirates’ minor league games Sunday combined to allow just two earned runs in 26 innings of work. Burres fanned eight batters in seven scoreless innings. Aaron Pribanic allowed an unearned run in six innings for Double-A Altoona. High-A Bradenton’s Kyle McPherson gave up two runs in seven innings. At Low-A West Virginia, Colton Cain mastered Augusta (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) by tossing six shutout innings.

»»» The Pirates already have won six games on the road against NL Central foes. Last year, they did not reach that mark until June 28.

»»» Since the beginning of last season, Andrew McCutchen has hit 12 homers in the leadoff spot. That ranks him fourth among NL batters in that span behind Rickie Weeks (32), Andres Torres (14) and Shane Victorino (13). McCutchen has hit seven career game-opening homers.

»»» If the Pirates beat the Reds tonight, it will be the first time since 2002 they’ve won their first three road series of a season.

Lineups for tonight’s game:

Pirates (7-8) – 1. Andrew McCutchen cf, 2. Jose Tabata lf, 3. Matt Diaz rf, 4. Neil Walker 2b, 5. Steve Pearce 3b, 6. Lyle Overbay 1b, 7. Chris Snyder c, 8. Ronny Cedeno ss, 9. Kevin Correia rhp (2-1, 2.70)

Reds (9-6) – 1. Drew Stubbs cf, 2. Edgar Renteria ss, 3. Joey Votto 1b, 4. Scott Rolen 3b, 5. Jonny Gomes lf, 6. Jay Bruce rf, 7. Miguel Cairo 2b, 8. Ryan Hanigan c, 9. Travis Wood lhp (1-1, 3.86)

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