Charlie Morton Appears Likely To Win Rotation Job

Jenifer Langosch on the fifth starter battle:

As much as Lincoln is set on proving he deserves that fifth spot in the rotation, I just get the feeling he's headed back to Triple-A. And that's not a feeling caused by anything Lincoln is or is not doing.

Assuming James McDonald doesn't have a lingering injury, the Pirates still have just one rotation opening. Charlie Morton and Brian Burres have stood out this spring and are both serious contenders for that spot. And the Pirates aren't counting out Scott Olsen just yet.

It would be such a huge fail if Burres wound up on the 25-man to start the season that I can't believe the Pirates are honestly considering it. You put in Burres when you need a spot start or you're desperate. You don't give a player like him a job out of Spring Training unless you're the 1962 Mets. (Or the 2007 Orioles.)

That leaves Morton and Olsen, with an outside chance of Brad Lincoln. Morton and Lincoln have both pitched well in Spring Training, while Olsen will make his Spring debut today against Baltimore after missing a couple weeks with hamstring trouble. (Joe Beimel will make his Spring debut today as well.)

A few days ago, Tim wondered whether Morton already had the job locked up. Lincoln has an option, and it takes time for a starter to prepare to pitch six-plus innings a game, so it will be tricky for Olsen to be ready in time. Neal Huntington sounds cautiously optimistic that Olsen can stay in the race:

"It's a challenge, but provided Scott continues to feel good, provided he continues to make strides, there is enough time," general manager Neal Huntington said. "There's not a lot of room for a setback or margin for error, but he has continued to progress as we go forward. If he's not ready, that's a decision we'll make at the end of Spring Training -- what happens at that point in time."

It also sounds like Olsen is backing down from his earlier, somewhat confrontational-sounding comments about he and the Pirates having a "conversation" if they wanted him to pitch in relief:

"I don't really have much of a choice," Olsen said, when asked if he'd accept a relief role. "I'm open for whatever."

The box score for tomorrow's game will be worth watching to see what Olsen does, but at this point, it seems fairly safe to assume that Morton has a job in the rotation (which I would be happy with), at least until we hear differently. Even if Olsen does somehow show he's ready, the Pirates would probably prefer Morton, who is cost-controlled for the next several years and was a major trade acquisition. And even if Olsen is brilliant, there's the possibility that both he and Morton could join the rotation to start the year if, heaven forbid, McDonald's injury continues to hold him back.

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