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Pirates admit John Holdzkom could start season in minors

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Neal Huntington says John Holdzkom could start the year with Indianapolis despite his brilliant stretch run last year.

“One or two (bullpen spots) are open,” Huntington said. “We love what John is doing, but we have a handful of other guys who are throwing the ball well. ...

“We're going to have some interesting decisions with the (final bench spot) and the bullpen.”

We've been talking about this possibility here for a while now, and people don't seem thrilled about it. I don't blame them. If the Pirates were to demote Holdzkom, I'd understand the reasoning behind it, but that doesn't mean I'd like it. As a fan, I want the Pirates to use their best players.

Sometimes, though, there are longer-term considerations involved. The Pirates have seven bullpen spots available. They have three guys who are locks (Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Antonio Bastardo), along with another (Radhames Liz) who is a near-lock because he's on a big-league deal. Then they have Arquimedes Caminero, Stolmy Pimentel and the loser of the Vance Worley / Jeff Locke battle, all of whom are out of options.

Based on the noises coming out of camp (with Clint Hurdle comparing Caminero to Holdzkom, ironically enough), Caminero is probably in, and I think Worley or Locke almost certainly has to be in at this point, based on the Pirates' lack of starting depth if they lose one of those guys. That leaves Pimentel. Reasonable people can disagree about whether Pimentel's upside justifies rostering him for another year, but if the Pirates want to err on the side of caution there, I can't blame them, given how good his arm is.

Unless there's a trade or someone gets hurt, then, there's nothing to do with Holdzkom and Jared Hughes but send them down. That's annoying, but it won't necessarily prevent either of them from pitching 50 or more innings with the Pirates this year. Teams make dozens upon dozens of roster moves, and every time there is one that involves a pitcher, whether it's a reliever or a starter, the Pirates' first port of call will be Holdzkom or Hughes.