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Bucs' Locke gets fifth spot in rotation

by The Associated Press on March 28, 2013 10:40 AM

BRADENTON, Fla. — Left-hander Jeff Locke has won the competition to be the Pittsburgh Pirates’ No. 5 starter.

Locke beat out Kyle McPherson, who was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis on Wednesday, and Jeanmar Gomez, who will begin the season in the Pirates’ bullpen. Gomez is out of minor league options and would have had to clear waivers to be sent down.

“We had extremely challenging decisions,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “We didn’t have clear separation on a number of fronts, but we still made decisions we feel good about.”

Alex Presley, the Pirates’ opening-day left fielder and leadoff hitter last season, was optioned to Indianapolis. Presley hit .304 in spring training but has one option remaining. The Pirates kept outfielder Jose Tabata, who struggled last season but is out of options.

Infielder Jordy Mercer was optioned to Indianapolis, and relievers Mike Zagurski, Ryan Reid and Vin Mazzaro were reassigned to the team’s minor league camp along with catchers Carlos Paulino and Lucas May, and outfielder Felix Pie.

Utility infielder Josh Harrison would get the final bench spot if Brandon Inge’s injured shoulder keeps him from being able to start the season.

A.J. Burnett, who will be the Pirates’ opening-day starter, pitched three innings in a 7-4 loss to Minnesota on Wednesday.

He allowed two runs on four hits and struck out two.

It was the first time since March 9 that Burnett pitched in an “A’’ game. He opted to do much of his preparation this spring in minor league games. That allowed the Pirates to have younger pitchers competing for jobs pitch in the Grapefruit League games.

“It was good to get up there in front of my guys and in front of the fans and face big league hitters,” Burnett said. “But it’s spring. For a guy at my age and what I’ve done, I’ve just got to get ready. Now we play games that mean something. It’s time to go.”

It was the first time catcher Russell Martin, who signed with the Pirates in November, caught Burnett in a game.

“We got to work on some things, and throw some pitches in some counts that might happen during the season,” Burnett said. “He’s caught one of my bullpens, so us going out there and doing some different things, it was good.”

Pedro Alvarez had four hits and three RBIs. Starling Marte went 3-for-5 and has reached base safely in eight straight games.

NOTES: The Pirates purchased the contracts of infielder Brandon Inge (shoulder) and right-hander Jeff Karstens (shoulder). They likely will begin the season on the disabled list. To make room on the 40-man roster, Pittsburgh designated for assignment first baseman Hunter Strickland and right-hander Clint Robinson.

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