Hard-luck Luebke may finally catch break

Out of Majors since '12, pitcher will pose roster dilemma

Hard-luck Luebke may finally catch break

BRADENTON, Fla. -- After nearly three full seasons lost to injuries, Cory Luebke could see light at the end of the tunnel. He showed up to Spring Training with a chance to win a bullpen job, quietly feeling good about how he was throwing the ball.

At the end of the first week of camp, he strained his right hamstring during fielding drills. He'd have to wait -- again -- to show he was ready for an opportunity.

Pirates Spring Training info

"Figured," Luebke said Saturday with a laugh.

Frustrating as it may have been, Luebke can at least smile about it now. He's back on the mound and pitching well, potentially putting the Pirates in a tough spot with an opt-out deadline in his Minor League contract drawing near.

Luebke pitched a scoreless fifth inning Saturday in the Pirates' 3-0 loss to the Twins at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. His fastball is in the 94 mph range, and his slider is clocking in around 87 mph.

More than anything else, Luebke said, he's just happy to be back on the mound.

The 31-year-old left-hander has made four appearances in the Grapefruit League, allowing three runs on five hits and a walk while striking out three. He's scheduled to pitch again Sunday night at McKechnie Field. He may be pitching to earn a job, whether it's in Pittsburgh or with another club.

If the Pirates don't put Luebke on their active roster this week, he can opt out and seek an opportunity with another club.

The Pirates appear to have one spot left in their Opening Day bullpen for a left-hander. It could go to Kyle Lobstein, a multi-inning option already on Pittsburgh's 40-man roster. Or it could go to Luebke.

"The business side of it, sometimes it [stinks]. All I can do is go out there and throw," Luebke said. "Whatever happens, I'm just happy to be playing again and everything feeling good."

Luebke posted a 3.25 ERA with the Padres before injuries set him back. He had Tommy John surgery in May 2012, but the graft didn't take properly, forcing him to undergo another operation in February 2014. He had loose bodies removed around a nerve in his forearm last year, and a staph infection six weeks after surgery ended his season.

He hasn't pitched in the Major Leagues since 2012. He threw seven innings in the Minors last season. Considering the potential limits on his 2016 workload, Luebke said, he is content to begin the season as a reliever.

"There's no set blueprint for missing three years and coming back, what needs to be done after what I've dealt with," Luebke said. "I'd like to start in the 'pen. If there is a chance later in the year and things are going well, I could help out in the rotation or in any other facet. I'd be happy to go that route, too."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.