Lobstein, Luebke earn bullpen spots with Bucs

Lobstein, Luebke earn bullpen spots with Bucs

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- The Pirates whittled down their roster Thursday with another round of cuts, all but finalizing their team before Opening Day.

The Pirates will keep Cory Luebke in their bullpen, completing the lefty's long road back to the Majors after three years mostly spent recovering from injuries. They also reassigned right-handers Jorge Rondon and A.J. Schugel, left-hander Jim Fuller and catchers Ed Easley and Jacob Stallings to Minor League camp.

That leaves the Pirates with 12 active pitchers on their Spring Training roster, giving lefty Kyle Lobstein the inside track for a spot in their Opening Day bullpen. But if the Bucs make a late addition to their bullpen -- a waiver claim, trade or signing -- then Lobstein will begin the season in Triple-A.

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"In Cory's case, we've committed to him and feel like he can help us out of the bullpen," general manager Neal Huntington said. "In Kyle's case, he's lined up to make the club, but we reserve the right to make a different move late."

If they stand pat, Lobstein is heading to Pittsburgh.

"If that's how it goes down, then I'd be ecstatic," said Lobstein, who allowed two runs over two innings of his start in Thursday's 13-8 win over the Rays. "At the same time, the season's starting this weekend, so it's go time."

In that case, the Pirates' bullpen would consist of closer Mark Melancon, left-handed setup man Tony Watson, right-handers Neftali Feliz, Arquimedes Caminero and Ryan Vogelsong, as well as left-handers Luebke and Lobstein. Right-hander Jared Hughes (left lat strain) will begin the season on the disabled list.

"I'm looking froward to it," manager Clint Hurdle said. "They've all got different skillsets, which will be fun to watch them work and develop."

Luebke, 31, hasn't pitched in the Majors since he was with the Padres in 2012, when injuries began to 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. Luebke had loose bodies removed around a nerve in his forearm last year, and a staph infection six weeks after surgery ended his season.

Luebke strikes out two in relief

Luebke came to camp determined to win a job but was delayed again -- "Figured," he said Sunday with a smile -- by a strained hamstring. Since then, he has been healthy and pitched well enough to convince the Pirates he deserves to be back in the Majors.

"The perseverance he's shown, the ability to bounce back," Hurdle said. "There's still work to be done, and he's aware of that. However, we feel he's in a very competitive spot to help us right now."

Joyce's RBI double

Before Opening Day, the Bucs will have to clear two spots on their 40-man roster for Luebke and outfielder Matt Joyce.

The Pirates now have 30 players remaining in Major League camp, including three (Hughes, Jung Ho Kang and catcher Elias Diaz) who will begin the year on the DL. That leaves the Bucs with one position battle left to solve: the composition of their bench.

It appears there are three candidates -- Jason Rogers, Pedro Florimon and Cole Figueroa -- for one spot. That could change if Michael Morse (hamstring) begins the season on the DL, but he started and went 2-for-2 with a walk on Thursday.

The Pirates have two more days to put the finishing touches on their 25-man roster before Sunday's season opener.

"It's about configuration," Huntington said. "There's still some decisions to be determined."

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.