Armas close to landing rotation spot

Armas close to landing rotation spot with Bucs

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Manager Jim Tracy wouldn't flat out admit Tony Armas Jr. had the fifth starter's spot locked down, but he hinted strongly toward it on Thursday.

"That's not something that we'll make an announcement on today, but obviously he's not doing anything to hurt himself," Tracy said. "I like the way Tony Armas is throwing the ball this spring."

Armas went a spring-high five innings during a 5-3 loss at Toronto, allowing two runs on four hits. He struck out four, walked three and deemed the outing his most successful, results-wise, during the preseason.

"When you attack the zone, everything is smooth," he said afterward. "That was the key."

The 28-year-old righty faltered a bit during the start, but not much, as has been his norm this spring. He served up a solo homer to designated hitter Frank Thomas to begin the fourth, and followed that up with an Alex Rios double, but was not hit hard at any other time.

Armas gave up just one other hit, a single in the third, but responded to strike out the side in that same frame. It's a fighting spirit that Tracy especially likes to see.

"He threw the ball very, very well. He threw a bunch of strikes and has a very good pace about him," Tracy said. "From the standpoint of infield defense and things like that, he keeps you ready. He gets the ball and gets ready to pitch again very quickly. And you like that."

Armas has appeared in 151 Major League games over the last eight seasons, but has had his fair share of struggles while coming back from shoulder surgeries in 2003 and 2005. He also went on the disabled list for a month last season with a forearm strain in his throwing arm, but rallied to start 30 games for just the second time in his career (the first time was with Montreal in 2001).

Armas said the last few seasons have been an inspiration for him to work even harder at reaching his goals.

"It was a tough three years, but I'm happy because every year I made progress," Armas said. "This is the year I'm looking for hopefully to be my year."

The Pirates are hoping that too, for Armas would provide a veteran's presence in the rotation that had pitched just 41 games between it prior to 2006. He holds a career 48-60 record and 4.45 ERA, and Tracy said he's come a long way since signing with Pittsburgh as a free agent just two weeks before camp opened for the spring.

Only time will tell just how far he'll go.

Dawn Klemish is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.