Former top picks fighting for jobs

Former top picks fighting for jobs

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- They represent a tale of two pitchers, trying to prove they deserve a spot on the Pirates' staff. One is a former first-round Draft pick claimed off waivers. The other, also a former first-rounder -- and first overall -- is entering his second season after shoulder surgery in 2005 that caused him to miss the entire 2006 campaign.

In his first outing of the spring, on Thursday against the Phillies, Phil Dumatrait, whom the Pirates claimed off waivers from Cincinnati in October, threw two scoreless innings, striking out two, allowing a hit and a walk. In the same game, Bryan Bullington, despite getting the win, allowed five runs (four earned) on five hits and two walks, facing 10 batters in one inning.

Dumatrait hoped to show Tuesday against the Red Sox that his first outing was not an aberration, while Bullington was hoping to show exactly the opposite.

"Really, [Tuesday is] kind of a different outing for both of them," Pirates pitching coach Jeff Andrews said before the game. "Phil had a really nice start his last time out ... against the Phillies. We're giving him another inning. He's going to try obviously to duplicate the last one. Bullington didn't have a very good outing at all, and he's trying to bounce back. So it's kind of different guys looking at this game differently.

What would Andrews liked to have seen from Bullington in the right-hander's first outing?

"More fastball command, more ability to throw the ball where he wants to," Andrews said. "It's way early in the spring, and it [was] his first time, first game. But still you got to have some idea and some ability to throw the ball where you want it."

Dumatrait, 26, was Boston's No. 1 pick in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft. He split last season between Cincinnati -- where he was 0-4, with a 15.00 ERA in six starts, covering 18 innings -- and Triple-A Louisville -- where he was 10-6 with a 3.53 ERA in 22 starts.

Against the Red Sox on Tuesday, Dumatrait allowed a run on four hits and a walk, striking out two. He threw 55 pitches, 35 for strikes. After getting the side in order in the first, he opened the second by allowing a double to left to Manny Ramirez, who scored on a J.D. Drew single. In the third, Dumatrait allowed a one-out double to Jason Varitek, and then walked David Ortiz before getting Ramirez and Mike Lowell to fly out to center fielder Nyjer Morgan.

"All in all, I felt I made some pretty good pitches," Dumatrait said. "The wind was blowing 100 mph [actually, 18 mph, from right to left, at the start of the game] and it caused some balls to carry. On the whole, I'll take it.

"I haven't thrown that many [pitches] since last September, but I don't feel anything. I just wish I could have got through three innings with 30 pitches instead of 55.

"I'd like to think that I've made a good impression. I think I've thrown the ball pretty well my first two times out. My first outing was better than this one, but I worked hard in the offseason to be ready for this opportunity and I'm trying to take advantage. I appreciate that they've given me a couple of starts, and I've been trying to make the most of them."

Pirates manager John Russell was pleased with the adjustments Dumatrait was able to make after allowing runners on base in the second and third innings.

"He did some nice damage control," Russell said. "But he was little erratic.

I thought he threw some pretty good sliders. They yanked some sliders. I think the consistency of his outing was not quite as sharp, but he still managed to do some pretty good things. And this is obviously a pretty good-hitting lineup. So I was pleased he bounced back. It could have got a little worse for him and he managed to get out of it."

Bullington relieved Dumatrait, going two innings and allowing one run on two hits and a walk, to Drew, the first batter he faced. Despite getting charged with the loss, his outing was an improvement from his previous appearance. In two innings, he faced eight batters -- two fewer than he faced in his one previous inning. In his second inning, he retired Varitek, Ortiz, and Ramirez in order.

"[He had] better stuff down in the zone," Russell said. "In his first outing, he was leaving some balls up. He got the ball down and got a little more sink on the ball. We saw some balls hit on the ground a little bit, and that's when he's successful. That's what he needs to do. So it was obviously a better outing for him than his first one. That's the key, again, if he keeps the ball down and sinks it instead. He's got a pretty good arsenal then."

"Better than my last one," Bullington said of his performance Tuesday. "I kind of got off to a rough start [against the Phillies] last week, so it was good. Still walked the guy in the first and gave up a couple of [hits], a double and a single, but the second inning was much better. Going through Varitek, Ortiz, and Manny, that was nice to be able to get through that inning 1-2-3 and, hopefully, just get a little more feel. It's still early, and still trying to get a grasp on seeing hitters in there, and getting a feel for everything. So, all in all, I'll take it. It was a good outing. Hopefully, I'll have some more opportunities."

Bullington, 27, the top overall pick in the 2002, knows if he is to have more opportunities, he must continue to show improvement. Two years removed from surgery to repair damage to the posterior labrum in his right shoulder, he has pitched a total of 167 2/3 innings since then, missing all of 2006. Last season, he threw 17 innings over five games (three starts) for the Pirates, going 0-3 with a 5.29 ERA. For Triple-A Indianapolis, he threw 150 2/3innings in 26 games, all starts, going 11-9 with a 4.00 ERA.

He is eager to show the Pirates he can be a part of the staff.

"Yeah, definitely," he said. "Especially my second year back from shoulder surgery, so hopefully I should be a full-go, no problem. And I feel that way right now. Hopefully I can go out there and have a good season, because I think it is an important one, that's for sure.

"Right now, [I want] to show them that I'm hopefully one of the 12 guys they want to take to Pittsburgh. I think they have an idea what they want to do with the rotation, but I don't think things are set in stone. And there are some openings in the bullpen. I'm just going to hopefully pitch well enough to have a chance to break camp with them."

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.