Dumatrait relishes fresh start with Bucs

Dumatrait relishes fresh start with Bucs

BRADENTON, Fla. -- It's not often that a young player uses the term "excitement" when talking about joining a ballclub that hasn't ended a season with a .500 record or better in 15 years. However, that's exactly the word Phil Dumatrait used.

Looking back on it, Dumatrait admits that he needed a fresh start. When he was removed from Cincinnati's 40-man roster back in October, Dumatrait said he hoped that another team would claim him off waivers. He didn't want to return to the Reds' Minor League system. He preferred a fresh start elsewhere.

So when Dumatrait received the news on Oct. 26 that he had been claimed by the Pirates, it gave him a new incentive to work -- a rejuvenation, of sorts.

"I worked real hard in the offseason," said the 26-year-old left-hander. "I looked at a lot of my tapes and everything was elevated. I was kind of going side to side with [my pitches] instead of getting a downward plane. I really worked on that."

Though it's early, Dumatrait has already seized the opportunity to make an impression in Spring Training. He's worked his way to being a top rotation-candidate if the Pirates need to make a change in their rotation plans.

"He showed the ability to get a swing and miss with both his fastball and breaking ball," general manager Neal Huntington said in his assessment of Dumatrait. "[He's] a very interesting guy, whether it's as a potential starting guy in the future or a guy now who can pitch out of our bullpen in more of a middle or long role. He has the ability to serve in multiple roles."

Regardless of whether a starting spot becomes an option for Dumatrait, the Pirates see him as having the potential to play numerous roles. The 26-year-old left-hander may well start the year in Triple-A until the Pirates need to call up a spot starter.

However, with four bullpen openings to fill, the possibility of Dumatrait shifting to a relief role is also still an option, as he would provide the Pirates with a capable long reliever and spot starter if he is put on the Major League roster.

Pitching coach Jeff Andrews has noted that Dumatrait may actually have the makeup of someone primed for a relief role.

"It doesn't look like it takes him that long to get ready. He's pretty athletic," assessed Andrews. "I've watched him get loose before. I've watched him take [side sessions]. You factor those thoughts in your mind when you evaluate guys, [like] how fast does he get loose?"

Dumatrait first showcased the fruits of his offseason work on Feb. 29 when he made the start for the Pirates in the team's first official Spring Training game. Not only did he have to battle the nerves of making his first game appearance in front of a coaching staff that ultimately holds his fate in their hands, but he also had to do so under the circumstances of a change in schedule.

Originally penciled in to pitch one inning of relief in the contest against the Phillies that day, Dumatrait walked over to the bulletin board on Friday morning to see Tom Gorzelanny's name erased and his name in the starter's slot. But for Dumatrait, who has made 142 of his 145 professional appearances as a starter, the alteration didn't faze him.

In his two innings of work, he held Philadelphia scoreless, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out two.

In his second outing on Tuesday, Dumatrait showcased much of the same effectiveness with his three-pitch repertoire. The southpaw was effectively wild, but limited the Red Sox to just one run in his three innings of work.

"He was a bit erratic, but he still managed some pretty good things," manager John Russell said afterward. "He made some adjustments, did a nice job of damage control."

The ability to make those adjustments and his success in doing so suggest that Dumatrait has turned a corner since last season. Though he had notable success pitching for Triple-A Louisville in '07, Dumatrait couldn't maintain it during his two stints with the big league club.

Those who watched Dumatrait struggle on his way to an 0-4 record and a 15.00 ERA in his six Major League starts cited a lack of confidence as the biggest culprit for his ineffectiveness. Dumatrait, himself, pointed the finger elsewhere.

"In the past, I've tended to fall a little bit behind guys and throw too many balls," Dumatrait said.

He followed that up with insistence that had changed.

"I feel like my command is a lot better and I'm keeping the ball down," added Dumatrait, who went 10-6 with a 3.53 ERA in 22 Triple-A starts last season. "I'm locating pretty well. I got behind a couple of guys, but I made some good pitches for the most part."

Dumatrait's chances of making the bullpen don't appear to be helped or hurt by the fact that he is a lefty. With left-handers John Grabow and Damaso Marte already locked in, Russell and Huntington have both reiterated that they are not going to set a quota on how many southpaws they would like to limit their bullpen to. It's simply going to be a matter of what makeup will give Russell the most flexibility.

"We want to take the seven that will give him the ability to manage the seven the way he wants to," Huntington said. "If it turns out that we have three lefties, that's fine. And really, there's a chance that we are going to have four lefties in there."

Though not his natural role, Dumatrait reiterated recently that any role on the club would be one he'd embrace. He's still thankful for the opportunity for a fresh start.

"I think everybody knows that obviously, they've got their five guys," Dumatrait said. "Whether I come out of the 'pen or I spot start, I've just got to make the team first and then any way they use me is fine with me."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.