With roster set, Hurdle more confident than ever

With roster set, Hurdle more confident than ever

BRADENTON, Fla. -- When the dust, and his 25-man roster, cleared, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle enthusiastically proclaimed the 2013 Pirates improved.

Make that, as they say on TV commercials, "new and improved," with a 48 percent turnover in Opening Day rosters from 2012 to 2013.

"No. 1, the rotation is the best since I've been here [since 2011]," Hurdle said. "And I gotta believe the best since [general manager Neal Huntington] has been here [since 2008]."

The last two pieces of that rotation were put in place only the last two days -- lefties Jonathan Sanchez and Jeff Locke, who survived his competition with right-hander Kyle McPherson.

"The Minor League pedigree speaks for itself," Hurdle said of Locke, somewhat preordained for the promotion by being named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year last season after going 10-5, with a 2.48 ERA, at Triple-A Indianapolis. "And I like the growth -- the biggest from anyone I've seen from last year. The fastball's got more life than you think, the breaking ball can be sharp, and when his changeup arrives, this will be a guy with some weapons."

Hurdle also singled out a bullpen that welcomes newcomers Jeanmar Gomez, Chris Leroux and lefty Justin Wilson.

"The versatility of the bullpen has been ramped up. We got three guys able to [pitch long]," the manager said, adding "The bench is gonna be more valuable than the bench last season."

Those reserves include veteran infielders John McDonald and Brandon Inge (once he comes off his anticipated season-starting DL stint, with a sore shoulder bone), a born-again Jose Tabata and the ever-versatile Josh Harrison.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.