BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates have five starters lined up to open the season in their rotation. They also have two top pitching prospects knocking on the door and another wave on the way. But what happens if they need rotation help right out of the gate?
That's where Juan Nicasio and Kyle Lobstein fit into the Bucs' plans. Both will be stretched out in Spring Training as starting pitchers, available to fill a rotation spot if needed while still competing for a bullpen job.
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Ideally, the Pirates will open the season with a rotation of Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Jon Niese, Ryan Vogelsong and Jeff Locke. Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon won't break camp with the Pirates, but they could be in the picture later this year. In the meantime, the Pirates will rely on Nicasio and Lobstein as their most immediate, Major League-ready depth options.
"They're starter depth," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "There will come a point in time in camp where we'll have to decide who's still in play. The health of the five guys that are going out there first right now, and where it takes us, [Nicasio and Lobstein] very well could be bullpen options."
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Nicasio started for the Rockies from 2011-13 and part of '14, going 21-22 with a Coors Field-skewed 5.03 ERA. He moved to the bullpen last year with the Dodgers and his numbers ticked up. Nicasio posted a 3.86 ERA and 2.83 FIP in 53 appearances, striking out 10 batters per nine innings.
If he's not needed in the rotation, the hard-throwing right-hander could be an important part of the Pirates' bullpen, given his high velocity, durability and versatility.
"Nicasio's a guy that we targeted early and were aggressive to go after," Hurdle said. "We'll definitely be finding a spot for him."
Lobstein has worked primarily as a starter. The 26-year-old left-hander made 20 appearances, 17 of them starts, for the Tigers in 2014-15. During that time, Lobstein went 4-10 with a 5.33 ERA.
Lobstein has a shot to make the big league club as a multi-inning lefty reliever, though he could also be optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis to provide additional starting depth.
"Both of them have shown the ability to start," Hurdle said. "Both of them are aware of the opportunity in the bullpen as well."
Around the horn
• Left-hander Cory Luebke, a non-roster invitee pushing for a spot in the bullpen, did not throw his scheduled bullpen session on Sunday due to discomfort in his right hamstring, the Pirates announced.
• Among the early-arriving position players on Sunday were Michael Morse, Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson. Monday is the club's full-squad report date, and their first workout is scheduled for Tuesday.
• Hurdle expects Morse to get some work in the outfield this spring. Morse worked exclusively at first base with the Pirates, but he played six games in left field for Miami last year and spent 84 games in left field for the Giants in 2014. He has experience in both corner-outfield spots.