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Pirates Pirates Notebook: McKnight gets moved to bullpen

Tuesday, March 12, 2002

By Robert Dvorchak, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Tony McKnight is no longer a contender for a spot in the Pirates' starting rotation. While nine pitchers remain in the running for the five spots, McKnight will have to earn his roster spot in the bullpen.

Before McKnight pitched one inning yesterday in a 4-2 win against the Twins, he got the word from pitching coach Spin Williams about the move to the bullpen. He has allowed five runs in 4 2/3 innings this spring.

Pirates shortstop Jack Wilson makes an error on a ball hit by the Twins' Ruben Salazar yesterday at McKechnie Field in Bradenton. However, Wilson contributed a sacrifice fly in the Pirates' 4-2 victory. (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette) For more Pirates spring training photos, visit the Pirates Photojournal.

"It's a little bit of a disappointment," McKnight said. "All I can do is pitch the best I can. I'll do whatever it takes. It's just going to be a mental adjustment."

The move was made because the number of innings available to pitchers is shrinking as starters pitch longer in games. Manager Lloyd McClendon said he wanted to take a look at some other pitchers.

McKnight said he hasn't been able to throw all four of his pitches for strikes. In the bullpen, he will be asked to concentrate on just two -- his fastball and a breaking pitch, most likely the curveball. Williams wants him to get his pitches down in the strike zone.

A starter with Houston before he was acquired in a trade, McKnight said he will have to adjust to warming up quicker.

"I've never done this before. I told them I'll do my best. It's a hard transition mentally," McKnight said. "It's totally new to me. Who knows? It could help me out, too. I've had my ups and downs this spring. I'm going to be as positive as I can."

McKnight is out of options. If he doesn't make the roster, he will be exposed on waivers if the Pirates elect to send him to Class AAA Nashville.

Breaking out

After being outscored, 17-0, in their previous two games, the Pirates broke a scoring drought on sacrifice flies by Jack Wilson and Humberto Cota in the first two innings, on their way to the victory against Minnesota.

They broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth. Brian Giles doubled and was replaced by Adam Hyzdu, who scored the winning run on Kevin Young's triple. Young scored on Rob Mackowiak's double. Young is hitting .476 this spring and leads the team with nine RBIs.

"If he continues to hit the ball the other way, take what pitchers give him, he will become the dangerous hitter he was a couple of years ago," McClendon said. "If he gets in a pull mode and chases pitches up in the zone, he's not going to be a very productive hitter."

Jimmy Anderson started and pitched four innings. After McKnight, Joe Beimel had his best outing of the spring, allowing one hit in three shutout innings.

Benjamin bouncing back

Mike Benjamin, who started at second base yesterday, is hitless in nine at-bats, but is starting to feel more comfortable in the field after missing last season with an elbow injury that required surgery.

Benjamin already has tested the elbow -- he was the pivot man on a double play in his first game Thursday, the same kind of play in which he was injured in an exhibition game in Mexico City last year.

"I cringed, closed my eyes and threw to first," he said. "It was a big test."

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