Leroux expected to start season in bullpen

Leroux expected to start season in bullpen

DALLAS -- Though it still sounds unlikely that the Pirates will consider Chris Leroux a candidate to make the rotation next spring, the Pirates are encouraged by the job Leroux did as a starter in winter ball.

Sent to the Dominican Winter League to pick up some extra innings and work specifically on an offspeed pitch, Leroux finished his winter season with a 1.14 ERA in 23 2/3 innings. He gave up 15 hits and five walks while striking out 21.

Leroux has lobbied for the chance to start in the past, though it appears that he is still destined for a relief role -- probably as a long-relief option -- next year in Pittsburgh. There is always the chance, too, that Leroux could pitch his way into a position where the Pirates would consider him for a periodic start. Anything more regular than that seems unlikely.

"It's still awfully difficult to take a guy who has never thrown more than 80 innings and expect him to throw 200 the next year," noted general manager Neal Huntington.

In 2011, Leroux logged 25 innings with the Pirates and another 68 in the Minors. Based on his performance last season and the fact that he is out of options, Leroux looks like a strong candidate to fill one of the Pirates' seven bullpen spots next year.

"He's a very interesting pitcher with some youth on his side, as well, that's got options [and] that's worked himself to a very good place," manager Clint Hurdle said. "The fact that he can do both [starting and relieving] always adds value. Everybody that I talked to that saw him [in winter ball] was very impressed with the work he was able to do."