With 'pen in flux, Meek could be key for Bucs

With 'pen in flux, Meek could be key for Bucs

With 'pen in flux, Meek could be key for Bucs
BRADENTON, Fla. -- One month into Spring Training and 10 exhibitions into the Grapefruit League season, the Pirates' bullpen remains extremely in flux.

Aside from its eventual overall composition, two major issues remain: Who will have the eighth inning, and which southpaw(s) will counter the National League's overabundance of left-handed power?

The answer to both could yet be Evan Meek, who had the eighth-inning role in his All-Star season in 2010 when he was deadly against lefty hitters. But thus far, he has given few signs of being up for it.

Meek is trying to come back from the injuries that decimated his 2011 season. With less zip on his fastball and less movement on his breaking pitch, he has allowed five hits and four earned runs in 1 2/3 innings. As significantly, in Saturday's "B" game against Minnesota, Meek faced four straight left-handed hitters without retiring any of them.

"[His velocity] has been OK, certainly not what it was when Evan was an All-Star," said general manager Neal Huntington. "It's been 90-93 mph. He's a power guy. The breaking ball was crisper and firmer in 2010 than we've seen this spring. But he's still building arm strength."

In 2010, Meek held lefty hitters to an average of .168, and even more impressively, a puny slugging average of .200.

The leading setup alternative could be Juan Cruz, signed so late he isn't even yet on the 40-man roster. As for lefty relievers for more conventional matchups, the choices are Daniel Moskos, Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke, Tony Watson and Justin Wilson.

"We'd love to have two. The way the league sets up, to use one in an early key situation and have one for later," said manager Clint Hurdle. "We're open-minded. We'll take the seven best guys who we think set up our bullpen. We're not going to stick a lefty out there just to have a lefty."