PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates outrighted four pitchers to Triple-A Indianapolis on Wednesday as general manager Neal Huntington begins the process of opening up vacancies on the team's 40-man roster. Among those four pitchers sent down was right-hander John Van Benschoten, a first-round Draft pick in 2001.
By taking the four -- Van Benschoten and right-handers Marino Salas, Yoslan Herrera and Ronald Belisario -- off of the 40-man roster, the Pirates now have the flexibility to start making the necessary additions to the Major League roster prior to this year's Rule 5 Draft.
Left-handers Tom Gorzelanny and Phil Dumatrait are currently on the 60-day disabled list and will both have to be added back to the 40-man roster in November. A number of organizational prospects, including Neil Walker, Jeff Sues, Jamie Romak, Evan Meek and Eric Krebs, would all be left unprotected in December's Rule 5 Draft if they are not added onto the 40-man roster.
Additional spots on the 40-man roster will also come open in the coming weeks when players begin testing the free agent market.
Players may begin filing for free agency as soon as the World Series ends. Doug Mientkiewicz, Chris Gomez and Luis Rivas all fit into this category. So, too, will outfielder Jason Michaels, who has a $2.6 million club option for 2009 that the Pirates are not planning on exercising.
The four roster moves on Wednesday come as little surprise. For Van Benschoten, the 2008 season once again finished as a disappointment. Van Benschoten, the eighth overall pick in 2001, appeared in nine games for the Pirates (five starts) and allowed 26 earned runs in 22 1/3 innings. He walked 20 and struck out 21.
The righty also spent significant time in Triple-A, finishing with a 3.92 ERA in 22 games (13 starts). He is 2-13 with a 9.20 ERA in 26 total Major League appearances.
Salas and Herrera both spent most of the season in the Minors, but also made brief appearances in Pittsburgh during the year. Herrera made five spot starts for the Pirates in 2008, going 1-1 with a 9.82 ERA in 18 1/3 total innings.
Salas, who was acquired last December in a trade that sent reliever Salomon Torres to Milwaukee, made 13 relief appearances this season. The 27-year-old righty finished with an 8.47 ERA. He went 4-4 with a 3.47 ERA in 40 relief appearances at Triple-A Indianapolis.
Belisario is the only one of the four yet to make his Major League debut. The 25-year-old right-hander, who was signed as a Minor League free agent in 2006, spent the season pitching out of the bullpen for Double-A Altoona. He allowed 30 runs and struck out 36 in 57 innings.
All four pitchers would be available for other teams to select in the Major League Rule 5 Draft, which will be held on Dec. 11, at the conclusion of baseball's Winter Meetings.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.