The goal of the change is to keep the righty from drifting forward in his motion. And the hope is that Karstens will, in turn, be able to execute his pitches more consistently than he did during Spring Training.
Karstens has had one recent opportunity to try out this new motion. He used it while pitching five innings in a simulated game Sunday, a game that he stayed behind to pitch in order to remain on a five-day pitching rotation.
"It felt not bad," Karstens said. "It is still a little different, but it's not too uncomfortable. It feels normal for only doing it a couple times."
Interestingly enough, this isn't the first time in Karstens' career that he will use this over-the-head motion. He did so briefly during a game years ago while playing Class A ball, though Karstens plans to have more success with the motion Friday than he did then.
"I walked the first two guys I faced," Karstens said. "Then I went back to my old way and threw a complete game."
Not only will Karstens be pitching with a slightly new motion, but he'll be out to prove he deserves a spot in the rotation. He earned the fifth-starter spot this spring by beating out a number of competitors who, for the most part, all struggled. Karstens, too, had his ups-and-downs this spring, finishing with a 6.17 ERA over seven games.
Pirates management has made it no secret that Karstens' rotation spot will be up for grabs if the results aren't there out of the gate. With a number of starters at Triple-A Indianapolis who management sees as capable Major League replacements, Karstens will have to be a stable presence in the back end of the rotation in order to keep his job.
Friday's start against the Reds will mark Karstens' second career appearance against Cincinnati. He took the loss in a game against them last year, during which he allowed three runs in seven innings.
PIT: RHP Jeff Karstens (2-6, 4.03 ERA in 2008)
Karstens earned the rotation's final spot in the last week of Spring Training by beating out fellow right-hander Virgil Vasquez. It was a subpar spring for Karstens, who makes a living on being efficient and having stellar command. He's not going to overpower hitters, but he's on when the ground balls are coming easily. Karstens, who came to Pittsburgh in a July Trade Deadline deal with the Yankees, allowed 11 earned runs in his final 13 2/3 spring innings.
CIN: RHP Johnny Cueto (9-14, 4.81 ERA in 2008)
Cueto is back for his second season after going 9-14 with a 4.81 ERA in 31 starts during his promising but inconsistent 2008 rookie season. The 23-year-old righty showed signs he will improve in '09 by posting a 1.57 ERA in five Cactus League games with six walks and 13 strikeouts over 23 innings. In three starts against the Pirates last season, Cueto was 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA, giving up 18 hits in 16 innings. Pitch conservation will be a big goal for Cueto this season, who was often unable to go deep in games as a rookie.
Adam and Andy LaRoche were both out of Thursday's lineup. It was the second consecutive day off for Andy, who has been working on his defense. He is expected to return to the starting lineup Friday. Adam continues to battle an illness, making his return date uncertain. ... Manager John Russell confirmed that catcher Jason Jaramillo will make his first start of the season in Cincinnati on Saturday. That will give Ryan Doumit a day off so he can be behind the plate Sunday and in Monday's home opener. ... Right-hander Romulo Sanchez cleared waivers and has been assigned to Triple-A. Sanchez had been removed from the team's 40-man roster last week in order to make room for outfielder Craig Monroe.
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Official game notes
Saturday: Pirates (Paul Maholm, 0-0, 1.35) at Reds (Micah Owings, 6-9, 5.93 ERA in '08), 1:10 p.m. ET
Sunday: Pirates (Ian Snell, 0-1, 13.50) at Reds (Aaron Harang, 0-1, 1.80), 1:10 p.m. ET
Monday: Pirates (Zach Duke, 1-0, 1.42) vs. Astros (Brian Moehler, 0-1, 37.80), 1:35 p.m. ET