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Irwin making name for himself with strong spring

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Phil Irwin has always flown under the radar. In high school, college and since joining the Pirates as a redshirted junior in the 21st round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, he's been happy to let others grab the spotlight. After a third strong outing in his first taste of big league camp, though, Irwin is finally making a bit of a name for himself.

The 26-year-old from the University of Mississippi came into Wednesday's 9-3 win against the Red Sox with the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning, calmly getting the final out, then tossing a scoreless seventh as well. It brings the right-hander's Grapefruit League ERA down to 2.08 over 4 1/3 innings of work.

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"We've liked Phil," manager Clint Hurdle said. " We've liked him probably when some other people didn't like Phil. He's done a very good job. Today was another good challenge for him, to come in a bases-loaded situation. The ball comes out of his hand fresh and he spins a hard breaking ball."

Irwin has used that breaking ball, along with a slight uptick in velocity as a pro -- he'll sit in the low 90s -- to quietly make his way up the organizational ladder. When the Pirates needed to raid the Triple-A roster to help out in the big leagues in 2012, Irwin received his first chance to pitch at the highest level of the Minors, and in many ways, he became the team's ace.

That was clear in the International League playoffs against the Charlotte Knights. Indianapolis had lost the first two games, with the Knights scoring 22 runs over the first two games. Indians starters, including top prospect Gerrit Cole, were getting hit hard, with Charlotte's hitters diving over the plate and driving balls everywhere.

Irwin put a stop to that in Game 3. He drilled the very first batter of the game, immediately reclaiming the inner half of the plate. Irwin went on to throw seven shutout innings, striking out 11, to give Indianapolis what would be its lone postseason victory in 2012.

"One of the things that was shared with me is that the kid has a very, very good demeanor," Hurdle said. "He's not a Dow Jones guy. He's right here, he just [flatlines] and goes. He's got great confidence in his ability and he never talks about it. 'This is what I can do, here it is.' We like him and we're definitely keeping an eye on him."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow Less