Stiff competition for three vacant bullpen spots

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Most Major League clubs began this Spring Training with the Classic concern that it would be too long.

For Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, it may not be long enough. He may need more time for some relievers to pitch themselves out of contention for the three vacant seats in the bullpen.

There was no give on Sunday, either here against the Orioles or in Fort Myers against the Twins. Ten relievers combined to pitch 12 innings in the two wins, allowing five hits and one earned run -- and striking out 14.

Four bullpen spots belong to closer Jason Grilli, Jared Hughes, lefty Tony Watson and Mark Melancon, who pitched a perfect inning in the 5-2 win over the Orioles and has allowed one run in five appearances.

Melancon wasn't alone in padding his resume:

• Ryan Reid, a 27-year-old non-roster righty, earned the save against the O's by striking out the side and has given up one hit in four outings.

• Hunter Strickland struck out two in an inning that stretched his scoreless spring to four appearances.

• Justin Wilson also pitched a scoreless inning to lower his ERA to 1.29 in seven innings.

• Mike Zagurski picked up two more strikeouts in a shutout inning against Minnesota and has fanned seven of the last eight men he faced.

Those last two are left-handers, vying with Kris Johnson for one of the open spots the Bucs would like for a southpaw to occupy.

"That would be the ideal," said Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, who said other teams have not called about the Bucs' apparent surplus of arms -- yet.

"Teams are still at the stage where they are trying to get a read on what they have," Huntington said. "Of course, you want to have a surplus, guys who can step in in case of injury or sub-performances."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.