Cumpton may have lead in race for rotation spot

Cumpton may have lead in race for rotation spot

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The unofficial race for the fifth spot in the Pirates' starting rotation has an official leader. Brandon Cumpton stepped up Friday with a sharp four-inning outing -- the longest of the spring for a Pittsburgh arm -- in the 6-5 victory over Philadelphia.

"I tried to get back to my game plan, just attacking hitters and getting ahead early and putting them in position to put the ball on the ground," said Cumpton, a reputed ground-ball pitcher who got 10 of his 12 outs in that manner. "I feel like it's starting to click after I've slowly made adjustments in each outing, although I know the results haven't shown that."

Cumpton had been scored upon in each of his first three appearances, all in relief. Even Friday, he gave up two runs -- both unearned. He allowed only two hits -- a single to Domonic Brown and a double to Darin Ruf -- while walking one and striking out two.

"An improved day for him all around," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He had his command in play. The fastballs were good, he worked both sides of the plate, pitched inside. The changeup velocity was good, and the slider improved as the outing went on."

Cumpton, who delivered 36 of 59 pitches for strikes, took satisfaction in taking with him into the game the work he had done on the side since his last outing, on Sunday.

"I carried my last two bullpens into the game. That really helped a lot," Cumpton said. "I had a good outing today, but I need to carry this over in two days to my bullpen, then into whenever the next game would be."

Tom Singer is a reporter for 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.