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PIRATES Jeff D'Amico could be fifth starter



Published: Fri, March 21, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



One more strong outing this spring could solidify his role.

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) -- Decision day is nearing for Jeff D'Amico and the Pittsburgh Pirates, even if it seems he has all but made their decision for them.

D'Amico did nothing Monday to hurt his chances of being the Pirates' No. 5 starter, holding Minnesota hitless until allowing two runs and three hits in the fifth inning of the Twins' 5-4 exhibition victory.

The Pirates have until Friday to decide if the right-handed D'Amico, the former Brewers and Mets starter, will be on their 25-man roster. If he isn't, they must release him and give him a chance to hook on with another club before opening day.

"I think I've pitched well enough to be here," said D'Amico, who has a 4.41 ERA this spring.

It's not just because the Pirates' clubhouse atmosphere is looser and less intense than that of the Mets, where he spent a disappointing season a year ago. He was 6-10 with a 4.94 ERA and lost his spot in the starting rotation in early August, and didn't pitch at all after Sept. 11.

Clear frontrunner

Now, he appears to be the clear frontrunner of the four remaining candidates for the Pirates' No. 5 starter's job. And it's not just because, with five starts, he has two more than any Pittsburgh starter.

Over the last week, the other three candidates have been used either in relief (Julian Tavarez) or in minor league games (Salomon Torres and Rolando Arrojo), while D'Amico starts in "A" games against major leaguers.

Manager Lloyd McClendon plans to give Torres and Arrojo one more outing Thursday against the Reds. But, unless there is a sudden change of thinking by the manager or general manager Dave Littlefield, it seems likely the Pirates will tell D'Amico on Friday that not only is he on their staff, he's their No. 5 starter.

In his last two starts, D'Amico has allowed three runs and eight hits in nine innings.

The key for D'Amico to being successful in Pittsburgh might be staying healthy.

Best year was 2000

D'Amico had an impressive 2000 season with Milwaukee, going 12-7 with a 2.66 ERA, before being dealt to the Mets following an injury-interrupted 2001 season. He has been on the disabled list in five of his six major league seasons.

Despite being 6-foot-7 and 255 pounds, he's not a big strikeout pitcher. With an effective slow breaking ball and changeup, he gets a lot of fly ball outs, which could work to his favor in spacious PNC Park.

"So far, my breaking ball's coming along and my changeup has never been this good in spring training," D'Amico said. "Now, I'm just trying to build up my work load and get ready for the season."




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