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Starting rotation has the ability

By Jim Spezialetti
When pitchers and catchers reported for the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton this month, there was plenty of optimism for the 2009 season -- at least from those putting on the uniform (with sleeves!).
For a number of years, the top brass in the Pirates organization have said the team needs talented young arms to produce a contender. A logical direction, seeing how the Oakland A's, Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins have done it in recent years.
Four of those young arms have shown flashes of greatness, unfortunately not in the same year.
Paul Maholm is the latest to show that promise. His 9-9 record with a 3.71 ERA earned him a three-year contract worth $14.5 million. Let's hope he can improve on those numbers, unlike some of his teammates have done.
In 2007, Tom Gorzelanny had the makings of an all-star with a 14-10 record. But last year he found himself being demoted to Class AAA.
Ian Snell went 14-11 in 2006 and posted nine wins the following year. While the victory total dropped off, the lack of run support was evident. He finished the year with a 3.76 ERA. Last year, however, Snell posted a career high ERA at 5.42.
Zach Duke who also is penciled in the starting rotation, has never come close to duplicating his 2005 rookie campaign (8-2, 1.81 ERA).
The Pirates are picked by many experts to lose around 100 games this season because the organization hasn't grabbed any free agents to make up for the losses of Jason Bay and Xavier Nady.
Pirate manager John Russell is optimistic about his team. And, in a way, he should be. If his starting rotation can pitch the way they are capable of, and have proven at one time in their careers, then the Pirates could end the 16-year consecutive losing streak.
"If" is the key word, but then again, hope springs eternal when the players take the field in Florida.