Outlook: Melancon is next in line behind Grilli

BRADENTON, Fla. -- If the Pirates are to make a move in the nearly six weeks remaining before the March 31 Opening Day, and many consider that an inevitability to alleviate some offensive concerns, it will almost certainly involve relief pitching from their side.

The Bucs are simply loaded with live bullpen arms that throw hard and harder, a tremendous asset in today's baseball. In fact, manager Clint Hurdle maintains there are enough top-notch relievers in camp to outfit two Major League bullpens.

"We were fortunate that we got through the bulk of last season with just about the same bullpen," Hurdle said, "and we have other guys in play here who all have the skill set to put another very good bullpen together."

The Bucs retain the pitchers who accounted for 589 of the team's 627 relief appearances in 2013, an extremely rare development, including all the big teeth in The Shark Tank.

Competing for jobs and attention are guys with big league resumes such as Cody Eppley, Dan Schlereth and their own Jared Hughes. Then there are prospects knocking on the door like Casey Sadler and Zack Thornton. And we haven't even mentioned guys who have an inside track, because they no longer have options (Bryan Morris and Vin Mazzaro, also included as two of the '13 big teeth, Stolmy Pimentel and Jeanmar Gomez).

"We understand all the different options," Hurdle said. "We're not going to evaluate daily. They'll have [exhibition] outings we'll have to kick to the curb, because of windy conditions or other factors. Truth be told, I want them all to pitch well and complicate things for us."

Bucs have potential for three Dominican starters

Hurdle tabs Francisco Liriano as Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates are quite proud of their state-of-the-art Dominican Academy, which has already weaned their left fielder (Starling Marte) and soon could also claim to have been the launching pad of their right fielder (Gregory Polanco).

And the Dominican Republic is equally proud of the Pirates, whose 2014 rotation could be three-fifths Dominican.

"Oh, yeah, every time we start one of the games, there will be a lot of attention in the Dominican on us," Wandy Rodriguez said. "It's gonna be special."

A couple of things will have to fall in place for it to happen: Rodriguez will have to successfully return from the forearm arthritis that shelved him for much of 2013, and Edinson Volquez's Spring Training work will have to convince the staff that he is on his own way back from a seasons-long rut.

Francisco Liriano is safe as the Pirates' Opening Day starter.

If everything clicks, Rodriguez mused that the Bucs' rotation could be the first ever to include three Dominicans.

"There have been a lot of Dominican starting pitchers," Rodriguez pointed out, since 63 natives of that country have made 25-plus Major League starts, headlined by one Hall of Famer, Juan Marichal. "But three on one team? I don't think so."

There will be at least a fourth Dominican among the season-opening 25-man roster, Marte.

"This is my first time playing with so many Dominicans," Rodriguez said, "and we feel good about being together. There is good communication between us."

If the Pirates fulfill their mission and win a World Series, perhaps a second parade could be held in Santo Domingo?

"Yeah," Rodriguez broke into a wide smile. "Why not?"

First number, last word

545 2/3: Innings logged by Pirates relievers last season to help the team to 94 wins. The only three teams that placed a greater burden on their relievers (Minnesota, Colorado, Toronto) averaged 71 wins.

"I understand. I was the young prospect at one point in my career. So I don't look at it as a threat. It's my job and my livelihood, but I understand that in this game there will always be young, exciting guys coming up." -- Pirates right fielder Travis Snider, on the prospects of having to hold his ground against Polanco.

Worth noting

• Rodriguez took his regular turn along with other pitchers in throwing live batting practice on Thursday, and once again it was a positive step for the lefty, with Hurdle calling it "another good day for Wandy."

• The Pirates are waiting for new rules governing plate collisions to be formalized (player rep Neil Walker thinks it might happen Sunday; a meeting of Players Association reps is scheduled for that day), but the team doesn't sound too concerned.

"We'll find out what we're dealing with," Hurdle said, "then we'll deal with it. If we're put into a situation where we have to make an adjustment, we're more than capable of making it."

• Ex-Pirates righty Jeff Karstens has been an occasional camp visitor, hanging with some former teammates and current friends, and throwing sides. The Tampa resident is still biding his time recovering from rotator cuff-labrum surgery and, when healed, he will throw for interested teams.