Joel Hanrahan expected to win Pirates’ ninth inning gig

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With the start of spring training each year comes the start of position battles — two or three guys, fighting for one roster spot or one particular gig.

The Braves have a position battle going on in the back end of their bullpen, where Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters are vying to become Billy Wagner’s replacement at closer. The Pirates have a similar thing going on between hard-throwing relievers Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek.

Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle is not expected to settle on one of the two until well into the Grapefruit League schedule, but one Pirates beat writer has identified a favorite.

Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote Sunday in his “Spring Training At A Glance” column that “most signs point toward” Hanrahan winning the gig because of his past experience closing games and his heftier contract.

Hanrahan, 29, posted a 3.62 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and struck out 100 batters in only 69.2 innings last season. He will make $1.4 million this year as a first-year arbitration-eligible player. Meek, 27, finished with a 2.14 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 70 strikeouts in 80 innings in 2010. He is not yet eligible for salary arbitration.

The Pirates might not have the greatest overall roster, but the back end of their bullpen should be just fine.

Video: Gift Ngoepe singles in his first major league at-bat

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Pirates infielder Gift Ngoepe, just called up from Triple-A Indianapolis, singled in his first major league at-bat on Wednesday evening against Cubs starter Jon Lester. It was a well-struck ground ball up the middle in the bottom of the fourth inning. Unfortunately for him, the Pirates could not bring him around to score.

Ngoepe, who was pinch-hitting, stayed in the game to play second base.

Shelby Miller getting third opinion on elbow from Dr. James Andrews

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Diamondbacks starter Shelby Miller was placed on the 10-day disabled list on Monday due to inflammation in his right elbow. He had a second opinion from Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Tuesday and is currently awaiting a third opinion from Dr. James Andrews, Craig Grialou of Arizona Sports reports. That he’s getting a third opinion seems to imply that Miller’s elbow issue is rather serious.

Miller, 26, hasn’t been able to catch a break since joining the Diamondbacks. Last year’s nightmarish season included a finger injury stemming from mechanical woes and a brief demotion to the minor leagues. In 20 starts in the majors last year, Miller posted an ugly 6.15 ERA. This year, his ERA is a mediocre 4.09 over four starts.

The Diamondbacks called up Zack Godley to take Miller’s spot in the rotation. There was some speculation that it would be Archie Bradley instead, but he’s been working out of the bullpen.