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.