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02/18/10 11:36 AM EST

Hanrahan to begin season on DL

Veteran right-handed reliever sidelined by elbow strain

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pitchers and catchers hadn't yet taken the fields at Pirate City for the team's first official workout on Thursday before the club found itself dealing with the reality that it will be without right-handed reliever Joel Hanrahan on Opening Day.

Though tests are still ongoing, Hanrahan has been diagnosed with a flexor-pronator strain in his right elbow, an injury that has sidelined him from throwing for the time being. The Pirates are still getting a grasp on the severity of the injury, but that should be known after Hanrahan undergoes another handful of tests and exams in the upcoming week.

He is scheduled to be examined by Pirates medical director, Dr. Patrick DeMeo, in Bradenton later on Thursday, and then by orthopedist Dr. James Andrews next Thursday in Pensacola, Fla. Hanrahan said he also has an MRI scheduled for Tuesday.

"The reality is that Joel probably won't be ready for Opening Day," general manager Neal Huntington said. "Is it May 1? Is it June 1? We'll know more as we get more doctor information."

Tests so far have shown no structural damage, and surgery has not yet been a point of discussion with Hanrahan.

"Hopefully it won't be anything that lingers all year," Hanrahan said. "Hopefully we can get it taken care of now. If I miss two weeks to a month, that's better than missing a whole year."

Hanrahan dealt with some mild discomfort in his pitching arm during the final two months of the '09 season and pitched just twice after Sept. 15 because of that. He said he felt fine throughout the winter until he began throwing at the team's minicamp in early January.

He took a week off after minicamp to rest his arm, but when his elbow was still bothering him early this month, Hanrahan again alerted the club's medical staff.

"It's tough," he said. "You want to get out there and do your preparation to get ready for the season. You get to know guys a lot better out on the field than sitting in a trainer's room. It's tough, but it's something that you've got to deal with."

The Pirates can only hope that Hanrahan's ailing elbow will not require surgery, something that could cost the right-hander the entire year. Still, even if Hanrahan is able to rejoin the Pirates' bullpen sometime midseason, Pittsburgh is now left with an additional 'pen spot to fill this spring.

Along with Evan Meek, Hanrahan was expected to be the Pirates' seventh- and eighth-inning bridge to Brendan Donnelly and closer Octavio Dotel. Hanrahan had certainly earned the opportunity to pitch in late-inning situations after thriving with Pittsburgh last season. He posted a 1.72 ERA and struck out 37 in 33 relief appearances (31 1/3 innings) for the Pirates following a midseason trade from Washington.

Hanrahan had even been considered as a candidate to close for the Pirates this season after the club lost Matt Capps to free agency in December.

Because the Pirates already have over a dozen relievers vying for spots on the Opening Day roster, Huntington said that he does not anticipate having to go out and bring in another reliever to fill in during Hanrahan's absence, however long it might be. Of course, that could always change depending upon the final diagnosis for the righty.

"We're not panicking about our bullpen," Huntington said. "There are still some guys out there that we have talked to, but at this point we are content with our bullpen. We think we have enough options internally to fill the middle of our bullpen."

Dotel, Donnelly, Meek and Javier Lopez are all virtual locks to make the team, which means that those other internal candidates have a total of three vacant spots up for grabs. Though he is not on the 40-man roster, right-hander D.J. Carrasco is seen as a favorite to land one of those final three openings. Carrasco had notable success as a White Sox reliever during the past two seasons, which could also make him a strong candidate to step into the late-inning role that Hanrahan was expected to assume.

"Somebody will step up," Huntington said. "We like the options that we have out there. We've got a lot of guys fighting for those jobs."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.