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Competition heats up for rotation spots

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Michael Kirkman watched Derek Holland throw a gem a few days ago. He saw how well the ball was coming out of Tommy Hunter's hand in a live batting practice session and how aggressive and solid Matt Harrison has been in camp so far. Others have also shown good stuff. So Kirkman knew he needed to put up a solid outing of his own.

"It's a competition," Kirkman said. "You have to go out there and pitch well because everyone else is too. You see one guy do well and you want to try one-up him. All of us want the same thing."

Kirkman did his part in Friday's 5-5 tie with the Reds. He pitched four innings after Colby Lewis started (so he got a few regulars early in his outing and some minor leaguers late) and had six strikeouts with no walks. He gave up one run on two hits.

"He made a lot of good progress today, man," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "He used his fastball a lot more effectively and with more conviction on both sides of the plate. He's got such good breaking stuff, swing and miss stuff. So it was good to see that fastball."

Kirkman said the slider was his strikeout pitch on Friday. He was able to throw it where he wanted.

"That was what I wanted to work on and I got some results," Kirkman said. "I have to keep working on it."

Kirkman came into spring determined to get his curve working too. He said he threw three or four of them on Friday with pretty good success.

"It's the kind of pitch that can lock up a lefty," manager Ron Washington said.

Maddux likes the action on Kirkman's off-speed stuff.

"His curve, slider and change are good," Maddux said. "Now we're bringing that fastball up to speed and using it and throwing it for strikes. A few games ago, his strike was a breaking balls. He's got options."

What pleases Maddux the most is that all of the candidates for those final spots are competing at a high level.

"The intra-competition is tremendous," Maddux said. "It shows the depth that we have in the organization that we have these guys competing for a few spots. I've been with other staffs in the past that where you're looking for eight spots to fill and have three worthy candidates. This is nice in that we don't have that issue."