LAKELAND, Fla. – South Portland’s Charlie Furbush was sent to the minor leagues by the Detroit Tigers on Saturday. The 24-year-old left-hander had been vying for a spot in the Tigers’ bullpen.

Manager Jim Leyland said Saturday on the Tigers’ website he wants Furbush to start games in the minors in case his club needs an emergency starter during the regular season.

“If you look at baseball, how many pitchers do they use over the year — there’s a lot of pitchers used,” Leyland said. “Now we have [Jacob] Turner, [Andrew] Oliver, Furbush and [Duane] Below; get another guy down there getting ready for insurance. You need all you can get, and who knows? Who knows who’s going to be called up if something goes wrong?”

Furbush gave up six runs and nine walks to go with 13 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings this spring.

Furbush, a fourth-round draft pick in 2007, rose quickly from Class A to Triple-A last summer. He struck out 109 batters in 77 innings at Class A.

Tigers Manager Jim Leyland told reporters at the start of spring training that slugger Miguel Cabrera was in the best shape of his career. The Detroit News subsequently disclosed that Cabrera came to camp at 270 pounds, at least 25 more than the team wanted him to be.

RED SOX: Pirates starter Kevin Correia singled twice off Red Sox starter Josh Beckett, including a bases-loaded hit that capped a five-run fourth inning and sent the Pirates past Boston 7-5 on Saturday.

“It was kind of a joke in the dugout and I started the joke,” Beckett said of giving up two hits to a pitcher. “If you got a bat up there, you’ve got a chance.”

Beckett, who is trying to rebound from a dismal 2010 campaign, was pulled after 4 2/3 innings with the Pirates ahead 5-3. Four of the five runs he allowed in the game were unearned. He gave up seven hits and walked one.

Marco Scutaro and Dustin Pedroia had multihit games for the Red Sox. Pedroia is 12 for 36 this spring (.333).

Red Sox shortstop Jed Lowrie is probably paying a lot more attention to the NFL’s labor situation than your average baseball player. According to the Boston Herald, Lowrie did a research paper on the differences between the Major League Baseball Players Association and the National Football League Players Association as part of completing his degree work in political science at Stanford.

SUBTRACTION DISCUSSED: MLB’s ownership issues reportedly have prompted some within Bud Selig’s inner circle to discuss contraction privately – specifically the elimination of stadium-challenged franchises in Oakland and Tampa Bay.

The New York Post’s Joel Sherman blogged about this recently, albeit with the caveat that it’s only a theory because MLB isn’t willing to risk labor peace by eliminating 18 spots for big-league regulars and 10 for starting pitchers. But Sherman points out that eliminating the A’s and Rays could allow Lew Woolf to buy the Dodgers from the McCourts and Stuart Sternberg to buy the Mets from the Wilpons.

That could be a win-win for other franchises, as the A’s and Rays heavily draw on a revenue-sharing system that the Yankees’ Hank Steinbrenner referred to as “welfare.” Plus there’s precedent for this type of shuffle. When the Expos moved to Washington, Selig allowed Marlins owner John Henry to take control of the Red Sox while Jeffrey Loria swapped the Expos for the Marlins.

Imagine the feeding frenzy if baseball held a disbursal draft to assign the pitching staffs of the Rays and A’s to 28 other teams. Those arms would blow away the quality of free-agent pitchers expected to be available the next two years – another reason the union would go nuts if owners proposed contraction.

METS: The Major League Baseball Players Association will be keeping a close eye on how new Mets manager Terry Collins uses closer Francisco Rodriguez this year. K-Rod’s $17.5 million option for 2012 becomes guaranteed if he finishes 55 games this season. For a team looking to cut payroll that doesn’t figure to be competitive, there’s at least a financial incentive to make sure he doesn’t vest his option. The union would argue that this violates the spirit of the agreement.

The New York Post noted that in the team’s first 26 games last year, six of K-Rod’s 10 game-finishing appearances were non-save situations.

Outfielder Carlos Beltran is still having knee problems that cast a shadow over his 2010 season. But when he’s despondent he pulls an old baseball card out of his locker and pores over the back.

“When I feel down, that’s what I do. I look at my numbers,” he told the New York Post. “I see how many times I have driven in 100 runs (eight). I say, ‘You know what? I’m a good player.”‘

GIANTS: San Francisco closer Brian Wilson is being sidelined with a strained ribcage muscle, an injury that could keep the big-bearded major league saves leader out for the start of the season.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Saturday he had an MRI. Wilson was injured Thursday while pitching against the Los Angeles Angels.

Wilson will be re-evaluated on Monday. It is uncertain whether he will be ready for opening day.

If he is out for an extended period, the closer’s role likely would be taken by left-handers Jeremy Affeldt or Javier Lopez, or right-hander Sergio Romo.

The 29-year-old Wilson led the majors with 48 saves last year.

CARDINALS: Mark McGwire’s decision to return for a second season as St. Louis’s hitting instructor has little to do with rehabilitating his tarnished image with Hall of Fame voters who snub him yearly. That, he concedes, he can do little about.

“It’s out of my control,” McGwire said. “I don’t ” Obsess? “Yeah, that’s a good word.”

Mostly, the man just loves to teach.

Manager Tony La Russa anticipates no new wrinkles in Year 2 for McGwire, except that he should feel more comfortable on the job.

Players who worked with McGwire last season, or informally in years past, know that this is no celebrity gig.

McGwire emphasizes staying loose, rather than scooting back to the clubhouse to scrutinize at-bats during the game.

“With all the multitasking that goes on in the world today, the one thing you can’t do as a hitter is multitask,” McGwire said. “You can’t think about X-Y-X, you have to think about X. It’s unbelievable how many people forget to do it.

“If you’re thinking about your hands or your feet or something else, it’s really, really hard to hit a moving ball at 97 miles per hour.”