– Ryan Vogelsong was in his comfort zone Sunday: Pitching to a familiar lineup, in a familiar ballpark, and in a familiar role.

As the starter.

“It’s a huge difference for me,” Vogelsong said after his first start of the spring, a 4-3 split-squad loss to the Pirates at Lecom Park. “I don’t like one bit that I’m not better when I come out of the bullpen, because I feel like that’s a chink in my armor. … My stuff is different, my mentality is different.”

That could be a problem if the Twins decide there’s no room in the starting rotation for him, but for now, Twins manager Paul Molitor said, the 39-year-old Vogelsong remains a serious, if overlooked, candidate for the fifth spot. And Sunday was a positive step, he said, toward achieving that goal.

“That’s as good a rhythm as I’ve felt since I started. I’m really happy with it,” said Vogelsong, who faced 12 batters, retired seven of them, gave up four hits and was charged with three runs. “Everything was doing what I wanted it to. … The curveball is spinning well, the two-seamer worked, the cutter was good. I missed a few pitches, but I made more than I missed.”

In Fort Myers, the other half of the Twins split-squad defeated Baltimore 8-6.

Against Pittsburgh, Danny Ortiz and Jordy Mercer got to Vogelsong for back-to-back one-out doubles in the third inning, and he hit John Jaso with his final pitch of the day. Moments later, Class AA pitcher Raul Fernandez allowed a bases-loaded double to Chris Stewart that scored three and wound up hanging Vogelsong with the loss. The Twins, after all, scored only three runs, two on Daniel Palka’s first homer of the spring, plus Travis Harrison’s solo shot in the ninth.

But Vogelsong, who if he makes the team would be the oldest Twins pitcher since 42-year-old Terry Mulholland in 2005, is getting ready at a veteran’s pace, focused on execution rather than results. His fastball topped out at 89 mph but is getting better.

“I still think I can get big-league guys out consistently and help a team win,” he said. “I know there’s a competition, so there’s definitely a fine line. I’m working on stuff, but I need to get results, too. But the powers that be here are smart enough to see spin, pitches being executed, me doing the things you need to win a ballgame.”