Remember at the start of the year when the Pirates had a lot of starting pitching depth? Kyle McPherson had just missed out on the fifth starter role. Phil Irwin had some impressive outings in Spring Training, and looked like he could also be an early season option. Everyone hoped that Gerrit Cole’s demotion to Triple-A would only be a formality for a few weeks until he gained that extra year of control. Then there was the eventual return of Francisco Liriano, Charlie Morton, and/or Jeff Karstens before the start of June, which means the Pirates had eight starting options in April, and more coming in May. It looked like the Pirates didn’t have to worry about starting pitching options. They only had to worry about the quality of those options.
Now we’re just two weeks into the season and that depth has disappeared. Wandy Rodriguez will miss his start tomorrow, but that will hopefully be the extent of his injury. Kyle McPherson went on the disabled list today with a right arm injury. Gerrit Cole has made two starts in Triple-A, and each time he’s been removed early due to a high pitch count. He’s thrown six innings, and has thrown 30+ pitches in three of those innings.
Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton aren’t ready to return yet. Morton threw three innings in an extended Spring Training game on Friday. Liriano will start a rehab assignment on Monday in Bradenton, which means he’s up to 30 days from returning. He threw two innings last time, so he’ll probably move up to three innings on Monday. Both pitchers are aiming to return in May.
The only immediate depth option at the moment is Phil Irwin, who will start tomorrow. The Pirates are one injured starter away from having to turn to Andy Oliver or Kris Johnson. Those two aren’t horrible options, as they’ve both started the season well in Triple-A. There’s also something to like about each of them. Johnson had great results in the Dominican Winter League, and so far has carried that over to the season in his first two starts. Oliver is a former top prospect who looks like he was one of many pitchers who were rushed through the Detroit system. He has poor control as a result, but could be a good starting option if he fixes the control.
You don’t want to turn to either option this early though. Give Johnson some time to show that he’s legit. I’m not sure two starts is enough. Oliver has 11 shutout innings to start the year, but the control issues are still there with six walks. He’s only given up five hits, and has 11 strikeouts, so the walks aren’t a problem now. But that combo is not something you can count on in the majors.
This isn’t anything that is the fault of the Pirates. You add depth for this reason. It can disappear quickly, as we’ve seen at the start of the season. Fortunately all indications are that Rodriguez will return for his next start, and Liriano will be starting his rehab on Monday. So that depth could be built back up soon.
Links and Notes
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