Francisco Liriano had a great start on Thursday. He threw five innings for Indianapolis, allowing one run on four hits, with no walks and eight strikeouts.
Jonathan Sanchez didn’t have a good start on Friday. He was ejected from his start after allowing two homers in the first inning, then hitting Allen Craig with a pitch.
For Sanchez, that wasn’t a fluke. On the season he has given up 16 earned runs in 11.1 innings. He’s only made it through five innings once out of four starts, and it’s leading to an overworked bullpen. The Pirates will eventually need to replace him, and Francisco Liriano would be an obvious choice after that last rehab start. The problem is that Liriano isn’t ready.
Liriano threw 79 pitches in his start with Indianapolis. He’s scheduled to go 90 pitches in his next start, then 100 in his final rehab start. Everything lines up for a May 10th return. He’s basically in Spring Training right now. He’s made three starts, meaning he’s in about mid-March mode. The Pirates can’t really call him up early because he’s not stretched out to throwing more than 80 pitches in a start.
Charlie Morton is in the same situation. Morton makes a rehab start tomorrow with Altoona. In his last start he only threw 69 pitches and four innings. So even if he jumps up to five innings and 80 pitches tomorrow, he won’t be ready in time for Sanchez’s next start.
So what do the Pirates do with Sanchez in the short-term? Looking at the probable pitching chart, Sanchez has two more scheduled starts before May 10th, when Liriano is expected to return. He really only needs to make the May 1st start. Because of the off-day on May 6th, the Pirates could move A.J. Burnett up to take Sanchez’s May 8th start. Jeff Locke could take the May 9th start, Wandy Rodriguez could go May 10th, and Francisco Liriano could debut on May 11th. That would keep everyone on five days rest and give Sanchez just one more start in the rotation.
The problem is that one more start might be too much, considering how over-worked the bullpen has been, and how unreliable Sanchez has been. Morton and Liriano aren’t options. Also, Phil Irwin is dealing with arm fatigue, so they couldn’t turn to him for a spot start on the 1st. That leaves the Pirates with the following choices.
1. Bite the bullet and go with Sanchez for one more start. Hope he goes at least five innings and doesn’t over-work your bullpen. Sanchez has a pending suspension for six games, which would remove this option. However, he can still appeal, so for now nothing is official.
2. Go with Jeanmar Gomez and Vin Mazzaro in a piggyback start. That doesn’t seem like it would help the bullpen usage, although you could move Sanchez to the pen right now, and go with an eight man bullpen and a four man rotation until Liriano returns. So that adds to the bullpen. The Pirates also have an off-day on May 2nd, then Burnett and Rodriguez throwing May 3rd and 5th, respectively, followed by an off-day on the 6th. That should allow the pen to recover.
3. Go with a spot starter from Triple-A. Right now the only option would be Andy Oliver, who has been struggling with control, but has looked dominant this season prior to his last outing. This would also allow the Pirates to move Sanchez to the bullpen and go with an eight man pen until Liriano returns. The problem is that they’d have to send someone down to make room for Oliver.
I feel like the first and the second options are about the same. I don’t think a combo of Gomez and Mazzaro will provide any more security than Sanchez. And the way Sanchez has been pitching, we might see those two anyway. Option three doesn’t add any more of a guarantee, although it does add the possibility that Oliver could come up with an unexpected result and do better than Sanchez, Gomez, or Mazzaro could do. The Pirates would have to send someone down, but they’re going to have to do that no matter what when Jose Contreras comes up on May 3rd. So they’d just be making that move two days early, and adding a spot starter to replace Sanchez.
Either way, the Pirates have one more start of Jonathan Sanchez remaining, at the most. That might be too much. They’ve got options if they don’t want to go with Sanchez. Those options don’t really add much of a guaranteed upgrade. However, if they go with someone other than Sanchez, that would allow them to move Sanchez to the bullpen in the short-term, giving a tired bullpen an extra arm. So even without the guarantee, going with someone other than Sanchez could provide some sort of upgrade to this team in the short-term.
Links and Notes
**The 2013 Prospect Guide and the 2013 Annual are both available on the products page of the site. If you order them together, you’ll save $5.
**Be sure to check out the new podcast: P3 Episode 1: The Bullpen, Snider, and a Nick Kingham Interview.