Wandy Rodriguez left today’s game in the first inning after recording one out, pointing to his left elbow. The Pirates later announced that Rodriguez left the game with tightness in his left forearm. That’s the same injury that Jeanmar Gomez had earlier in the week (although the right arm, obviously), and Gomez went on the disabled list. It seems likely that Rodriguez will go on the disabled list, although nothing is official at this point.
If that does happen, who do the Pirates have left to replace Rodriguez? Charlie Morton was scheduled to make a rehab start for Indianapolis on Saturday, throwing 95 pitches. He could make that start in the majors, but that would just replace Gomez.
Before getting to a potential replacement for Rodriguez, let’s look at when the Pirates will need a starter. The Pirates have an off-day tomorrow and Monday, so they could get creative with the rotation. Assuming everyone needs to throw on five days rest, here is what I’d do with the upcoming schedule to delay a fifth starter as long as possible.
Friday, June 7th – Francisco Liriano
Saturday, June 8th – Charlie Morton
Sunday, June 9th – A.J. Burnett
Tuesday, June 11th – Jeff Locke
Wednesday, June 12th – Francisco Liriano
Thursday, June 13th – Charlie Morton
Friday, June 14th – A.J. Burnett
Saturday, June 15th – OPEN
Sunday, June 16th – Jeff Locke
The Pirates won’t need a starter until June 15th, so there’s not an immediate need to call someone up. If Rodriguez has to go on the disabled list, they could use that roster spot to carry an extra bullpen arm. They’re already doing that, and they will probably need to continue after today’s game.
I’m not going to assume Jeanmar Gomez will be back by the 15th. I don’t even think he’d be eligible to come off the DL by then. If Rodriguez goes on the DL, he definitely wouldn’t be eligible to come off by that point. So that leaves the following options.
Gerrit Cole - That’s the first person Pirates fans bring up when these situations come up. Cole hasn’t been dominating Triple-A hitting this year. He’s got a plus fastball and a plus slider, but isn’t commanding the pitches. Lately he’s been better, but not consistent. Two starts ago he gave up eight runs in 5.2 innings. In his last two starts he’s been better, combining for two runs on five hits in 13 innings, with four walks and nine strikeouts. Cole starts tonight, and would get one more start in Triple-A before the Pirates needed a starter on June 15th. He’d also be pitching on five days rest on that date. The next two starts would be a great time for Cole to start dominating Triple-A hitters. If he does, he makes the best case of anyone to get that start.
UPDATE: Cole went seven shutout innings today, giving up three hits, one walk, and striking out three. He threw 95 pitches and 62 strikes.
Andy Oliver - Oliver has put up some great numbers this year. He has a 2.87 ERA in 62.2 innings in Triple-A. He also has 68 strikeouts and a .191 BAA in that span. The downside is his alarming 51 walks. The walks are off-set by the strikeouts and the lack of hits. The big question would be whether he can do that in the majors. That was the same question about Justin Wilson, who also had the high strikeout/low average/high walk rate combo.
Kris Johnson - As a starter, Johnson has a 2.84 ERA in 50.2 innings, with a 36:22 K/BB ratio. He doesn’t have the upside of Cole or Oliver, but he’s pitching well. I’d probably go with one of those two before Johnson, and leave him as emergency depth.
Brandon Cumpton - Here’s a darkhorse candidate. Cumpton has a 3.39 ERA in 58.1 innings with Indianapolis, along with a 44:19 K/BB ratio. The highlight is that he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher, with a 3.10 GO/AO ratio. That would play well in the Pirates’ system.
The Pirates could also turn to their own bullpen, much in the same way that they did with Jeanmar Gomez. The downside here is that Justin Wilson and Bryan Morris aren’t stretched out. They could get there, but if they did they’d be limited in their first starts.
Prior to his first start, Gomez threw 3.0, 1.2, 2.1, and 2.1 innings. He threw 4.1 innings in relief to replace Jonathan Sanchez before his start. Then he went four innings and 79 pitches in his first start, following that with a few five inning starts, and never going more than 73 pitches after his first start. Here are the recent games by Wilson and Morris. You could also mention Vin Mazzaro as an option here, but I’d rather go with one of the several other options mentioned in this article.
Justin Wilson - 2.0, 1.0, 1.0, 2.0
Wilson has been going two innings on occasion, but he hasn’t gone past two since May 1st. He doesn’t seem like a candidate to be stretched out, especially since he hasn’t thrown more than 30 pitches since May 4th.
Bryan Morris - 1.0, 1.0, 1.0, 0.1, 3.0, 3.2
The advantage Morris has is that he went three innings on Sunday when Jeanmar Gomez went down. He only threw 27 pitches in that outing, due to being extremely efficient. Today he replaced Rodriguez and went 3.2 innings, throwing 50 pitches. He looked great, stranding two runners in the first, then keeping it scoreless in the next three innings.
The problem here is that you need to get Morris stretched out, and you can’t do that by keeping him in the bullpen until June 15th. Well, you can if a starter keeps going down every 3-4 days. He would need to go in the rotation right away, and would probably be maxed out at 4-5 innings and 70-80 pitches in his first start. You could option him and stretch him out in the Triple-A rotation, but June 15th would be his 10th day in the minors. Players can’t be recalled before then, so he wouldn’t be back in time to make that June 15th start, unless the Pirates had a timely injury. They could recall Morris early if a player went on the disabled list.
There’s also James McDonald, who is rehabbing tomorrow and throwing five innings and 80 pitches. McDonald would be in line for another rehab start before the 15th, and would probably be extended to 90 pitches. The problem is that this would put McDonald in line to make his third start on June 16th. The alternative would be calling him up early, rather than having him make that next rehab start in Triple-A. It’s one thing for Morton, since he’s at 95 pitches already. It’s another for McDonald, since the Pirates have been hesitant to call up starters from rehab starts early.
What you’d like to see is Gerrit Cole step up and dominate over the next two starts, which would add some comfort to calling him up. There are concerns with Andy Oliver’s control. I wouldn’t mind seeing Brandon Cumpton, as he’d be a good sleeper choice. However, he’s not on the 40-man roster. If they go with a bullpen option, Morris would be my choice. They could also go with McDonald by bringing him back early.
I think you also have to consider how long Rodriguez (and Gomez) will be out. If we’re only talking one start, then would you call Gerrit Cole up? Or would you rather go with a spot starter option like Oliver or Morris? Those are questions that will have to be answered in the next few days/weeks as more information comes out. For now we don’t even know if Rodriguez will need to go on the disabled list.