Rodriguez Leaves With Forearm Tightness; Who Could Replace Him?

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 would be the best option to replace Wandy Rodriguez if he shows he's ready over the next two starts. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Gerrit Cole would be the best option to replace Wandy Rodriguez if he shows he’s ready over the next two starts. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

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.

Tim Williams

Author: Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • https://profiles.google.com/112813865702770837622 Jesse Cleaver

    How would 1 spot start affect Gerrit Cole’s arbitration clock? Is there a difference between being up and sent back down, vs. coming up and staying up the rest of the season?

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      I would say if you’re calling Cole up, you want him up for good. He’s not on the 40-man, so he would need to be added. If you add him for one start, then option him, you burn one option year.

      You hope that you don’t need three options with Cole, but as we’ve seen with Pedro Alvarez, that’s not always going to be the case.

      Basically if he’s up, I’d want him up for good, and not one spot start. I don’t think one start is worth one option year.

      • maguro

        If we assume that Cole is coming up eventually this year, which I think is still the consensus, then burning the option year is a non-issue.

      • http://www.facebook.com/azibuck Andy Zibuck

        Agree with maguro. The Pirates should use him as needed and appropriate, “for good” or not. The options concern is odd. If we’re really concerned that he needs an option for 2017, it’s a moot point.

  • reddfoxx39

    This Braves series is exposing many of our flaws.
    We are not passing the eye test in the last 6 games.

    I can’t see Snyder in this lineup come Mid July.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

      Did we sign Chris Snyder?

      But, seriously, why just Snider? NOBODY is hitting consistently.

      Foo

    • http://www.facebook.com/david.donahue.100 whiteAngus

      even really good teams have losing streaks. despite the slump the team is not being blown out, so theres nothing to get worked up about until theres time to get worked up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.brooks.581 Stephen Brooks

    It doesn’t much matter who replaces Wandy if the hitters keep going the way they’re going.

  • deacs

    7 shutout innings for Cole today (so far). Would be nice to have a permanent replacement and not a band aid. And I gotta think he’d clear the Super 2 hurdle by then.

  • LCA Bucco

    What about:
    Friday – Liriano
    Saturday – Burnett
    Sunday – Locke
    Tuesday – Morton
    Wednesday – Liriano
    Thursday – Burnett
    Friday – Locke
    Saturday – Cole
    Sunday – Morton

    • http://www.piratesprospects.com Tim Williams

      Why? You’d be pitching Morton on like 8 days rest.

  • Curtis

    I have no confidence in Morton. His return to the rotation has been assume despite the fact that he has had only one good season, he has a 5.06 career ERA, has missed an entire season, and his AAA numbers are worse than Cole’s.

    So give Morton his start and hope that he does well enough to merit a second, at least. If McDonald can’t go on the 15th, then it is Cole time.

    Hope that by July 1 you have a rotation of Burnett, Rodriguez, Locke, Cole, and (fill in the blank) for the second half of the season.

    • LCA Bucco

      And Liriano. I really pray that Wandy’s injury is not serious