The first half of the season saw the Pittsburgh Pirates use 11 starting pitchers. The reason the number was so high was largely due to injuries. Out of the 11 pitchers who have made starts this year for the Pirates, 7 have missed time due to injuries. The guys who have stayed healthy are Jeff Locke (not counting his recent lower back tightness which caused him to miss his last start and the All-Star game), Gerrit Cole, Brandon Cumpton, and Jonathan Sanchez. Cole and Cumpton arrived in June when the injury list became too populated, and Sanchez is one of the few starting pitchers who has been horrible this year.
The Pirates have been extremely lucky so far this year. Every time they run into a situation where they are faced with a four man rotation, someone returns from an injury. The majority of the replacements have been performing well, leaving the Pirates in a situation where they haven’t been without five performing starting pitchers since Jonathan Sanchez left.
All of that depth that has helped throughout the year is starting to disappear. The current rotation has A.J. Burnett, Jeff Locke, Francisco Liriano, Gerrit Cole, and Charlie Morton. The only other starters remaining from the first half are Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, Jeanmar Gomez, and Brandon Cumpton.
Yesterday we heard that Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald would resume throwing this week. That probably puts them out until late-August at the earliest. It’s possible they could return a week or two sooner, but that seems extremely optimistic.
Jeanmar Gomez made his last start on June 26th. Since then he has pitched 5.1 innings in four appearances. He was able to move from the bullpen to the rotation last time because he was throwing multiple innings every time he made an appearance (largely because every appearance he made was to take over early for Jonathan Sanchez). He moved to the rotation before, but this is a different situation.
That just leaves Brandon Cumpton from the original group, giving the Pirates one extra starter over the next month until Rodriguez and/or McDonald return. If the Pirates have a normal month, they probably won’t need more than six starters. But “normal” for the Pirates this year has meant that six starters won’t be enough, even in a one month span. So who could they turn to, besides Brandon Cumpton, if a starter is needed in the second half?
Stolmy Pimentel - He has made seven starts with Indianapolis. In that time he has a 2.74 ERA in 46 innings, with a 37:13 K/BB ratio. Pimentel has been inconsistent this year, and two of his six starts with Indianapolis have been poor outings. However, if the Pirates need a starter beyond Cumpton, they could turn to Pimentel.
Kris Johnson - This year as a starter he has a 2.38 ERA in 90.2 innings, with a 63:28 K/BB ratio. He has mostly been an upper level organizational player, but if the Pirates have an emergency, they could turn to him. Johnson seems like a better option as a third lefty out of the bullpen in September.
That gives the Pirates eight starters until Rodriguez and/or McDonald return. That should be enough, although the first half showed that you can never have too much pitching. The Pirates don’t necessarily need to add a starting pitcher at the deadline, but adding an extra guy would only solidify their depth. Hitting is a bigger need, but the team wouldn’t be where they are right now without all of the strong pitching throughout the year, and timely depth replacements.