First Pitch: And Now There’s No Doubt About Cole in the Playoffs

Now that Wandy Rodriguez is shut down, there's no question that Gerrit Cole belongs in the playoff rotation. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Now that Wandy Rodriguez is shut down, there’s no question that Gerrit Cole belongs in the playoff rotation. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

The last two nights I’ve been writing about the playoff rotation and how that has been shaping up. The main focus in the comments was on Gerrit Cole. I didn’t have Cole as one of my top four starters for the playoffs, putting him behind Charlie Morton and a healthy Wandy Rodriguez. Last night I wrote about the difference between the Nationals shutting down Stephen Strasburg and the Pirates potentially shutting down Cole. The key difference is that the Pirates would have had better options with Rodriguez healthy.

One day later, it was Rodriguez who was shut down. The Pirates shut down the left-hander for the rest of the season after he continued to feel soreness in his elbow while throwing. I saw a lot of people react with little surprise to this, but I have to say that I was surprised. Maybe I missed something in the last week, since I’ve been spending a lot of time getting the 2014 Prospect Guide set up. But I’m not sure that I did. The timeline that I had was:

September 1st: We learned that Rodriguez was dealing with arthritis, along with pain and inflammation.

September 4th: Rodriguez threw his first bullpen session.

September 6th: Rodriguez made a three inning rehab start. After the start he was reported to be a little sore.

September 14th: Rodriguez threw a 67 pitch simulated game.

I was focused on the rehab more than the reports of soreness. I didn’t think it was serious if he kept pitching. Obviously that’s not the case, since he was shut down due to that soreness. Now the Pirates will prepare him for next season, and it’s almost certain that he will be back next season. Rodriguez has a $13 M player option, and he’s not likely to decline that with his injury.

As for this year, there definitely won’t be a healthy Wandy Rodriguez in the playoffs. That leaves Gerrit Cole with a clear rotation spot. As I said last night, the problem with Washington and Strasburg was that he was clearly a better option. After Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, and Charlie Morton, Cole is clearly the best option. The only way the Pirates would have a different option is if Jeff Locke shows that his latest start wasn’t a fluke, and is something he can repeat from here on out. I feel that it’s more likely Cole will end up the best option over Locke and all of the other healthy starters.

Links and Notes

**The latest episode of the Pirates Prospects podcast is out, featuring special guest Rocco DeMaro: P3 Episode 19: Catching Up With Rocco DeMaro

**Byrd, Tabata Homer to Lead Bucs Over Cubs, 2-1

**Pirates Notebook: Morton Not as Electric against Left-handed Batters

**Wandy Rodriguez Shut Down the Rest of the Season

**James McDonald Elects Free Agency

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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  • emjayinTN

    Tim: I think he is going to be pitching in the playoffs, because he seems to be peaking at just the right time. Watching him throw 97/98, with command, in the 7th inning to get out of a jam, he showed the type of mound presence needed in big games. And, IMO, it is Burnett and Liriano fighting it out for #1, and Cole a runaway for #3. I liked Locke’s last start and do not like what we have gotten out of Morton so far in September. We sparred on this yesterday, and I agree that just looking at his last 2 games is not enough for any projection, but it is enough for concern.

    Cannot find any fault whatsoever with the moves made by the front office to help this team down the stretch and I see the possibility of both Byrd and Morneau being willing to join if the club is willing to make fair offers. What a sight to see – a jam packed PNC Park and a group of guys interacting with one another every step of the way. Both Byrd and Morneau came from struggling teams and have to be appreciative of the opportunities they have gotten on a big stage going into Free Agency. However, I see both of these guys as wanting to be with a team with a good atmosphere and with the chance to make the playoffs, and they could not have a better location right now than in Pittsburgh, PA. Let’s Go Bucs!

    • http://www.facebook.com/matt.beam.16 Matt Beam

      I could see a scenario with wanting to and being able to resign Morneau, maybe 1 yr/$8M or 2 yrs/$12M… Pirates really don’t have another internal option than a repeat of the Sanchez/Jones platoon and Jones will make that much money through arbitration and I prefer Morneau’s OBP and defense

      Unfortunately, Byrd is not going to happen… he got a 50 game suspension last yr and had to agree to <$1M contract with the Mets. With the year he's had, he's going to want to get his first and probably last big contract and with El Coffee waiting in the wings the Bucs aren't going to pony up something in the neighborhood of 3 yrs/$36M… my guess is Andrew Lambo and Tabata play RF until Polanco is ready

      • Bucco_Joe

        I wouldn’t sign Byrd to a 3 year deal because of his age. A 2 yr deal should definitely be considered because there is no guarantee that Polanco is going to be ready next year, I would rather keep Polanco a little longer in AAA, rather than rush him to the majors.

  • Bucco_Joe

    Right now its got to be Liriano, Burnett, and Cole as your top three. I could see Morton in there only if the opponent is stacked with RH batters. Locke need to show over his next two starts that he belongs in the conversation.

  • leadoff

    Everything depends on whether they play a wild card or a series, how they match up, and who is ready to pitch.

  • leadoff

    Here is a question I would like to get an opinion on?
    If Liriano’s personal catcher is Sanchez, if Liriano pitches the wild card game, should Sanchez be kept on the 25 man? and if so should he catch Liriano in that game over Martin?

    • emjayinTN

      leadoff: IMO, Clint was looking for a way to keep Sanchez involved, and an automatic day off for Russell Martin. It is not unusual that he did so with Liriano who is very tough to steal on regardless of who is behind the plate. My thought is that you may see Martin catch Liriano in one of his last two starts. No way that he is going to pull Martin in a one game playoff, if the Pirates do not win the Central. Even if they do win the Central, with the built in days off, I think Martin will catch them all.

      Here is one back – is it obvious that Justin Wilson is being rested or is it just me? Watson is pitching almost every night and Wilson not so much.

      • leadoff

        I tend to agree that Martin is going to catch them all, but will Buck get the roster spot over Sanchez?
        As far as Wilson is concerned, his pitch speeds are way down, I have to believe that they are limiting him somewhat, either by resting him or having him on a pitch count.

        • Y2JGQ2

          Last week Wilson threw 97,97,98,99,99. I’m not sure what you were watching….

          • leadoff

            Check his last time out.

            • jon6er

              I don’t think he got over 93 the other night which was a little shocking.

          • buster09

            Y2J : I think a better question is : were you watching Wilson’s last appearance ? His velocity was down as much as 7 MPH from even his most recent apperances befre that.

        • http://www.facebook.com/jeremy.j.stein.3 Jeremy J Stein

          I think the Pirates go with 10 or 11 pitchers and 3 catchers.
          .
          Marte
          Walker
          McCutchen
          Morneau
          Byrd
          Alvarez
          Martin
          Mercer
          .
          T.Sanchez
          Buck
          G.Sanchez
          Jones
          Tabata
          Harrison
          .
          Liriano
          Burnett
          Morton
          Cole
          .
          Locke
          Melancon
          Grilli
          Watson
          Mazzaro
          Wilson

          Final spot depends on match-ups: Lambo/Pie/Morris/Gomez/Hughes.

        • jon6er

          If I had a thousand to spare I would bet Hurdle goes with “veteranosity” and keep Buck. But if anyone has watched how Tony blocks balls in the dirt we will lose that with Buck. It’s a decision I wouldn’t want to have to make but I really like this kid Sanchez!

  • jamminjoe66

    I’m.a big Wilson fan but his last outing he was throwing 91 – 93. I hope he’s not going through dead arm. I also would like for them to consider him for rotation next year

    • leadoff

      You won’t see 96 and up from him if he starts, he did have control problems when they had him as a AAA starter. It is possible that with his bullpen experience he has learned to control some of the wildness he had in AAA. I think they are pretty heavy on quality starting pitching coming through the system. I was hoping that he would make a good setup man and I think if they did not use him for so many innings this year, he might be a good setup man right now.

  • jon6er

    It’s beautiful just having to worry a a playoff rotation. I hope all these guys pitch so well down the stretch to make it hard as possible to figure it out. Then we just have to hope that Hurdle doesn’t over think it and use common sense and not his unusually high opinion of himself. I certainly think Huntington should give some feedback since he assembled these good arms.

  • https://profiles.google.com/116899082423235635777 Monsoon Harvard

    I figured all along that Gerrit Cole would not be shut down at any point in the season, so I’m glad I ignored all the discussions people had about. No use arguing about something I’m already certain of.

  • https://profiles.google.com/116899082423235635777 Monsoon Harvard

    Also I really hope they resign Marlon Byrd more than anyone. Much moreso than Morneau, but I’ll take him too if they sign him.

  • smurph

    Buccojoe is right. Your top 3 starters are Liriano, Burnett and Cole. The 4th starter would be based on whom you are playing. Lefthanders are hitting over .300 vs. Morton. And Locke’s high number of walks don’t bode well going against good hitting teams.
    As for Byrd and Morneau next year – No one will offer Byrd a 3-yr contract. He is too old. The Pirates should offer him one year, maybe 2.5 or 3 million. Perhaps another team will offer him 2 years. Similar situation for Morneau. He is not the player he was 7 years ago. One, maybe two years, but not for 8 million per.
    As for the postseason roster, you can change it for each series, so again the last one or two players might be determined by the opponent.