(Photo Credit: David Hague)

The Pirates Won’t Need a Regular Fifth Starter Until May 24th

When the Pittsburgh Pirates sent down Brandon Cumpton yesterday, I was a bit surprised. Cumpton has pitched well in both of his starts this season, along with his time in Triple-A, and his time in the majors last year. There seemed to be no reason to send him down. Then I took a look at the schedule, and realized that the Pirates could get by with four starters for most of the month of May.

I don’t know if this is why Cumpton was sent down. I don’t know if they’re planning on going with the following schedule. But the following is an option, allowing the Pirates to go most of this month with just a four man rotation, along with two spot starts.

May 5th – Jeff Locke. Clint Hurdle announced this today, and I’m guessing Locke will only be up for a spot start.

May 6th – Charlie Morton (Announced)

May 7th – Francisco Liriano (Announced)

May 8th – OFF

From this point forward, all starters are probable, and ordered in a way where the Pirates would only need four starters.

May 9th – Gerrit Cole

May 10th – Edinson Volquez

May 11th – Charlie Morton

May 12th – OFF

May 13th – Francisco Liriano

May 14th – Gerrit Cole

May 15th – Edinson Volquez

May 16th – Charlie Morton

May 17th – Spot Starter Needed. This could be any of the usual candidates (Locke, Cumpton, or even Sadler).

May 18th – Francisco Liriano

May 19th – OFF

May 20th – Gerrit Cole

May 21st – Edinson Volquez

May 22nd – Charlie Morton

May 23rd – Francisco Liriano

May 24th – Regular Fifth Starter Needed

I should point out that Wandy Rodriguez is currently rehabbing, so he could enter into the mix here. However, the Pirates started his rehab on May 1st, and he has 30 days on his rehab assignment, so they could keep him down for this entire time.

The downside to the Pirates needing only four starters for most of the month is that their top four starters haven’t been reliable. Francisco Liriano is struggling. Gerrit Cole isn’t exactly dominating. Charlie Morton is pitching more like a number four starter than a strong number three. Edinson Volquez is the only one who is producing, although his advanced metrics say that he will drop a bit, pitching more like a number three or a strong number four starter. That said, those same advanced metrics have Liriano and Cole improving their numbers.

The advantage here is that the Pirates could use an extra roster spot during this time to strengthen the rest of their team. That spot could go to an extra reliever if the starting staff continues to struggle. Or it could go to an extra hitter, which would be a good thing since the offense has struggled this year. I don’t expect that extra hitter to be Gregory Polanco, since he isn’t expected to arrive until the Super Two deadline passes. The Pirates could use this opportunity to call up Andrew Lambo, who has a 1.026 OPS in 90 at-bats in Triple-A, including a minor league system leading 13 doubles.

Lambo could be an option to start in right field in the short-term, giving the Pirates a chance to see what he can do before Polanco arrives. If Lambo does have success, and if Ike Davis continues to struggle (.612 OPS so far with the Pirates), then they could keep Lambo around as a first base option after Polanco arrives. Meanwhile, the team wouldn’t have to make a decision on Jose Tabata or Travis Snider until May 24th, meaning they could carry both on the roster, even if Lambo is up and getting starts in right field.

Once the Pirates do need a fifth starter, I think the best option for that starter would be Brandon Cumpton.

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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/101510909979106143098 David Lewis

    Sounds like a plan. Send Locke back down on Tuesday the 6th and bring up Lambo. If Locke does okay Monday, start him in Indy on the 11th (an extra rest day) and bring him back up for the 17th (maybe sending Hughes back down to clear a spot on the 25-man).

    You can send Locke back down on the 18th and bring Sadler back up to take the bullpen slot, and then bring up Cumpton on the 24th, at which point Lambo will have had 15 games (probably 50+ PAs) to show what he can do. Still kind of a small sample size, but if he’s showing even a reasonable level of competence following his performance in AAA this season and last, it should be enough to warrant cutting bait on Snider.

    And when Wandy finishes his rehab, they can send Cumpton back down and put Wandy in the starting slot, or put Wandy in the bullpen and DFA Gomez.

    • R Edwards

      If Wandy does not pitch better in his rehab, over what he has done so far, i don’t want him anywhere near the rotation – and other than maybe mop-up duty, he would be useless in the bullpen. I hope he proves during this rehab that he actually deserves a spot in the rotation.

    • Monkshot

      I think we are going to see a lot of Gomez from here on out. Not only is he better when given the opportunity to pitch, but I think management is trying to figure out which arm they can part with when needed this year.

  • R Edwards

    Of course, you are assuming that starters 1-4 pitch well enough to remain in the rotation. Volquez had a great start, then got shelled in his last start – which Volquez will we get going forward? It will take a lot more horrific starts for Liriano or Cole to be taken out of the rotation, but I consider Morton on the bubble. He has not been very good this year and he refuses to pitch inside – he’s a nibbler and does not seem to handle adversity well. I saw him pitch in Baltimore this past week – his fastball was 90-91, nothing harder than 92 all night. I remember someone posting on here last Spring, that Morton was hitting 97 during his rehab. I find that hard to believe – that could not have been in any kind of game situation. I just don’t have a great deal of confidence in him as a starter. He pitched great last year, but seems to have regressed to pre-2013 form.

    • smurph

      I haven’t gotten to see any of Chuck’s starts. Since he is throwing the 2-seamer almost exclusively, he will lose 3-4 MPH on the FB. If he is at 92-93, that is fine. If he is at 90 without movement, that is a problem. The key for him (with the 2-seamer) is movement and location. And yes, he needs to pitch inside.

  • johndw28

    Regardless if they don’t need a 5th starter until may 24th cumpton has looked like our 3rd best pitcher in his last 2 starts. I don’t know if even ray separate clan keep edinson volquez’s from turning back into Edison volquez eventually

    • R Edwards

      Volquez had a nice start, but is proving to be what he has been the past 2-3 years. The Pirates will be stubborn, and will trot him out there for another half dozen starts that all end up as losses. Other than Cole, Cumpton is probably there best starter – but lets send him down to Indy and keep guys like Volquez and Gomez on the roster.

      • stickyweb

        Yes it’s called managing the roster. It’s a little simplistic to say Cumpton’s been a good starter so he’s not going to be sent down briefly. They needed a spot starter today, and Stolmy’s on the DL. Did you want that to be Gomez? Cumpton’s got options so he could be on the Indy-Pitt shuttle a few times during the season. If they don’t need him for a stretch, then I’d love to see Lambo get a real shot for a few weeks. If the other starters continue to struggle, then they can always bring Cumpton back earlier.

        • R Edwards

          I was referring to longer term – not the temporatry need for a spot starter today in Locke, But, since you asked….I would release Gomez or Volquez, and keep Cumpton in the rotation now. I am going to make a prediction here, and for the sake of the Pirates and their success I hope I am wrong…..but, I predict Volquez is released by June 15 due to continued ineffectiveness as a starter. And, the Pirates will eat the terrible $5M investment they made in him. Feel free to call me out if I am wrong.

          Instead, the Pirates could have made the smart play last Winter and given AJ his Qualifying Offer – and we would have had either AJ – and a dependable starter – a first round pick if someone else signed him – or nothing if he retired. What was the major downside to doing that? None that I can see. But, instead we waste money and prospect assets pursuing the likes of Stewart, Volquez, and Davis. NH has not made a smart move since the Byrd acquisition last July.

  • R Edwards

    Ike Davis and Chris Stewart – combined 1-6 today. How many more games and at bats do we give away by keeping these two on the roster, along with Snider? No, we will wait until June and then bring up Polanco – so we have an extra year of control – while the team gets buried in last place.

    As great as a farm system that NH and Company has built, they certainly seem to lack trust in their own prospects. Lambo and Cumpton should be up to stay – I would also bring up Chris Dickerson – they cannot be worse than Davis, Snider, and Volquez.

  • johndw28

    Let’s be honest – this rotation sucks- its about as simple as that and that’s not hyperbole.

    • smurph

      Whether your statement is true or not (so far, pretty much true), look up the menaing of hyperbole.

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