Clayton Richard’s roster status is going to be a hot issue over the next few days. His role with the team will also be a big question mark. The left-hander came in for the seventh inning today, slated to throw 60 pitches. He lasted 2.2 innings, running into trouble in his third inning of work before leaving and throwing some extra pitches in the bullpen.
The maximum that Richard could have reached today was three innings. Meanwhile, most starters are well beyond that, with Vance Worley throwing six innings today, and Gerrit Cole throwing 5.1 innings and 100 pitches at Pirate City. That raises the question of whether he’s still in line to be starting depth, or whether he will be a long-relief option.
Clint Hurdle mentioned Richard as one of the starting depth options. He also said that Richard might have one more outing where he could get one more inning, pushing him up to four innings of work. Still, that wouldn’t get him ready to be a starter by Opening Day.
Richard has been working on some mechanical changes, which I outlined a few weeks ago. His issue is very similar to Vance Worley from last year, where he had his mechanics thrown off after an injury. The Pirates are trying to get him back to where he was in 2010.
“He has been making progress with each outing,” Hurdle said of the changes. “It’s been incremental progress. There is life to the fastball. The two-seamer has played. He’s worked in the breaking ball at times, and the changeup. The command overall has been good. He’s fighting his way back and finding his way back. With each outing, there’s some confidence building.”
Richard said that the changes are going in the right direction, and that he did well with them in the first two innings today.
“It’s not a habit yet,” Richard said of taking the changes in the game. “So until it becomes that, I can not get to outings and then just forget about it.”
One issue complicating matters is that Richard has an opt out, which Travis Sawchik reported last week. Richard believes is on March 31st. That would allow him to opt out of his deal and become a free agent if he’s not added to the 40-man roster by that date. Even if he is added to the 40-man, he has enough service time that he could decline a minor league assignment and become a free agent. That might make sense if another team was willing to give him a starting role, although he’d have no way of knowing that job was out there before making a decision, and that new team would also have the capability of optioning him to the minors.
“Early on in camp I knew that the opt out was there, but it really hasn’t been on my mind,” Richard said. “I try not to think about it, because I have no control what happens to me.”
Richard said that his role hasn’t changed since the start of camp.
“There hasn’t been anything changed since I got to camp, where I have been informed of it,” Richard said of whether the Pirates might be moving him to long relief versus keeping him as a starter.
The best case scenario would be for the Pirates to retain Richard, keep him in extended Spring Training to continue getting stretched out and work on his mechanical adjustments, then send him to Indianapolis when he’s ready, where he could be used as starting depth. That’s the same approach they took with Vance Worley last year. We’ll see how they handle things in the next few days, as they have until early next week to make a decision on how to handle Richard.
Fifth Starter Decision Coming Soon?
Clint Hurdle didn’t say whether he was going with Vance Worley or Jeff Locke, but it sounds like the move could come sooner, rather than waiting for the end of camp.
“I anticipate we’re going to need to make a decision sooner than later with them, just so they can both post up knowing what they’re going to do next,” Hurdle said.
Worley threw six innings today, and Locke has another outing tomorrow.
“You want the guy that’s going to get the start to know when he’s going to start so that he can finish off Spring Training and know his schedule,” Hurdle said.
The loser of the battle will go to the bullpen, and could serve as starting depth. Hurdle said that he felt either pitcher could make the transition back to the rotation, even if they started in the bullpen. However, that statement might have an expiration date.
“If you’re down there for a long time, down there for a month and you don’t throw more than 35 pitches, then it’s going to be a challenge,” Hurdle said on making the transition back to starting. “Whoever it is, that man will be in a role where you’re looking for him to pitch more than multiple innings. You’re looking for him for three, or if a starter gets knocked out early, to carry four somewhere along those lines to keep the pitch count in play, to keep them strong, so they could seamlessly transition back to the rotation.”
Hurdle talked briefly about the rotation depth, also mentioning Richard, Nick Kingham, and Casey Sadler as options.
“We drop down about nine, ten deep now, which is a very good place to be,” Hurdle said on the starting options.
Cuts Coming Tomorrow
Hurdle said that the Pirates will meet tonight and discuss the next round of cuts. Expect those to come tomorrow morning.