Morton Returns Monday
Charlie Morton returns to the mound Monday, making his season-debut against the Miami Marlins. His return means the Pirates starting rotation, already pitching very well, becomes even stronger if he returns to the form that netted him a contract extension before the 2014 season.
But it also means the Pirates have a roster move to make. It’s one that could go in a couple different directions.
At present, general manager Neal Huntington doesn’t have anything offer on the impending roster move but it sounds like he knows what the plan is.
“We’ve got a pretty good script on where we’ll go with it,” Huntington said. “We’ve still got a game here to play today and we can make the move before Charlie starts tomorrow. We’ll announce that tomorrow.”
An option would be to designate someone like Antonio Bastardo for assignment, mostly due to his lackluster performance this season. Bastardo owns a 5.56 ERA in 11 1/3 innings this season, but his loss would also leave the Pirates with only one left-handed reliever in Tony Watson.
Among other relievers Radhames Liz has pitched better of late. Rob Scahill has one minor-league option remaining, but his 1.02 ERA over 17 2/3 innings likely blocks any demotion for the right-hander.
It’s unlikely any position player will be moved as the Pirates configure their roster, and any possible move related to an injury is unknown.
Jung-Ho Kang has not only provided the Pirates with another source of offense as he’s shown he can play every day, he’s also allowed for more flexibility in the Pirates lineup. Sunday, for instance, featured Kang at third, Josh Harrison at second base, Jordy Mercer at shortstop and Sean Rodriguez at first to stack the lineup with right-handed hitters against Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese.
Like Kang, Harrison and Rodriguez are both able to play multiple positions which provides manager Clint Hurdle the opportunity to do things with his lineup like he did Sunday. In addition, it allows the Pirates to be more aggressive when providing the necessary rest for players, notably Neil Walker who has spent on the disabled list in each of the past three seasons.
“[Hurdle’s] going to continue to move those guys around,” Huntington said. “He did it here today and it gives him the ability to put out what he feels is the best lineup that gives us the best chance to win that day. I think it’s great we’ve put him in the position to be able to do that.”
Tabata to First?
An idea floated to Huntington during his media session Sunday regarded the possibility of Jose Tabata learning how to play first base in order to get him in the lineup more often. Tabata made his first start of the season Sunday and has three pinch-hit appearances since he was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis Tuesday.
The general manager put it simply in that moving a player who plays far away from the ball to a position close to the ball does not make for an easy transition.
Huntington compared the proposition to that facing Josh Bell in Double-A, an outfielder the Pirates are converting to first base because the major-league outfield is set in stone for the foreseeable future. As Bell finds challenges in his defensive assignment, the organization learns about the process as well.
Of course, Bell’s situation is different from Tabata’s in that Bell is one of the organization’s top prospects and the veteran has proven himself to be a fourth outfielder on a good major-league team.
“It might be a bit challenging to ask him to do that,” Huntington said. “Although I bet if we asked him, he’d probably do it. He’d probably put his first baseman’s mitt on in a heartbeat and run over there.”
Tabata probably won’t get the chance to do that though, as it’s not something the Pirates intend on asking him to do, at least in the immediate future. Huntington cited the depth at first behind Pedro Alvarez in Corey Hart and Sean Rodriguez, even offering Francisco Cervelli could man first “in a pinch.”