The Pirates have taken a hit to their starting pitching depth over the last few weeks. Jameson Taillon — who was nearing the end of his Tommy John rehab — will have hernia surgery next week. Casey Sadler went down with a forearm strain. And the Pirates recently lost Clayton Richard to the Cubs, due to a clause in his deal that allowed him to sign elsewhere if a team was willing to put him on their active roster.
This isn’t a new trend. It started in Spring Training when Brandon Cumpton went down with Tommy John surgery. It continued during the season when Nick Kingham had the same surgery. Vance Worley struggled and lost his spot in the rotation. When you add in Taillon, Sadler, and Richard, that gives six depth options that are currently not options.
The Pirates still have a few options that have stepped up. The dream at the start of the year was a Triple-A rotation that included Taillon, Sadler, Cumpton, Kingham, and Adrian Sampson. The latter is still around, but struggling lately. Meanwhile, the Pirates have had a few other guys step up as options.
“We’ve taken some dings and dents in the process,” Neal Huntington said about the early season struggles. “We’ve got one of the hundred pitchers that had an ERA under 4 and threw more than 100 innings last year sitting as our sixth guy in the bullpen right now in Vance Worley. We’re going to get Casey Sadler healthy. [Radhames] Liz has gone down and pitched well in his two starts. Angel Sanchez another. We’ve got guys. Chris Volstad earned his way up here, but we didn’t have the need quite the same. It doesn’t have the same name recognition as Taillon, Sadler, or Richard, but we have guys that are available if the need arises.”
Ryan Palencer wrote earlier this week about how Radhames Liz has looked, noting that he’s sitting in the upper 90s as a starter, and has been looking a lot better in that role than he did as a reliever earlier in the year. Huntington noted that the Pirates are still evaluating whether Liz can be an option for them in the rotation.
“Obviously, he had success in the [Dominican Republic] as a starter, and he’s been a starter for the majority of his career. He’s been effective in his two starts,” Huntington said. “We’ll play it by ear. We put him in the rotation to build him up. We wanted to address some mechanical challenges, but we also wanted to get him confident in his frame of mind, and he’s done well. We’ll see where we take it from here.”
As for Richard, Huntington mentioned that the goal for the Pirates was to get him back to the majors, primarily with them, but if not with the Pirates then with someone else. That happened with the Cubs, and Richard had a strong debut on Saturday. I detailed earlier in the year about how Jim Benedict was re-working Richard’s mechanics using his old football days. Obviously that work hasn’t paid off for the Pirates, but the entire experience could help them down the line with the next reclamation project.
“We have a lot of people that poured a lot of time and effort into Clayton, and he did a great job himself,” Huntington said. “In a perfect world, it would’ve worked out here but we were happy with the makeup of our bullpen. We felt it was best to honor our commitment to him. The Cubs made an interest of having him in the big leagues, and we honored that. He obviously had a very nice start yesterday. We’ll see what happens with him over the course of time, but hopefully, that will pay itself back to us by guys in Clayton Richard’s situation will want to come here because they recognize that if they get to the big leagues with Pittsburgh, that’s fantastic, but our staff can help guys get back on track, and we’ve done that successfully.”
The Pirates have seen their rotation depth depleted. They appear to still be putting a lot of stock in Worley, despite his early season struggles. Chris Volstad and Radhames Liz are two guys who could hopefully receive the same reclamation magic that Richard got. They liked Angel Sanchez enough to give him a shot in Spring Training, and he has been fantastic in both Altoona and Indianapolis. And if Adrian Sampson rebounds, he becomes the top depth option and the top pitching prospect who could arrive in Pittsburgh this summer, in the event of an injury. There are some depth options remaining, but not nearly the quality that the Pirates expected to have at the start of the year.