The Pirates’ Rotation Moving Forward

The Pirates made a pair of moves on Thursday afternoon involving a couple of pitchers on their 40-man roster. The big one: Wandy Rodriguez was designated for assignment, one day removed from another awful performance. Nearly every outing was batting practice, as the 35-year-old southpaw repeatedly threw ineffective sub-90 mph meatballs and couldn’t keep the ball in the ballpark. Owed $13 million this season ($5.5 mil by Houston), the Pirates have a lot of cash still to eat.

The second move was much more minor, but still noteworthy: the team designated Phil Irwin for assignment, and claimed Josh Wall off waivers from Anaheim. Irwin, 27, made one spot start with the Bucs last season, then seemingly fell apart after he needed elbow surgery last summer. Upon returning in 2014, he’s posted an 8.72 ERA (mostly out of the Indianapolis bullpen). This takes him out of immediate pitching depth discussion, as he’s now off the 40-man roster. His roster spot goes to 27-year-old righty Josh Wall, who’s allowed 23 runs in 13.2 big league innings. In MLB action, he’s sat around 93-94 mph with his fastball & sinker, mixing in a slider and not much of a changeup. All of his recent work in the minors has come out of the bullpen; he hasn’t made a start since A-ball in 2010.

Thinking about all of this, I recall from when we talked to Neal Huntington at PirateFest:

We talked a bit about the starting rotation – how Edinson Volquez and others fit in – and Huntington preached the importance of depth: “Every time we’ve thought we had a surplus somewhere, that surplus dissipated quickly. And in some cases, that surplus becomes a deficit overnight.” With Liriano, Cole, Morton, Locke, Rodriguez, Volquez, possibly Burnett, and others on the way, NH said that “it will work itself out.”

Coming into the season, it looked like the Pirates had a decent number of options to play around with. But just as NH said (and possibly predicted), the apparent surplus dissipated quickly. Would’ve been nice to see A.J. Burnett re-sign, huh? Everyone had high hopes for Jameson Taillon to be this year’s Gerrit Cole, until he became one of 1646971 Tommy John victims this year. Wandy, peace.

Wandy  Rodriguez Pirates GIF

It’s not like the staff has been good so far: Gerrit Cole’s up and down, Francisco Liriano still doesn’t know how to put together two consecutive good seasons, Charlie Morton hasn’t been impressive, Edinson Volquez is being Edinson Volquez. Wins aren’t a good stat to measure pitching success (see: Jeff Samardzija), but it’s almost remarkable that the starting rotation has just FIVE wins through 45 games. And four of them belong to Cole.

Where does this leave the Pirates’ and their rotation? Take those four, and add in Brandon Cumpton to replace Rodriguez. Or Jeff Locke?

I would think Cumpton, who’s done his job in eight MLB starts and is dominating Triple-A right now (1.35 ERA), gets the nod. Unless the Pirates are looking for a lefty? Either way, you could make an argument for both of them to be in the rotation: Edinson Volquez isn’t far behind Wandy at this point, plus Liriano or Morton could be seconds from breaking.

Beyond those two, it’s difficult to see much depth. Casey Sadler, maybe? Vance Worley is getting fixed up in AAA, posting a 2.84 ERA through three starts since joining the Indy Indians. On the active roster, Jeanmar Gomez (who’s been bad) could come out of the bullpen? They’ve always liked his ability to start, probably the reason they’ve held onto him this long. Stolmy Pimentel could do it, if not for his current DL stint.

It’s hard to be optimistic about the pitching right now. They’ve been abysmal so far and there’s not much to fill the voids, though cutting Wandy and adding Cumpton/Locke seems obvious. Hopefully the Pirates don’t have to dig any farther than that, or it could get uglier than it already is.

Go Bucs

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