Pitching decisions looming as Opening Day nears

Throughout winter and into spring, the main questions pertaining to the Pittsburgh Pirates revolve around the state of the roster. Fans critique every move, wondering who’s in and who’s out. Roster projections can be made, and 25 ideal players can be lined up. However, one factor always seems to stand in the way: injuries.

The Pirates’ pitching staff is dealing with the injury bug; the rotation would be much better off without the aches and pains. Francisco Liriano? He’s out for at least another month. Jeff Karstens? He’ll have to start the year on the DL after more setbacks. Two aging veterans (A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez) and a wild card (James McDonald) will have to anchor the rotation, but their counterparts are still unclear.

It seems that there are four options to choose from…

Kyle McPherson

McPherson hasn’t been too sharp this spring (8.31 ERA, .315 opponent batting average). Here’s what Clint Hurdle said after his last outing, a nine-run implosion vs. Atlanta:

[quote_center]”It’s late and we’re trying to make decisions. He kept battling (but) you’ve got to find ways to get outs and execute.”[/quote_center]

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Jeff Locke

In limited time at the MLB level during the last two seasons, Locke wasn’t too impressive, but is piecing together a decent spring. Pitching coach Ray Searage said:

[quote_center]”He’s grown up a little bit (but) there’s still more that he has to learn.”[/quote_center]

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Jonathan Sanchez

Sanchez has thrown well in his last few outings, perhaps showing enough to earn a job:


Sanchez is not on the 40-man roster, so the Pirates would have to clear a spot for him. If that’s the case, who goes? EDIT: As Burgh_Fan pointed out in the comments, the easy choice to make room for Sanchez (or another non-roster player) would be to move Charlie Morton to the 60-day DL. Doing so allows a spot to open up; similarly, John McDonald was able to join the roster when Chase d’Arnaud went on the 60-day with his torn thumb ligament.

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Jeanmar Gomez

Unlike Jonathan Sanchez, Gomez is on the 40-man, which could help him. If he doesn’t get a spot in the rotation, he could possibly make the bullpen as the long man. At this point, the final few ‘pen jobs are up for grabs as well.

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One thing to remember is that the starting rotation will not be set in stone. While everyone scrambles to know the Opening Day roster, Neal Huntington surely understands that everything could change in a matter of weeks. Liriano could be back soon, and Karstens might make an appearance. Don’t forget about Gerrit Cole, who’s waiting for the call to the show. Charlie Morton will also be returning from Tommy John surgery at some point.

Nevertheless, it’s concerning that Jonathan Sanchez (one of MLB’s worst pitchers in 2012) or another question mark could be taking the mound against the National League’s best. The Pirates have arguably the toughest April schedule of any NL team.

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