Burnett to miss next start

Some bad news here: A.J. Burnett will miss his next start due to a right calf injury.

Burnett was slated to pitch on Friday night against Los Angeles. Jeff Locke, Saturday’s probable starter, will be moved up to Burnett’s spot. Gerrit Cole will still pitch on Sunday, so Saturday night’s starter is wide open.

A.J. has been solid for the Bucs this year, and pitched 8.1 strong innings in Chicago on Saturday. There’s a chance he could go on the disabled list; losing him for any length of time could devastate the Pirates’ staff.

We’ll have more on this as it happens.

POLL: Who will be the Pirates’ fifth starter?

One of the many battles heading into spring training is for the fifth spot in the starting rotation.

The Pirates have stocked pitching depth for the upcoming year, but some options are currently unavailable. Francisco Liriano is likely to miss to beginning of the year; Charlie Morton is not expected back from Tommy John surgery until midseason.

Here’s what manager Clint Hurdle had to say about the situation:

Assuming A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald, and Jeff Karstens are all locks for the rotation, who do you think will be the Bucs’ fifth starter to start the season? Please vote below!

If you believe the rotation should be configured differently or if you have anything else to add, please leave a comment below.

Go Bucs

Photo: artolog/Creative Commons

In 53 Days…

James McDonald‘ (53) days until Opening Day.

After a roller coaster season in 2012, J-Mac still expects to hold a spot in the starting rotation. His first half of last year was marvelous, but he was downright awful down the stretch. After the All-Star break, McDonald posted a 7.52 ERA and .292 opponent batting average, earning himself a demotion to the bullpen.

Three questions about number 53…

1. Will he separate himself from his 2011 and 2012 campaigns? While this seems rather vague, J-Mac has actually exhibited a weird trend the past two years – 80 earned runs in 171 innings both seasons. His identical 4.21 ERA in the same amount of innings is definitely an oddity; maybe he’ll find a new set of numbers in 2013.

2. Can he locate his pitches for an entire season? A weak 4.1 BB/9 in 2011 left McDonald focusing on controlling his pitches, and he certainly displayed improvements to start last season. He averaged less than two walks in his first 15 outings of 2012, but fell apart shortly thereafter. McDonald ended up walking four or more batters on six different occasions from July through September, and surrendered a season-worst seven walks in five innings against Houston on July 29th. He definitely needs to consistently locate if he wants to see sustained success.

3. If he flops once again, how many more chances will the Pirates give him? He’s started 71 games for the Bucs over the past three years, so there is plenty of evidence laid out. While he’s shown flashes of brilliance, there’s simply too much inconsistency to trust J-Mac every fifth day. He had a great first half last year, but he needs to translate that over an entire year. If McDonald struggles as much as he did down the stretch in 2012, it’ll be interesting to see how the Pirates handle him. There are some young pitchers (Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson, Justin Wilson, etc.) and swingmen (Vin Mazzaro, Jeanmar Gomez, Jonathan Sanchez, etc.) that could fill his spot if necessary. Don’t forget Gerrit Cole, either.

Go Bucs

2012 in Review: Starting Pitching

Veteran A.J. Burnett was a mentor for James McDonald and the starting rotation.

The Pirates’ starting rotation once again carried the team into July with a winning record, only to falter in the second half.

The top six starters in 2012:

Wins Losses ERA IP
A.J. Burnett 16 10 3.51 202.1
James McDonald 12 8 4.21 171.0
Kevin Correia 12 11 4.21 171.0
Erik Bedard 7 14 5.01 125.2
Jeff Karstens 5 4 3.97 90.2
Wandy Rodriguez 5 4 3.72 75.0

Other pitchers to make starts: Charlie Morton, Brad Lincoln, Jeff Locke, Kyle McPherson.

*Note that Correia and J-Mac have identical ERAs and innings pitched. McDonald also finished with the exact same ERA and innings pitched as he did 2011.

If you just looked at these numbers, you’d think that the starting pitching did a fairly decent job.  The weird thing about the Pirates’ starters this year this that they were so dominant for the first four months of the season that when they fell apart in August and September, the numbers pretty much evened out.  As a whole, though, this staff was much better than expected.  A.J. was unreal, Wandy came in at the trade deadline and was solid, J-Mac was one of the top pitchers through July, and Karstens continued to get better despite missing a large chunk of the season.  There are still a few uncertainties heading into 2013, but the starting pitching shouldn’t be a huge concern next year.