Kovacevic: Pirates' rotation built on Band-Aids
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Before leaving the Pirates' spring training complex in Florida a couple of weeks ago, I asked the same question of several of the athletes: What will it take for this team to contend in 2013?
The answers were exactly what you'd expect.
A.J. Burnett: “Starting pitching. It's on us.”
Neil Walker: “Starting pitching, no question.”
Garrett Jones: “Always comes back to starting pitching, doesn't it?”
So, how to feel now that, with only a handful of days before Monday's opener against the Cubs, the home team is scrambling to assemble a handful of starters?
No, really ...
• Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez should be reliable. At the same time, caution should be advised for Burnett. He's 36, and his fine 2012 — 3.51 ERA in 31 starts — marked his best season since 2005. The Bill James Handbook's projections for the coming season, based on an array of historical data, has Burnett regressing to a 4.05 ERA with less command.
• James McDonald, the No. 3 starter, is coming off a 2012 collapse no less ugly than that of the team. First half, he looked like an All-Star. Second half, he had a 7.52 ERA and looked like he'd rather have been any place on the planet but a pitcher's mound. He's been similarly erratic this spring.
• Jonathan Sanchez, named No. 4 starter Tuesday just before pitching in Dunedin, Fla. — 4 2⁄3 innings, four runs, seven hits — is fresh off a terrible 2012 in which his ERA in 15 starts for the Royals and Rockies was 8.07. This spring, he was a complete wreck in the early going.
• Either Jeff Locke or Kyle McPherson will be named the No. 5 starter, though neither will win it on merit. Both are inexperienced, and both have been whacked of late in Grapefruit ball: Locke's past two starts have seen 15 hits and four earned runs over 7 1⁄3 innings. McPherson has fared far worse in his past two starts with 17 hits and 13 earned runs — five home runs! — in 92⁄3 innings.
Imagine the ticker tape when that winner's announced.
Now, I could go on a rant about how this is another example of management's failure to draft and develop pitchers. But I won't mention how none of the above is a draft pick of the current front office (McPherson came under previous GM Dave Littlefield), how the only other prospects in the Triple-A Indianapolis rotation will be Gerrit Cole and Phil Irwin, and how the better part of $52 million on recent drafts — mostly invested in pitching — has been flushed away.
No, I'll just resist that ranting urge and move on.
Ray Searage is a terrific pitching coach and unwavering optimist. No one should doubt that, between his teaching and upbeat temperament, he'll get the best out of what he has.
But what does he have?
“I feel pretty good,” Searage said by phone Tuesday after the Pirates' 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays. “I feel comfortable with A.J., Wandy, J-Mac, Sanchy and whoever's in the fifth spot. I know these guys will compete for me, and I feel like we've got good options.”
With McDonald needing 98 pitches to last 4 1⁄3 innings Monday against Toronto's Triple-A team?
“J-Mac's in a good place right now,” Searage came back. “We've got him doing something different in his delivery after watching tape, and he's got to keep repeating it.”
It's a simple tuck of the ball inside the waist before his windup, nothing major.
“The wind was blowing the ball over the place here. I went out to the mound at one point, and Jonathan said, ‘I know, it's all good.' And I said back, ‘Damn right it's all good. Just keep pitching like you are.' We're getting over some hurdles with him.”
People will complain more than ever about Cole being in Indy under these circumstances. I'll reiterate that Cole is worth more to the Pirates for an extra year in his prime down the road — which happens if he stays in the minors until June — because of the colossal cost of elite pitching.
Fact is, this team should have been better prepared. Francisco Liriano was inexplicably handed a two-year contract that could pay $12 million after his non-pitching arm was broken. He won't pitch until May. Charlie Morton was guaranteed $2 million coming off Tommy John surgery. He won't pitch until June. Jeff Karstens was wisely brought back at a lower rate, but his recent shoulder trouble should have ensured contingencies.
Where are they?
The Pirates are set to enter the season — and a challenging opening six weeks — with a rotation built on Band-Aids.
Which, from the look of things, is pretty much what they had planned.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Kovacevic: Panic over Pirates? In April?
- Crash victim dies day after ‘horrific’ wreck in Armstrong County
- Pens insider: Penalty killing a concern in Stanley Cup playoffs
- Rice cornerback among 3 draft prospects to visit Steelers
- Undersized rookie Gibbons is blur on ice for Penguins
- Deer Lakes Park drilling debate veers into ethics complaint
- Penn State has hand in discovery of most Earth-like planet yet
- Penguins’ Bylsma and Blue Jackets’ Richards know each other well
- Murrysville woman sues Giant Eagle over burns
- Man found shot twice, dead in Larimer
- LaBar: WWE needs to be careful with Cesaro plans