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Pirates notebook: Team defies healthy arms axiom as playoffs loom

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Pirates starter Charlie Morton delivers a pitch to the Cardinals during the first inning Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, in St. Louis.
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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, 10:46 p.m.

ARLINGTON, Texas — A team usually cannot claim a playoff berth without having a healthy starting rotation throughout the season. This year, the Pirates could be the exception to that rule.

The Pirates have used a club-record 28 pitchers — including infielder Josh Harrison, who tossed one-third of an inning in a blowout loss at Coors Field. Twelve different pitchers have started at least one game, the second-highest total in the majors this season behind the Baltimore Orioles (14).

Yet, despite a bundle of injures and a handful of skipped starts, the starting rotation just keeps chugging along.

“We pick each other up,” said lefty Francisco Liriano, who'll start Tuesday against the Texas Rangers. “That's the way this whole team is. When I was with the (Minnesota) Twins, there were times when one or two guys got hurt and everything fell apart. That hasn't happened here.”

Manager Clint Hurdle offered a different explanation.

“Chicken wire, duct tape and spit,” Hurdle said. “The next-man-up mentality has been good, and we've been able to stay away from big injuries.”

That's not entirely true. Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (forearm tightness, arthritis) has been out since June 6. The next step in Rodriguez's long, winding rehab process will be a simulated game (65-70 pitches) Thursday at PNC Park.

And on Sunday, right-hander Charlie Morton was forced out of the game in the second inning after injuring his left foot. Morton was examined by doctors Monday in Pittsburgh, but the Pirates did not provide updated information.

Hurdle couldn't say whether Morton will make his next scheduled start. However, Hurdle did reveal Morton plans to fly to Texas on Tuesday and will try to throw a bullpen session at Rangers Ballpark.

Cole's role

Hurdle said he and general manager Neal Huntington still are open-minded to Gerrit Cole's role in the postseason. The Pirates have reduced his workload in recent weeks and have drawn a red line — Huntington won't say where — for his innings total this season.

Morton's injury and Jeff Locke's second-half struggles might create a slim possibility Cole remains a starter. However, Cole most likely will work out of the bullpen in the playoffs.

“It's an ongoing conversation,” Hurdle said. “I don't think any kid would back down from that (bullpen) opportunity if it means you get on the playoff roster. I'd like to see that arm work, knowing that it's only got to work for two innings and see what might he might be able to fire out of it. It could be interesting.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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