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Pirates rotation plans for final regular-season series on hold

| Monday, Sept. 23, 2013, 8:00 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano delivers to the plate during the first inning against the Reds on Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, at PNC Park.

CHICAGO — Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Monday he and club officials continue to discuss their most important starting pitching plan in more than 20 years.

Hurdle said veteran right-hander A.J. Burnett will start against the Reds in the final regular season series. Beyond that, he did not reveal any details about the rotation for the key three-game weekend set at Cincinnati.

Hurdle declined to address whether Jeff Locke's final scheduled turn in the rotation will be skipped.

“We're having all those conversations. Right now, I have nothing for you guys,” Hurdle said. “I know we definitely have Burnett. That's all I'll give you.”

With Thursday's off day, the Pirates can skip Locke's next turn in the rotation and keep the rest of their rotation on normal rest.

Locke has struggled mightily in the second half of the season, including his start Sunday against the Reds when he pitched just one inning and allowed five runs.

If Locke's start is skipped, right-hander Charlie Morton could pitch on his regular rest Saturday and be followed by rookie Gerrit Cole on Sunday in the regular-season finale.

Cole has been the club's best pitcher in September. In four starts, Cole is 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA, and his strikeout rate has soared this month, averaging 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings. Cole is scheduled to start Tuesday against the Cubs.

The Reds are projected to start Mat Latos in the series opener and Homer Bailey in the second game.

Left-hander Francisco Liriano, who leads the team with 16 wins, is in line to pitch the opening postseason game, should the Pirates clinch a berth, though Hurdle has not ruled out using him on short rest.

Liriano would be best maximized as wild-card play-in game starter against the Reds or Cardinals if the Pirates are unable to win the division.

The Reds top hitters — Joey Votto, Shin-Soo Choo and Jay Bruce — are left-handed. Liriano has a .303 opponent OPS against left-handed hitters this season.

He also has held the Cardinals to a .127 batting average and is 3-0 against St. Louis this season.

The Pirates and Reds entered Monday's action tied for second in the NL Central, two games behind the Cardinals, and tied atop the wild-card standings.

If the final series in Cincinnati doesn't have division title implications, it could determine who has home field in the wild-card play-in game scheduled for Oct. 1 at the home of the wild-card team with the best record.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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