Tim Benz: Tweaks the Pirates can make to stay hot
With a 6-2 win over the Diamondbacks Tuesday night, the Pirates have now won four of their last five games.
Joe Musgrove got back on track with seven shutout innings. Chris Archer returns to pitch Wednesday afternoon in Arizona. And clearly no one should mess with Josh Bell ever again.
— Pirates (@Pirates) May 15, 2019
So with those elements pointed in the right direction, let’s look at what else the Pirates can fix to stay hot.
Who is going to be the 5th starter?
I don’t know. But I’ll tell you who it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be Nick Kingham or Steven Brault.
Look at their numbers so far in starting roles since Archer and Jameson Taillon went down with injuries.
In their 4 starts (2 each) since joining the @Pirates rotation, Steven Brault and Nick Kingham have very similar numbers.
Brault: 7.2 IP, 11H (3 HRs), 8R, 8ER, 5W, 7K.
Kingham: 8IP, 13H (2 HRs), 9R, 9ER, 4W, 7K.
— Jerry DiPaola (@JDiPaola_Trib) May 14, 2019
The answer isn’t Francisco Liriano, either. Once Archer returns, either Brault or Kingham may go back to the bullpen as it is. Does Clint Hurdle want both of them there and have a situation where they each may have to throw on the same day if Liriano is made a starter?
Plus, until Liriano gets stretched out, you may have to rely on either Kingham or Brault to come in early for Liriano, anyway.
Also, Liriano has been solid out of the bullpen, allowing just two earned runs this season. I wouldn’t mess with that and potentially create two problems in the name of helping one.
In a perfect world, the answer should be Dallas Keuchel. But in that perfect world, I’m 8 inches taller, dashingly handsome and on a houseboat with Margot Robbie instead of writing this column.
None of those things are happening. So that’s out.
In Indianapolis, Mitch Keller lasted only three innings in his last start, throwing 83 pitches on May 8. He allowed three runs and three walks. His ERA is 3.97 and opposing hitters are hitting .290 against him.
So I guess the next best option is to try Chris Stratton and see if he’s more Jordan Lyles than he is Jonathan Sanchez.
Could he be any worse than Kingham or Brault have been?
Don’t answer that.
What should they do at shortstop?
Send Cole Tucker back down and give Kevin Newman more reps.
I know Tucker was a quick bolt of energy. And that home run in front of his family on Tuesday night was nice.
“I couldn’t play it cool. The 12-year-old came out of me.”
Cole Tucker is from Phoenix and grew up a D-backs fan.
He homered at Chase Field with family watching. Awesome moment. pic.twitter.com/sssIxYClwO
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) May 15, 2019
But his batting average is down to .182 and his on-base percentage is .229.
I like the speed, hustle and defense Tucker brings. But that blast last night aside, he’s been eaten up by MLB pitching of late.
Meanwhile, Newman is a former first-round pick whose batting average is suddenly up to .333.
Give him an extended look now that he appears to be primed to perform in the big leagues.
What do you do when Jung Ho Kang comes back from the injured list?
Is bringing Kang back then immediately creating another injury for him an option?
I understand that management wants to be right about keeping Kang. At the very least, they don’t want to admit they were this wrong, this quickly. So management is going to try to justify the move.
Personally, I’d prioritize justifying Colin Moran as part of the Gerrit Cole trade. I don’t know why that is suddenly a secondary concern to the club after he was pumped up so much after the deal was done.
Moran isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire (.239, three homers, 15 RBIs, .706 OPS), but he’s been better than Kang (.133/4/8/.504).
And if general manager Neal Huntington was worried about serving two agendas at third base, he shouldn’t have bothered keeping Kang in the first place.
How about the catchers?
Neither Elias Diaz (.135) nor Francisco Cervelli (.184) are hitting above .200.
Diaz has had multiple at-bats in a game just nine times. If they want to get Cervelli going and keep him as the No. 1 catcher because of predicted productivity, pitcher management or trade showcasing, fine.
But unless Cervelli starts lighting it up, I want to see Diaz get a few more starts in the near future, especially with the team closing in on a cluttered stretch featuring just one off day between now and June 2.