Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Pitching Picture Clears Up A Bit

OK, the fifth starter is almost certainly going to be Charlie Morton. The beat guys ferreted out that Scott Olsen was going to start the year on the DL (although his only current injury, as far as we know, has been to his pride) and Bad Brad Lincoln, with his juicy pair of remaining options and bruised arm, will probably be left on the outside, looking in from Indy.

Give Morton credit; spring training isn't much of a barometer, but he did excise last year's March ghosts by going 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in fourteen frames. He whipped the competition fair and square.

And Lincoln reestablished himself as a mid-rotation prospect; he's 1-0 in 10-2/3 frames with a 3.38 ERA. Not much of a sample size for either guy, but both can go into the season feeling good about their camp performance.

The bullpen still has a lot of moving parts; not all that many candidates have dropped out. Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek had their names written in stone before camp started at the back end, and two of the favorites, Chris Resop (1.93 ERA, 11 Ks in 9-1/3 innings) and Jose Veras (1.80 ERA, 8 Ks in 10 innings) look like they're in.

That leaves three spots open.

Joe Biemel was assumed to be a lock as the lefty, but his elbow has been a problem, and he just got a cortisone shot yesterday, so his status is...well, who knows? Scott Olson was a possible southpaw reliever, but he's headed to the DL. Both were ripped in the very limited work they saw, and it's hard to say if it was injuries or ability that caused their bleak performances.

The other lefties are young Garrett Olson, claimed on waivers but with some MLB experience, and Brian Burres, who has yet to give up an earned run.

Old dependable Jeff Karstens, who has been there and done that, has had a solid spring, and so has Sean Gallagher, although he's going to Indy to get stretched out as a starter. Mike Crotta has come out of nowhere to get on the radar, though he's likely AAA fodder too.

Chris Leroux has probably dropped out of the race; in 7-2/3 frames, he has a 4.70 ERA and only one whiff. Tyler Yates has been a BP pitcher in camp, so you can cross him off the list, too; he's Indy-bound.

There are still several configurations available for Hurdle and the brass, and the main wildcards will be Beimel and Burres (although Jose Ascanio could be another; he's out of options and will throw BP today, but we're still expecting him to hit the DL).

Our shot in the dark would be for Karstens, Beimel and Olson to go north if St. Mary's Joe is good to go; the Bucs still see Burres as an insurance starter. But if Beimel is hors d' combat, Burres should slide into his spot. The FO may say that they'll go with seven righties in the pen, but we suspect that Hurdle will hold out for two lefties.

That will leave Indy with a rotation of Lincoln, Sean Gallagher, Bryan Morris, Rudy Owens and Burres/Olsen/Cesar Valdez, with Justin Wilson and Jeff Locke looking to make a move up. Who ever thought there would be a crowd of Pirate starting pitchers?

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