Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Buc Pitching...What's Wrong With The Kids?

OK - the big guys at Indy, Jeff Locke, Justin Wilson and Kyle McPherson - have all been up and sent back so quickly that they could have used a bus transfer for the trip. They got all of four appearances in the show this year, without giving up a run. OK, we get it - they're starters; only Wilson has any bullpen experience, and he can toss a no-no one night and not zing a strike the next outing.

The bullpen guys that have been doing so well in AAA, in the main Bryan Morris and Chris Leroux, are treading water while Chad Qualls and Daniel McCutchen are holding down big league spots. What could be the Bucco logic behind keeping the kids down for grizzled but up-and-down vets?

There's a couple of dynamics involved here. Clint Hurdle has a heavy hand in the roster makeup, being much more involved with personnel decisions than the recent Bucco skippers have been. And it sure looks like he likes his gang to have been around the block (preferably at Colorado). The Pirates were one of the last three teams to have a minor league pitcher make his big league debut in 2012.

You can see that experience inclination in play not only with the pitching, but on the bench. If Jose Tabata and Alex Presley hadn't self destructed, bet the ranch that Starling Marte would still be at Indy. Ditto for Jordy Mercer, who needed Yamaico Navarro to dip under the Mendoza line to get a look.

We also think that the FO is torn between its big plan and making moves on the fly; flexibility and Plan Bs never seemed to be a strong point of the boss men. No matter what they may claim, they didn't really figure on 2012 being a contending year. Their player development schedule was focused on the window opening up in 2014, with next season being the transitional campaign. With Eric Bedard and Kevin Correia coming off the books, that was the year the pitching staff was supposed to take on a younger look.

Now with AJ, J-Mick, Jeff Karstens and Wandy all due back, there's only one spot opening up in 2013. And it sure doesn't look like anyone is gonna get much of an audition until spring training short of injury or the wheels falling off in the last 40 games.

A third factor that combines the first two is that Indy is in a pennant race and almost assured a playoff run. This combines the FO's desire to grow players by having them perform during a stretch run and under playoff pressure, but without facing the hot glare of the MLB limelight.

A final hurdle that the young arms faced was that the Pirate staff, starters and bullpen, were not only performing well into July, but had a remarkable streak of getting by without major injury. Karstens returned from his shoulder injury just about in time to take Charlie Morton's place when his hip gave out, so there wasn't a beat skipped that Brad Lincoln couldn't fill. The result was that there was no opportunity for anyone to make an early impression.

Having said all that, we're not about to be apologists for the current makeup of the pitching staff. The best twelve arms in the organization should be in Pittsburgh now even if it bruises a veteran's ego, diminishes Indy's playoff chances or requires a small leap of faith by management. And that's not the case now, especially in the bullpen and probably with the rotation, too.

Hey, there are only ten days left until September call ups. But it's not as if the Pirates are roaring into the stretch run, and as we've seen this year, the offense is a roller coaster; pitching is what keeps a team hangin' around. We hope the Pirate brass doesn't leave the team on the field short handed during the most exciting time in Pirate baseball in twenty years, but is willing to step up as boldly as the players have and fire all the bullets they have.

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