Remember during the off season and camp when the discussion centered around all those Pirate starting candidates and what to do with them? Well, a month into the season, here's how that situation looks:
AJ Burnett: The leader of the pack, 36, has the NL lead in whiffs with 48 and is off to a 2-2/2.83 start, so he's kept on keeping on from a nice 2012 season. The only downside is that all those punchouts come at a cost in pitch count, and AJ hasn't made it into the sixth for three of his six starts.
Wandy Rodriguez: The 34 year old vet is 2-1/3.91 even after his recent beatdown in Milwaukee. He's never been a guy to go deep into games, although he has lasted into the seventh in two of his four healthy starts. Wandy came here advertised as a solid mid-rotation guy, and has been as a Pirate.
James McDonald: Sheesh, what can you say? The 28 year old righty is 2-2 with 5.56 ERA, and in six games has two gems and two clunkers. The Bucs will keep trotting him out, hoping the good James will show up more often than his battered alter ego.
Jeff Locke: The young lefty is starting to figure it out. He's showed early on that he was willing to go inside, and in the last couple of games has begun to thrown strikes on the inner half. The 24 year old is 3-1/2.83 and is living up to his rep as a potential #4 arm. Three of his last four starts have been solid or better. The test will be his consistency, and whether he gets caught in a numbers game as he has an option remaining.
Jeanmar Gomez: He came from the Indians as a sixth starter, and looks like the 2013 version of the old Jeff Karstens in the long man/spot starter role. The 25 year old is 1-0 with a 3.06 ERA. That comes with the caveat that his peripherals aren't all that, as shown by his 5.08 FIP. Complicating his future is a lack of minor league options.
Justin Wilson: Wilson was a starter at Indy, with two combo no-hitters in AAA last year. The Bucs seem satisfied to use the 25 year old as a southpaw complement to Tony Watson and a Brad Lincoln clone. He's 2-0/1.97 (with a 2.02 FIP) in that role, even as walk problems (4.4/nine) continue to be his bugaboo, and that issue may keep him as a bullpen arm rather than eventual rotation guy.
On the horizon:
Francisco Liriano: The former 29 year old All-Star was a late addition as a FA, though a bizarro accident at home landed him on the DL. His stuff has never been in question, though his command has. The Bucs think he's a tweak away from becoming a solid starter. Liriano has been spectacular in his two Indy rehab starts, going 2-0/1.64 with 17 K and 0 walks in 11 IP. The next test is to get him to 100 pitches, and then he'll be in Pittsburgh. The Pirates have already penciled the lefty in for his debut on May 11th.
Charlie Morton: Every time the 29 year old looks like he's ready to contribute every fifth day, he goes down. He's done his work at Altoona, going 2-0/0.90, with his only downer being a pedestrian 6.3/nine K rate, but more than countered by giving up just four hits in 10 frames. Morton is a couple of starts from being ready if all goes well and is slated to return on May 14th.
On the farm:
Gerrit Cole: It's a not matter of if but of when for the 22 year old #1 pick. But aside from starting his clock early, 15 walks in 23-1/3 frames shows he still has some work to do at Indy.
Andy Oliver: The power lefty the Bucs picked up from Detroit has taken over Justin Wilson's wild child role on the Indy staff. Oliver, 25, averages 11 K per game for the Tribe, but has to cut down on those 5.3 walks. To help muddy the 2014 waters, he's also out of options following the season.
Phil Irwin: The 26 year old was a breakout guy last season. But he's had a dead arm issue for a couple of weeks, and is just returning to the Indy rotation. He only has five AAA starts, so he'll need some exposure to more advanced hitters to see where his path leads.
Jameson Taillon: After a hot start, Taillon has thudded to earth in his past two outings at Altoona. He's 21 and his peripherals are all in line; now he just needs to learn his craft.
Stolmy Pimentel: The Bucs really liked the 23 year old they hauled in from Boston. He's 2-0 after five starts for the Curve with a 0.30 ERA, and the only peripheral that's out of whack is his 4.4 walks/nine. If he continues to be strong, the Bucs will have a hard decision next season. He'll likely need some more work, but will be out of options, so look for a quick promotion to Indy to evaluate him this year.
Luis Heredia: The 18 year old is in Pirate City now, and looks as if he'll be on the short-season Jamestown roster or maybe a mid-season addition to Low-A West Virginia. He's come along well so far, and the Pirates are more concerned with development issues like IP, secondary pitches and fastball command at this point than fast-tracking him.
Jeff Karstens: The Bucs didn't tender him during the off season because of durability concerns and inked him on a cut rate deal when Francisco Liriano went down. Dang if he isn't hurt again (tendenitis), and not even rehabbing yet. So his future beyond carrying a clipboard and serving as a late summer insurance policy is cloudy at this point.
Kyle McPherson: He's got the stuff to be a mid-rotation guy and had a strong September showing in the show last year, but has been on ice with off-and-on arm pain for the past two seasons, and clearing that up is on top of his to-do list. The 25 year old hasn't been 100% since camp this year, showing signs of a bum wing in the latter stages of spring training and lasting only 4-2/3 frames in a pair of starts at Indy, and is shut down right now.
Jonathan Sanchez: Johnny, we hardly knew ya'.
The depth of Pirate pitching is pretty solid, even with the lost classes of 2008-09; Wilson and Irwin are the only pitchers to make it to Pittsburgh from those drafts. There are a lot of guys with option or injury issues, and AJ may or may not return in 2014, but the Bucs have a handful of guys in the lower levels that are ready to step up in class. They're not there yet, but by 2015 the pitching pipeline should be fairly full.