Saturday, June 8, 2013

Tuesday's Question...To Cole Or Not To Cole?

OK, what we know for sure is that Wandy Rodriguez will not start against the Giants on Tuesday. Instead, he'll be throwing a side on Monday to determine if a) he can go on Thursday or b) he'll go on the DL. So what are the Bucs to do?

The first thought was that the Pirates would skip what was scheduled to be Charlie Morton's last rehab start and insert him in the lineup. That thought was squelched as he hasn't been all that sharp at Indy - nor has James McDonald, who may be looking at a bullpen role or worse if he doesn't fly right soon - and leaving the choice pretty much up to piggybacking the bullpen or calling up a starter from Indy.

The pen is littered with with former starters - Vin Mazzaro, Justin Wilson and Bryan Morris all come to mind - and is carrying an extra arm. Wilson and Morris have both worked 50+ pitches, 3+ inning outings (Wilson  3-1/3 IP, 55 pitches; Morris 3-2/3 IP, 56 pitches) so it's conceivable that either one could give the Pirates five frames and 70 pitches or so.

And that would make life easier; no fooling with roster changes or disrupting schedules too much, though it does thin out the shark tank for a spell. We'll see if the club gets through the weekend series without needing the services of Wilson or Morris to determine how plausible the piggyback theory is by Tuesday after Monday's off day.

The risk  is that they don't get to the uncharted territory of five frames. Even an overflowing bullpen can get taxed in a hurry if the starter falters early. The pen has ridden to the rescue six times when the starter hasn't been able to get out of the third (or earlier - twice they've been waved in during the opening frame) and four more times when they've been called to action in the fourth inning. Toss in six extra inning games, and you have a pen that's eaten innings like a Sumo at a sushi buffet.

That leaves Indy, and the bona fides there are Andy Oliver, who needs a GPS locator to find the plate, or the peoples' choice, Gerrit Cole. Neither are on the 40-man roster, so calling them up would require a move on the list. Oliver's rotation spot doesn't mesh with a Tuesday start very well, but Cole's does; he'd be working with an extra day's rest.

He's done the final checklist thing the FO looks for - overcoming the adversity of a couple of rough outings by pitching three straight strong games, with the last pair being shutouts - and should be ready in all facets to make his MLB bow. And the FO and Clint Hurdle have both indicated that he's on the radar for Tuesday.

We sense that the Pirates are waiting out the decision, weighing in the aforementioned factors of bullpen usage in Chicago, Wandy's prognosis and fussing with the roster (which they'll have to do sooner or later, unless they plan to use a four man rotation for the rest of the season). The additional kicker is that Tuesday falls just about smack-dab on the projected cut-off date for Super Two status, a pocketbook item that may or may not play some role in the decision process.

It makes no sense to bring up Cole for a one-and-out start; when he arrives, it should be for good. And if he was a slam dunk to start Tuesday, the Pirate PR folk would be remiss to not play it up to get PNC rockin' for his debut; it's a natural tie in with draft week. So we're feelin' that the series against the Cubs/Wandy are the deciders.

If the team gets away without burning up the pen badly - and the use of Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli will play into it, too - they'll buy time and go with Wilson or Morris for a spot start, evaluate Wandy, have an extra peek at Morton and bring up Cole sometime before the All-Star break to join the staff. But if the Cubbies make them dig deep into the pen this weekend or Rodriguez hits the DL, it'll be showtime for Cole.

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