Monday, August 26, 2013

Pitching In September...Mostly OK, But With Some Workload Issues

With today off, the Bucs get to play with the rotation a bit. What they came up with was: Jeff Locke Tuesday, Charlie Morton Wednesday and Gerrit Cole Thursday to work against the Brewers. Francisco Liriano and AJ Burnett then get to toss in the St. Louis series, with a TBA for the third game.

It makes sense to save the top two for the Card set, plus Frankie and AJ are in line to pitch the final 2013 regular season series September 6th-9th at Busch Stadium.

And the top three guys should, barring an injury, be plenty strong through September. All have gotten an injury time out somewhere along the line, so none have burnout issues.

AJ, a 200 inning guy, is sitting at 153 IP. The Cisco Kid is at 125 IP; he worked 156 last year. Ground Chuck has tossed just 76-1/3 frames and if anything, should be getting stronger. Jeff Locke may be showing signs of wear and tear, but that may be more due to the mental rather than physical  workload of an everyday MLB pitcher. He tossed 175-1/3 frames last year and is at 143-2/3 now, so he's right on target if he holds on to his spot.

Cole is the only pitcher with a possible inning overload, and the Bucs are carefully monitoring his outings.  He'll have seven days off before starting Thursday, as he did earlier in the month. He's worked 146 innings between levels this season after tossing 132 innings in 2012, but if the Pirates have an inning cut-off for him, they haven't leaked it yet. We think they'd like to work him semi-regularly through September and have him available for post-season bullpen work.

That won't be easy during the stretch run. The Pirates are off on September 5th, then scheduled for 20 straight games until their next holiday on September 26th.

The options grow in a week when September rolls in. Brandon Cumpton and Kris Johnson, who have both acquitted themselves well in brief MLB stints, and Stolmy Pimentel should get calls to the big club. Cumpton is in good shape as far as IP goes.

But Johnson has already topped his inning count (141-2/3; 101-2/3 in 2011), as has Pimentel. Stolmy has 163-1/3 frames under his belt, with a start today, after working just 115-2/3 innings in 2012. So if they're worried about Cole's inning count, the FO should be downright manic over Johnson and Pimentel's 2013 workload.

Wandy is effectively out of action, it doesn't seem like Jeff Karstens will be back this year, and Kyle McPherson/Jeff Irwin are also out. So the trio of Cumpton, Johnson and Pimentel is the cavalry for the Pirate rotation next month, and they've been ridden pretty hard except for Cumpton already this year.

The bullpen is in decent shape, a credit to Clint Hurdle's sometimes mystifying but generally effective use of his relievers.

Mark Melancon is at 59-1/3 IP, and worked 66-2/3 last year between Boston and Pawtucket. He's maxed out at 74-1/3 (2011 - Astros). Jason Grilli has gotten a mid-season break, admittedly the hard way, but enough to keep him well under his 2011-12 inning count. The alpha shark should be ready to circle the mound again perhaps as soon as Labor Day weekend or just beyond if he doesn't have any rehab setbacks.

Tony Watson may bear some care. He's made fewer appearances, but they've been longer, and he's put up 62-1/3 innings this year compared to 53 in 2012. But he did work 75 frames in 2011, so he should be fine if limited to one inning outings.

For Justin Wilson, Vin Mazzaro, Bryan Morris and Jeanmar Gomez, the only potential fly in the ointment is the number of appearances. All were at least part-time starters last year, so the innings are well under control if the up-and-down of bullpen life doesn't wear them down in their first full season as part of the relief corps.

Jared Hughes and probable call-ups Ryan Reid and Vic Black are all have their innings under control. Duke Welker has 60 IP, near his limit, so he may be on a short leash. J-Mac should also be primed for bullpen duty if he can get through rehab, which he's already begun. We wouldn't look for starter-turned-reliever Andy Oliver. Since July 4th, his ERA has been 7.00 and he's walked 30 batters in 27 IP.

So going into September, the Pirate starting pitching is thin - it'll be interesting to see who the Bucs plug in if Jeff Locke continues his free fall - but the bullpen will be deep. Hopefully the two will mesh during the upcoming run for the roses.

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