By John Perrotto
The dog days of August are more than a baseball cliché.
August is the toughest month for players. They have been going almost non-stop since spring training in mid-February and fatigue starts to set in during a long, hot summer.
The dog days of August haven’t been good in the early going for the Pirates as they began by getting swept at home in a four-game series by the Chicago Cubs, who have the second-worst record in the major leagues behind Houston.
The sweep, which concluded Thursday night at PNC Park, has dropped the Pirates two games under at 54-56 and seven games behind first-place Milwaukee in the National League Central. The Pirates held a percentage point lead in the division following games of July 24.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage are also mindful that it is the dog days of August for a starting rotation that has been better than expected but still faces 10 more turns before the season ends. The rotation has faltered in a stretch where the Pirates have lost nine of their last 10 games, posting a 6.20 ERA, in that span.
Each of the five starters is on pace to surpass his innings pitched total from last season and they all could wind up setting career highs in that category.
While Hurdle says the Pirates won’t go to a six-man rotation–“I don’t think that idea ever works.”–he is considering the idea of having some of his pitcher skip a turn and using spot starters.
“We’re having discussions,” Hurdle said. “We’ve also talked about some trends showing up with the staff and with particular guys. We do have things happening here that are different, the number of innings for certain guys, the number of pitches tied to those innings. We are prioritizing these areas that have become a little bit hot for us and trying to be proactive with ways to work out of it.”
Here is where each of the five starters stand in terms of innings pitched:
Paul Maholm 145 2/3. That is 39 2/3 less than he pitched last season (185 1/3) and 60 2/3 less than his career high (206 1/3 in 2008).
Kevin Correia 135 2/3. That is 9 1/3 less than he pitched last season (145) and 52 1/3 less than his career high (198 in 2009).
Jeff Karstens 126 2/3. That is 16 less than he pitched last season (142 2/3) and 55 2/3 less than his career high (192 1/3 in 2006).
Charlie Morton 118 1/3. That is 40 2/3 less than he pitched last season (159) and 50 1/3 less than his career high (168 2/3 in 2009).
James McDonald 121 1/3. That is 29 1/3 less than he pitched last season (140 2/3) and 25 2/3 less than his career high (147).
Right-hander Ross Ohlendorf is a swingman candidate as he could help as both a spot starter and reliever. He has been on the disabled list since injuring his shoulder in his second start of the season.
Ohlendorf has made four minor-league rehab starts, including one Thursday night as he allowed three runs, two earned, in six innings of a no-decision for Class AAA Indianapolis. The Pirates are going to reevaluate Ohlendorf this weekend before deciding if he needs another minor-league start or is ready to be activated.
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates and Major League Baseball for 24 years.