By John Perrotto
The Pirates’ lack of pitching depth is never more evident than at the present.
Left-hander Zach Duke missed his scheduled start Tuesday night against the Texas Rangers at Arlington because of muscle soreness in his pitching elbow. He is penciled in to start Saturday night against the Athletics at Oakland but is also questionable for that turn in the rotation.
If Duke cannot pitch Saturday, the Pirates are considering four different pitchers to start that night: left-handers Brian Burres and Dana Eveland and right-handers Daniel McCutchen and Charlie Morton. That those are the best candidates the Pirates can muster is sad.
Consider what the four have done this season:
–Burres was 2-3 with a 5.62 ERA in 10 games, seven starts, with the Pirates earlier in the year. The 29-year-old hasn’t been any better at Class AAA Indianapolis, going 1-2 with a 6.60 ERA in three starts.
–Eveland was acquired from Toronto in a waiver trade on June 1. The portly southpaw was put into the rotation then removed after only one start against the Chicago Cubs on June 7 and has pitched just once in relief in the last 15 days. In all, Eveland is 3-5 with a 6.10 ERA in the major leagues this season in 11 games, 10 starts.
–McCutchen began the season in the rotation but lasted less than a month as he went 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA in four games, three starts. He has been OK at Indianapolis, going 4-5 with a 3.86 ERA in 10 starts, but more should be expected from a 27-year-old at the Triple-A level.
–Morton was an abomination before the Pirates invented a shoulder fatigue injury that would allow them to send him on a minor-league rehabilitation assignment as he was 1-9 with a 9.35 ERA in 10 starts.
He hasn’t showed a lot of signs of turning his career around at Indianapolis, going 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA in three starts
Ready for some ugly numbers?
That quartet is a combined 5-18 with a 7.51 ERA in the major leagues this season, allowing 124 earned runs in 148 2/3 innings.
Now that Brad Lincoln is in the major leagues, the pitching prospect cupboard is bare at Indianapolis. Besides Burres, McCutchen and Morton, the other two Indians starters are right-handers Mike Crotta and Hayden Penn.
The 25-year-old Crotta has quietly broken through as a fringe prospect after going 2-0 with a 1.78 ERA in four starts with Class AA Altoona to begin the season.
However, he isn’t ready for the majors yet as evidenced by his 4-4 record and 4.89 ERA in 10 starts since being promoted to Indianapolis. The International League is hitting .319 against Crotta, who has struck out just 29 batters in 57 innings.
Penn began the season with the Pirates after being claimed off waivers from Florida during the final week of spring training. He was horrible, giving up eight runs in three relief appearances and 2 1/3 innings for a 30.86 ERA before being dropped from the 40-man roster. Penn has not done enough in the Indianapolis rotation to warrant a second chance, going 3-2 with a 4.02 ERA in nine starts.
The most interesting move would be to dip down to Altoona and call up the organization’s best pitching prospect, right-hander Bryan Morris. The 22-year-old has gone a combined 6-2 with a 2.11 ERA in 14 starts with the Curve and high Class A Bradenton.
However, the Pirates insist they will not rush Morris to the majors. Thus, they are stuck with unappetizing choices like Burres, Eveland, McCutchen and Morton to fill a potential rotation hole.
John Perrotto is editor-in-chief of BaseballProspectus.com and baseball columnist at the Beaver County Times