PIRATES – TUESDAY
By John Perrotto
General Manager Neal Huntington wasted little time finding a starting pitcher last week once the Pirates learned that A.J. Burnett needed to be placed on the disabled list.
Left-hander J.A. Happ was acquired from the Seattle Mariners just before last Friday’s 4 p.m. non-waiver trade deadline for minor league right-hander Adrian Sampson.
The trade came after Burnett was tagged for eight runs in 4 1/3 innings on Thursday night in a loss to the Reds and Cincinnati and admitted he felt pain in his right elbow.
Happ, who makes his Pirates’ debut Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park, is a serviceable major league starting pitcher. His ERA+ is 93 — slightly below average — over his nine-year career in which the 32-year-old has compiled a 55-59 record with a 4.29 ERA.
Happ now gives the Pirates three serviceable pitchers at the back end in their rotation, joining lefty Jeff Locke and right-hander Charlie Morton.
That may be good enough to get the Pirates to the postseason for a third straight season as they hold a four-game lead in the National League wild card standings over the Cubs. However, it likely won’t be good enough in the postseason.
One of the biggest reasons the Pirates looked like they had a legitimate chance to get to the World Series for the first time since 1979 before Burnett was inured was because they had three pitchers capable of shutting teams down in the postseason — Burnett, right-hander Gerrit Cole and left-hander Francisco Liriano.
Now they are down to two and it’s extremely iffy that Burnett can return from the strained flexor tendon in his elbow despite his fervent belief he will be able to rehab the injury, rejoin the rotation in September and lead them to October glory.
So, if the Pirates are serious about winning it all this season, it’s time for Huntington to make one more trade for a starter, though the task will be more difficult now because players must now clear waivers in order to be traded.
Two right-handers the Pirates would be wise to target are the Chicago White Sox’s Jeff Samardzija and the Mariners’ Hisashi Iwakuma. Both can become free agents at the end of the season, which should conceivably mean the Pirates could acquire either without having to give up a premium prospect.
Samardzija, 30, has had an uneven first season with the White Sox, going 8-6 with a 4.35 ERA in 22 starts. However, he has a sparkling 2.25 career ERA at PNC Park in 21 games, including 10 starts.
Iwakuma, 34, has been limited to nine starts this season because of finger and lat injuries and is just 2-2 with a 4.47 ERA. However, he was a combined 38-20 with a 3.07 ERA in 91 games with the Mariners from 2012-14, his first three seasons in the major leagues after starring in his native Japan.