By John Perrotto
The Pirates quite often like to point out that their pitching depth is better than it has been in many years.
Perhaps the Pirates have more options than in years past. However, the quality of pitching in the organization is still sorely lacking, which became painfully evident Monday night when they needed to find a spot starter for the 9-3 loss at San Francisco after Ross Ohlendorf was scratched with lower back spasms.
The Pirates reached down to Class AAA Indianapolis and came up with left-hander Brian Burres, who had previously gone 13-20 with a 6.08 ERA in 81 major-league games, 41 starts, with Baltimore and Toronto.
He also had a 14.73 ERA in spring training this year. Predictably, Burres was tagged for six runs and seven hits in four innings in taking the loss.
Granted, the Pirates’ options were limited because one of the Major League Baseball’s myriad roster rules does not allow players on the 40-man roster to be recalled until April 14 unless he is taking the place of a player placed on the disabled list.
Because the Pirates are holding out hope Ohlendorf can start Friday night against Cincinnati at PNC Park and Burres was the only non-roster player in the rotation at Indianapolis, their choice was simple.
Even if the Pirates did have the option of calling up anyone in Indianapolis’ rotation, the choice wouldn’t have been appealing beyond right-hander Brad Lincoln, their top pitching prospect. The Pirates, though, never gave Lincoln a legitimate chance to make the club in spring training because they felt he was not ready for the major leagues after just 13 starts at the Class AAA level. Furthermore, they don’t want him gaining major-league service time until necessary.
Left-hander Donnie Veal and right-handers Kevin Hart and Chris Jakubauskas are also in the rotation at Indianapolis. Veal posted a 7.16 ERA and walked 20 batters in 16 1/3 innings in his major-league debut with the Pirates last season.
Hart was 1-8 with a 6.92 ERA in 10 starts with the Pirates in 2009 after being acquired from the Chicago Cubs in a trade on July 30 then issued walks at a Veal-like rate in spring training. Jakubauskas is 31 and had a mediocre major-league debut last season, going 6-7 with a 5.32 ERA in 35 games, eight starts, for Seattle.
The two pitchers that exited the active roster Monday further illustrate the Pirates’ lack of pitching talent.
Right-hander Daniel McCutchen, still a rookie despite being 27, was optioned to Indianapolis after being shelled for nine runs in 3 1/3 innings while taking the loss at Arizona on Sunday in his season debut. Penn, claimed off waivers from Florida in the final week of spring training and handed a spot on the opening-day roster, allowed eight runs in 2 1/3 innings of relief.
His brief stint with the Pirates pushed his career ERA to an unsightly 9.51 ERA in 82 1/3 career innings. That the Pirates thought he was an upgrade in the first place tells you just how far away they are from having a quality major-league pitching staff.
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates since 1988 and is editor-in-chief at BaseballProspectus.com