First Pitch: How Much Pitching Depth Do the Pirates Actually Have?

When I first saw the rumor that the Pittsburgh Pirates are said to have interest in Arizona Diamondbacks’ left-hander Joe Saunders, my first thought was “why do they need pitching?”

That led to the thought “maybe they don’t think Rudy Owens and Jeff Locke are prospects”.

I kicked that idea around for a bit. Kevin Correia is a big regression waiting to happen (and if you look at the post-April stats, the regression might already be taking place). Brad Lincoln has struggled for two straight starts, and Sunday’s outing will be make or break. Yet we haven’t heard much talk about Owens or Locke getting the call, despite good numbers in Triple-A.

But then I looked at the rotation, and noticed that a pitching staff that once ran 8-9 pitchers deep is now looking pretty thin.

A.J. Burnett and James McDonald are both pitching well. McDonald is due for a regression, but I don’t think he will regress too far. It was only a few years ago that he was the number 56 prospect in all of baseball. He’s 27 years old this year. I feel this is more a breakout season than a first half fluke. Burnett might not be as dominant as he has been since that horrible St. Louis start, but I think he’ll continue to pitch well, as he looks pretty comfortable in the National League.

But after those two, what do the Pirates now have?

Charlie Morton is out for the year with Tommy John surgery. Previously he was one of the fixtures in the rotation.

Erik Bedard has been struggling since his early-April injury, and is always at risk to miss time with another injury.

Jeff Karstens is rehabbing from a hip flexor injury, which prevented him from returning this weekend. He struggled in his three starts earlier this year, but could manage to put up something closer to his 2011 xFIP numbers once he returns.

Brad Lincoln looked dominant as a reliever, but hasn’t been working as a starter.

And finally, Kevin Correia has been lucky, and that luck has worn off recently.

Near the start of the year, the only question mark was Correia. And the question that went with that was “who gets his spot?” Brad Lincoln, Rudy Owens, Jeff Locke? Or wait until Karstens returns from his rehab work?

We’ve gone from that to arguably having just two spots in the major league rotation locked down. It’s very probable that Correia and Lincoln will continue to struggle, and Bedard will get hurt at some point this season — assuming he’s not still feeling the effects of his injury from earlier in the year. At that point you’ve got a rotation of McDonald, Burnett, Karstens, Owens, and Locke. And your backup starters for the rest of the year are either to go back to Correia and/or Lincoln, go with Justin Wilson and his inconsistent control, or go with a Quad-A starter like Rick VandenHurk.

Considering the blows to the rotation recently — with Morton going down for the year, Correia and Lincoln struggling, Bedard struggling and always an injury risk, and Karstens suffering a set-back — it wouldn’t be out of the question to acquire another starter. Considering the risks with Lincoln, Correia, and Bedard, you’re probably still going to see Owens and/or Locke, even if the Pirates add some outside help.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates won 9-2 against the Indians. Kristy Robinson’s notebook looks at the power surge the team saw.

**Prospect Watch: Strong return to the mound for Kyle McPherson, and Zack Von Rosenberg had a good start.

**Kyle McPherson returns to the mound.

**The Pirates are said to have interest in Joe Saunders.

About Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He is a credentialed media member with every team in the Pirates’ system, including the Pirates themselves. He’s a regular guest on Extra Innings on 104.7, and makes regular appearances on ESPN 970, 93.7 The Fan, and TribLIVE Radio in Pittsburgh, as well as ESPN 1430 in Altoona and ESPN 1450 in State College.
  • Lee Young

    Hmmmmmmm….you make a good point. However, depends on what we’d have to give up to get Saunders.

    Wouldn’t mind seeing Owens or Locke, but maybe the brass doesn’t want to risk their growing pains?

    Bedard certainly hasn’t been sharp since his back injury.

    • Matt Beam

      Growing pains? The worst that either could do is exactly what we’ve seen from Lincoln for the past 3 starts now…Owens should be starting Sat. at home vs the Tigers. I would have preferred to see him get his feet wet today vs. a far less imposing lineup in CLE, but oh well

  • Matt Beam

    4 ER’s through 3.1 IP today, can we please officially end the Brad Lincoln as a SP experiment? He is far to hittable when pitching more than 1-2 innings. Why not given Rudy Owens a shot at starting and put Lincoln back in the bullpen where he seems to thrive?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_46YTB5OO4O7UM2OVB44UZSTXNA Nate

    Pretty bad when I’d rather they run Jo-Jo out there than former 1st rounder Lincoln. Put in the pen where is comfortable/successful.