Saturday night, the meat grinder that is the Dodgers‘ lineup roughed up Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Joe Musgrove for six runs on 10 hits in five innings (LAD 7, PIT 2). He threw 84 pitches. That happened one day after opener Michael Feliz surrendered five runs and recorded one out. It has been a rough weekend for Pittsburgh’s rotation.
The Pirates are currently without Jameson Taillon and Trevor Williams, ostensibly their two best starters coming into the season. Taillon has been sidelined with a flexor strain since May 4, and his recent transfer to the 60-day injured list means he is not eligible to return until July 3. Williams has a side strain and has yet to resume throwing. He is still weeks away.
As a result, the Pirates have used an opener twice in the last four games — Montana DuRapau allowed three runs in two-thirds of an inning against the Rockies on Wednesday — with Nick Kingham (8.76 ERA) and Steven Brault (7.11 ERA) following as the “bulk” innings guy. Pittsburgh will reportedly call up top prospect Mitch Keller to start one game of its doubleheader Monday …
… and it’s possible Keller will stick around long-term rather than make one spot start. Either way, the Pirates are without two starters at the moment and they’ve had to improvise with openers and spot starters. It isn’t going well. Pittsburgh’s rotation has a 6.68 ERA in May, third worst in baseball. Only the Rockies (7.22 ERA) and Giants (7.15 ERA) have been worse.
For Musgrove, the club’s rotation woes reached a boiling point Saturday night, after he was pushed for an extra inning to help out the worn down bullpen despite getting his clock cleaned by the Dodgers. Musgrove told Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette it’s on management to add rotation help. From Mackey:
“It would be nice to have another starter that we can run out there,” Musgrove told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette late Saturday night. “Not to say that [Steven] Brault and Rookie [Davis] — I heard [Mitch] Keller’s coming up — can’t do it.
“But if you look at the staffs around the league and the division we’re in, it’s tough. We have to be running out the best thing we have every night. That’s what we’re trying to do right now.”
“Our coaching staff and our ownership knows the position we’re in right now,” Musgrove said. “It’s up to them to make the moves.
“We have guys here who can compete. We’re doing a good job right now of staying afloat. Having another solid arm in the rotation that has been through a lot and experienced a lot would be nice.”
Speaking out like Musgrove can go one of two ways. One, it can galvanize the team, because chances are he is not the only player who feels that way. Or two, it can create something of a divide, because those comments can be construed as Musgrove saying the guys in the clubhouse aren’t good enough. I don’t believe that was his intent, but I can see how the comments can come off that way.
The best and most obvious available starter is the still unsigned Dallas Keuchel, Musgrove’s former teammate with the Astros. It’s hard to see Pittsburgh winning a bidding war for Keuchel given their general lack of free agent spending. Also, the Pirates are 25-24 with a minus-55 run differential. Keuchel may prefer to join a club that is a more serious World Series contender, not one that may fight for a wild-card spot.
The Pirates have had some success stories with cheap reclamation pitchers under pitching coach Ray Searage. Edinson Volquez and Francisco Liriano come to mind. Pittsburgh could take a shot on right-hander Yefry Ramirez, who the Orioles curiously designated for assignment earlier this week, or perhaps look at an out-of-favor pitcher like Giants left Derek Holland or Diamondbacks righty Zack Godley. That seems far more likely than a Keuchel splash.
For now, the Pirates will move forward with Musgrove, Chris Archer, and Jordan Lyles anchoring the rotation. Even if Keller sticks following Monday’s spot start, the Pirates will still have to use an opener/spot starter for the fifth spot. Given the way things have gone lately, that doesn’t seem too appealing. Musgrove called on management to add rotation help. Now we’ll see whether the front office and ownership act.