Glancing at the Fight for the NL Central, Part 2: Starting Pitching

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Pittsburgh

Will the Pirates rotation be able to go deeper into games?

I ask this because the Pirates bullpen has logged more innings than any pen in the National League, second most in all of baseball. If Clint Hurdle can extend games even a little more with his starters, and the pen keep performing as it did in the first half of 2013, it will be another feather in the Pirates collective cap.

Granted, with the success this bullpen has displayed this season, kind of hard not to lean on it.

A.J. Burnett is the ace of this staff, but he has experienced some struggles and injuries this season. He missed a month due to strained calf. The Pirates will need Burnett to be that ace in the second half of the season.

Jul 14, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Majestic jersey representative John Fahnestock (left) presents Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Locke with his 2013 All Star jersey prior to the contest against the New York Mets at PNC Park. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Losing Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald also put a strain on the rotation. Enter Jeff Locke (right). He’s been the biggest surprise thus far and was selected to the All-Star Game. With surprise players, you always wonder if that momentum and performance from the first half of a season can carry over to the second half. Also ask about the mental and physical toll.

Locke does lead the staff in innings pitched (109), but, and get this, in 2009, he pitched in 254.2 innings! That workload was curtailed significantly after that season as he’s never gone more than 153.1 innings since then.

Wandy may well return, but it’s unknown when that could occur. McDonald is on the 60-day, but there’s a chance he could return in late August.

And how much has Francisco Liriano meant to this rotation? Could make an argument he deserved to be an All-Star. Wonder where the Pirates would be if they had Liriano from the onset of the season.

And I would be remiss without mentioning Gerrit Cole. He has yet to allow more than three runs in the seven games in which he has pitched. He won his first four outings, but has dropped his last three. Maybe the league caught up with him. It’s not a reliance on any single pitcher either, but his velocity is outstanding.

The return of Charlie Morton has aided the staff. In his 6 games since returning from Tommy John surgery, the Buccos are 4-2.

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