The cavalry is on its way, well, maybe


The Pirates need pitching help and depth. See: four quality starts in 15 games.

Jeff Locke’s struggles continued Thursday: 4IP, 6H, 4R, 4ER, 4BB, 3K (three home runs allowed … including two to Uptons). James McDonald’s velocity has dipped, raising injury speculation. Jonathan Sanchez has struggled, and Jeff Karsten’s status is unknown.

There’s been one healthy and consistent option to date: A.J. Burnett … though Wandy Rodriguez will return and start tomorrow vs. Tim Hudson.

There could be as many as three rotation spots in play and the list of candidates is growing, which is good for manager Clint Hurdle because he’ll soon have a variety of options. Choice always benefits the consumer.

Charlie Morton made his first rehab start at High-A Bradenton on Thursday night and he showed excellent velocity, sitting between 93-95 mph and and touching 96 mph twice, according to Tim Williams of Pirates Prospects who was present. Morton has not touched that velocity since 2011. Morton did allow two runs in three innings but more important was that he looked healthy and he was touching the mid 90s.

Hurdle told reporters prior to Thursday’s game that Francisco Liriano is set to make his second rehab start at Double-A Altoona on Saturday and he’s set to be stretched out to 65 pitches. He’s close.

The Pirates are hoping to capture lightning in a bottle with Liriano like they did with Burnett, a buy-low option with bat-missing stuff.  Liriano averaged more than 10 strikeouts per nine in the second half of last season and a move to PNC Park and the National League should do nothing but help the talented but  enigmatic lefty. Liriano still has stuff. He had a 15-strikeout game  last season. Really.

Hurdle said Liriano is three starts away (including Saturday) and Morton was four (including Thursday’s action).

That means Liriano and Morton could return in early May. And there’s also a guy named Gerrit Cole in Triple-A who figures to be an option in June once the service time issues are in the rear-view mirror.

“Our guys do know there is a clock ticking,” Hurdle said of his starters. “(Liriano) could be three starts and ready. Charlie (Morton) could be three and ready. Karsten will probably throw a bullpen sooner than later. Not so to speak the cavalry, because, we’ll have to see how they get. … We believe Morton can be an impactful guy. We definitely believe Liriano can be an impactful guy. The guys that are here now have the opportunity to pitch.”


Liriano, Cole and Morton are on their way. 

In short Locke, McDonald and Sanchez have to make the most of their opportunities in the near term.

Morton, Liriano and Cole are not sure things in 2013. But they are options with upside. They are getting healthy. They have the stuff to miss bats.

The  cavalry is on its way … well, maybe.

– Travis Sawchik