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Monday Mop-Up Duty: the sum of all fears

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PNC PARK – So much rests upon the right shoulder of Gerrit Cole.

The way I see it there are three players the Pirates cannot afford to lose for large portions of the season: Andrew McCutchen – you might have heard he won the NL MVP – Russell Martin - the pitch-framing, pitch-sequencing, throwing arm, presence and league-average bat for a catcher are invaluable – and Cole.

In looking beyond 2014, you can make an argument Cole is the team’s most valuable asset. So whenever your bluest of blue chips – a young, pre-arb ace – has shoulder discomfort that summons worst-case scenarios for the pitcher and the club. An elbow injury requiring Tommy John is not desirable but at least the success rates of the surgery are high. Structural damage to a shoulder is a much more difficult to return from.

So there was some bad news Sunday as Cole was dispatched the DL and will miss at least two starts. He can return June 19th (though I think that is optimistic … more on that later). But the overwhelming good news for the Pirates was that Neal Huntington reported tests revealed just “fatigue” and no structural damage (No, Huntington did not immediately let out a sigh of relief bef0re reporters).

“We talked about ‘Do we just skip and try to bring him back the next time?’ At the end of the day we felt like it was probably better to just be aggressive with it now, give him some down time, and get that fatigue out of there,” Huntington said. “If everything goes as planned he’ll come right out after the DL stint. But if we need a little more time, we need a little more time. The tests we have done so far confirmed shoulder fatigue. Gerrit feels good with it.”

We’ve written about this before, but this close call is again a grim reminder about the risk associated in invested heavily in pitching.

Consider, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2011 draft and the No. 2 overall pick from the 2010 draft - Jameson Taillon are now on the shelf for the Pirates. That’s $14.5 million in signing bonuses and more important than the dollars is the premium selections spent on Cole and Taillon. The Pirates are hoping to not be drafting that highly again for quite some time but those picks  represented their best chances to get franchise-fortunes-changing talent.

If the Pirates are going to have a Golden Era it starts with a twin set of golden arms staying healthy and productive. TJ surgery isn’t the end of the road for Taillon, but shoulder surgery can be a game-changer for a pitcher.

It appears the Pirates dodged a significant bullet, though it should be noted no MRI or diagnostic test is perfect.

coledugout

Cole on Saturday at PNC Park – Chris Horner photo

Said Cole: “I don’t see it as a huge issue. We are on the right path and I feel much better than I did a few days ago.”

So the Pirates hope.

 

STARTING NINE THOUGHTS

9. Looking for a recent comparable for shoulder fatigue?

Ryan Lawrence of the Philly Daily News noted Cole Hamels dealt with it this spring. Hamels returned and is pitching well. That’s the good news. But he missed the first three weeks of the season after first noting the shoulder fatigue on March 6. That’s seven weeks of missed time.

“I know nothing has gone wrong,” Hamels said about his shoulder on March 6. “….Ultimately my body is telling me, ‘Hey, slow it down a little bit and start over in a certain way so that you can prevent injury but build up for the long haul.’”

Said Cole yesterday:  “I think this is just my body letting me know we need to get this right.”

Pirates would be wise to be cautious with timetable, imo.

8. I do think the experience of the past year would have me shying away from pitchers with premium draft picks. New draft theory from South Hills Command: focus on BPA bats in first and second rounds … then collect a quantity of projectable high school arms. And it’s the later which the Pirates have consistently done.

IN OTHER NEWS …

7.  Interesting that Huntington that mentioned Josh Harrison could play shortstop as a super-sub on Sunday. A mini Ben Zobrist? The next Zorilla? Hurdle dropped a Chone Figgins comp when asked about the last utility player who has forced his way into becoming a regular.

6. That looked more like the first-half Jeff Locke … and the Pirates will need at least another start like that as they attempt to weather the Cole injury.

5. Interesting draft trend: more seniors continue to be take, writes Clint Longenecker of Baseball America.

4. If you’re sitting in the first row please be aware of game situations.

3. How good is the Brewers’ middle-of-the-field core? Jonathan Lucroy might be the most underrated player in the game. Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez each made game-securing catches in the late-innings Sunday. Lucroy’s contract is a major heist producing major surplus value.

2. Ike Davis has looked lost in June after a very good May. He’s going to get a mental break over the next two games.

1. Gregory Polanco Watch Day 62: I’m calling June 17th as Polanco’s arrival date. Keep in mind the Super 2 date is moving and any estimate is not written in concrete. Huntington apparently said on his radio show yesterday that they believe Cole might be Super 2 eligible after all (that might be a big problem four years from now when he could command $20 million in arbitration). And with more and more teams holding back top prospects, it’s probably wise for the Pirates to keep Polanco in Triple-A for a few more weeks to be safe and not risk paying him eight more figures and eliminating future payroll flexibility. Hey, I’m not the one who conceived this rule.

 

STAT OF THE WEEK: 0 for 23

That’s the slump Starling Marte is in the midst of. Are you worried?

I’m not too concerned, yet, but if you’re hit tool is flawed that  is a big problem.

 

HE SAID IT

What is fatigue?

Huntington: “Fatigue is fatigue.”

 

NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK

I’m caught up on Homeland. I have no series to stream. Sad. Any suggestions?

– TS

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