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The Pirates Won’t Need a Regular Fifth Starter Until May 24th

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When the Pittsburgh Pirates sent down Brandon Cumpton yesterday, I was a bit surprised. Cumpton has pitched well in both of his starts this season, along with his time in Triple-A, and his time in the majors last year. There seemed to be no reason to send him down. Then I took a look at the schedule, and realized that the Pirates could get by with four starters for most of the month of May.

I don’t know if this is why Cumpton was sent down. I don’t know if they’re planning on going with the following schedule. But the following is an option, allowing the Pirates to go most of this month with just a four man rotation, along with two spot starts.

May 5th – Jeff Locke. Clint Hurdle announced this today, and I’m guessing Locke will only be up for a spot start.

May 6th – Charlie Morton (Announced)

May 7th – Francisco Liriano (Announced)

May 8th – OFF

From this point forward, all starters are probable, and ordered in a way where the Pirates would only need four starters.

May 9th – Gerrit Cole

May 10th – Edinson Volquez

May 11th – Charlie Morton

May 12th – OFF

May 13th – Francisco Liriano

May 14th – Gerrit Cole

May 15th – Edinson Volquez

May 16th – Charlie Morton

May 17th – Spot Starter Needed. This could be any of the usual candidates (Locke, Cumpton, or even Sadler).

May 18th – Francisco Liriano

May 19th – OFF

May 20th – Gerrit Cole

May 21st – Edinson Volquez

May 22nd – Charlie Morton

May 23rd – Francisco Liriano

May 24th – Regular Fifth Starter Needed

I should point out that Wandy Rodriguez is currently rehabbing, so he could enter into the mix here. However, the Pirates started his rehab on May 1st, and he has 30 days on his rehab assignment, so they could keep him down for this entire time.

The downside to the Pirates needing only four starters for most of the month is that their top four starters haven’t been reliable. Francisco Liriano is struggling. Gerrit Cole isn’t exactly dominating. Charlie Morton is pitching more like a number four starter than a strong number three. Edinson Volquez is the only one who is producing, although his advanced metrics say that he will drop a bit, pitching more like a number three or a strong number four starter. That said, those same advanced metrics have Liriano and Cole improving their numbers.

The advantage here is that the Pirates could use an extra roster spot during this time to strengthen the rest of their team. That spot could go to an extra reliever if the starting staff continues to struggle. Or it could go to an extra hitter, which would be a good thing since the offense has struggled this year. I don’t expect that extra hitter to be Gregory Polanco, since he isn’t expected to arrive until the Super Two deadline passes. The Pirates could use this opportunity to call up Andrew Lambo, who has a 1.026 OPS in 90 at-bats in Triple-A, including a minor league system leading 13 doubles.

Lambo could be an option to start in right field in the short-term, giving the Pirates a chance to see what he can do before Polanco arrives. If Lambo does have success, and if Ike Davis continues to struggle (.612 OPS so far with the Pirates), then they could keep Lambo around as a first base option after Polanco arrives. Meanwhile, the team wouldn’t have to make a decision on Jose Tabata or Travis Snider until May 24th, meaning they could carry both on the roster, even if Lambo is up and getting starts in right field.

Once the Pirates do need a fifth starter, I think the best option for that starter would be Brandon Cumpton.

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Tim Williams
Tim Williams
Tim is the owner, producer, editor, and lead writer of PiratesProspects.com. He has been running Pirates Prospects since 2009, becoming the first new media reporter and outlet covering the Pirates at the MLB level in 2011 and 2012. His work can also be found in Baseball America, where he has been a contributor since 2014 and the Pirates' correspondent since 2019.

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