Through a combination of health, maturation and outside additions, the Pirates have fewer concerns about the innings their starters accumulate this season than they did at this point a year ago.
In 2011, the Pirates employed spot starters to help some pitchers deal with rapidly escalating innings counts as they attempted to push through previous marks. A main point of emphasis was to help some players stay fresh while increasing the volume of innings they were able to throw. Such concerns are less prevalent now.
"So far, so good," manager Clint Hurdle said. "As we monitor the pitches thrown each month, as we monitor the innings and projections if everybody makes starts to the end -- even with the bullpen work -- we seem to be in a pretty good place."
The addition of A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez, two starters in their mid-30s with track records of high-inning counts, has helped. The Pirates lost Charlie Morton for the season due to Tommy John ligament replacement surgery and lost Jeff Karstens for two months because of a shoulder injury, but since the end of June their rotation has been healthy.
Rodriguez, Burnett and James McDonald each have pitched at least 130 innings. With nine or 10 starts remaining for each starter, all but Karstens are on track to finish at 170 innings or above.
"As I was mapping out even [Saturday], projecting innings, if everybody made their starts, there's nobody that will get to 200," Hurdle said.
The starters entered the game Saturday having thrown the seventh-fewest innings in Major League Baseball.
Kevin Correia will make another start next week to ease the workload on the rotation as the Pirates near the end of a stretch of 20 games in 20 days. The rotation ERA increased from a first-half mark of 3.94 to 4.35 for the second half of the season before Saturday night, and the home run rate has risen. The strikeout rate has increased, though, and the opponent's batting average has dropped.
Karstens said the lack of innings concerns could help the starters pitch without worrying about the repercussions.
"Not having them be worried about are you going to be able to come back and be strong your next outing ... " Karstens said. "They have confidence in us. It's something we can build off.
"It goes back to starting pitching because our job is to get the bullpen the ball with the lead late in the game. Last year, we kind of learned some things. I think it will help us play a little looser this year."
San Diego put closer Huston Street on the 15-day disabled list before the game Saturday night because of a left calf strain. Street earned a save Friday night against the Pirates, pitching a perfect ninth but he reportedly hurt himself covering first base. Manager Bud Black said Dale Thayer and Luke Gregerson would share Street's role in his absence.
Erik Bedard will provide a strong anchor for the rotation in the final game of the series today against the Padres. He is 4-0 in four career starts against San Diego with a 1.63 ERA and has pitched eight innings in two of those starts. In four starts since the All-Star break, Bedard has a 3.60 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 25 innings.