Gene Collier: Pirates scrambling to make do with patchwork starting rotation



With 40 percent of his original starting rotation on the disabled list, with another 20 percent of it having Wandy-ed off into the baseball wilderness, and with the remaining 40 percent lugging around a combined record of 6-12, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle sent Brandon Cumpton to the bump Wednesday night against the Chicago Cubs.

They call the pitchers mound the bump sometimes, right?

Funny, smells more like a dump.

Gerrit Cole, the only true force of nature on this pitching staff, is away with shoulder fatigue, yet he has thrown the baseball purposely on three consecutive days.

I thought when your arm is tired maybe you … never mind.

I’m not going to second-guess the professionals, the people who have, through meticulous baseball research and informed, proactive, highly sophisticated medical strategies made pitchers on the disabled list about the sixth-largest economy in the Western Hemisphere.

Francisco Liriano joined Cole on the DL Wednesday, having done a very dangerous thing on the bump Tuesday night at PNC Park. He threw the baseball.

Ouch. Strained left oblique.

Wandy Rodriguez, resting comfortably somewhere while he pulls down the remainder of the fattest salary on Bob Nutting’s books, $13 million (that’s $250,000 a week if you need to compare it to your own take home), pitched so badly through mid-May that the Pirates were forced to invoke the little-known management gambit pioneered by veteran baseball executive Dallas Green: “You gotta pay ’em, but you don’t gotta play ’em.”

Into this swamp went Cumpton for the third game of this Cubs series, and Chicago manager Rick Renteria did him the favor of running out a lineup in which half the position players were batting .221 or worse.

Must have been a ploy to disorient the young Pirates right-hander, against whom the league as a whole was hitting a lusty .327. Put another way, in his five starts for Hurdle this season, the typical batter facing Cumpton was, um, Honus Wagner.

Cumpton’s earned run average, Fahrenheit 6.51, was probably worse than his actual performance, but that is merely praising with faint damns.

While this 25-year-old Georgian spent the early innings Wednesday night trying to give back a 2-0 Pirates lead and then a 3-2 Pirates lead, management seemed no closer to figuring out who they could send to the mound Sunday in Miami when Liriano’s turn comes around again. Candidates include, as of this moment, right-hander Stolmy Pimentel, just back from — where else — the disabled list, right-hander Casey Sadler, who was no mystery to the Cubs in their 7-3 victory Tuesday at PNC Park, discarded veteran Vance Worley, currently at Class AAA Indianapolis, and, I believe, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane.

If this weren’t nettlesome enough, leadoff hitter Josh Harrison was forced to the dugout in Wednesday night in fourth inning, owing to discomfort in his ankle. It was Harrison’s 31st start this season. He had hit .310 in the first 30.

It will be interesting to see who Hurdle puts in the leadoff spot in series finale tonight if Harrison is still discomfited. Gregory Polanco had been hitting first for Indianapolis before beginning his big-league career this week, so he’s the most evident option. Polanco drove in his first career run with a groundout and later singled to start a promising home fourth on his second night in the majors, but got himself doubled off third with a baserunning gaffe so ghastly he didn’t even attempt to return to the bag after Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney caught Ike Davis’s line drive. Almost halfway toward home at the snag, Polanco just turned and walked to the dugout.

Don’t know that I’ve seen someone walking perpendicular to the baseline in the middle of a double play before. That’s not one of his five tools is it? In any case, Cumpton found a way to last through the fifth, tiptoeing around five hits, two walks, a hit batter, an RBI-single by .154-hitting John Baker, a run-scoring grounder by the .200-hitting Barney and even surviving a bases-loaded pickle when Nate Schierholtz did him the favor of staring really, really hard at strike three on Cumpton’s final pitch.

Edinson Volquez is the Pirates’ starter for the finale, but keep a trained eye on mound opponent Jeff Samardzija, whose 2-5 record has little to do with a season of general excellence for a pretty hopeless ballclub.

Samardzija, some already have begun saying, would look good with big ‘P’ on his left breast, or something. The Pirates traditionally have looked to add a bat at this junction, but urgently need to add an arm.

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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