Bob Smizik: Pitchers' report card

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In view of the excellent performance from Edinson Volquez last night, it's not a good day to be negatively critiquing the Pirates starting pitchers -- 13th in the NL in ERA, 12th in WHIP, 10th in BAA -- but, hey, it’s report-card time. (Grades are based on expectations and production.)

Gerrit Cole: The promise of late 2013 has not been revealed. ERA is up; WHIP is up; walks per nine innings are up; batting average against is up; hits per nine innings are up, home runs per nine innings are up. None is up so much to make him a poor pitcher. But, nevertheless a disappointing 10 weeks before going on the DL Sunday with shoulder fatigue, which could be, at least a partial explanation. Grade: C

Brandon Cumpton: His 6.06 ERA is a bit misleading because he gave up 10 runs in one game. In his other five starts, his ERA is 3.65. In those five starts, he has kept the Pirates in the game. He’s nothing flashy and he might not have a bright MLB future. But he’s performing adequately for a back-of-the-rotation starter. Grade: C+

Jeff Locke: In two starts, he has an ERA of 5.11, which says he should be back in the minors, and a WHIP of 0.97, which says he should be a candidate for the All-Star Game -- again. In his first start, he retired 13 San Francisco Giants batters in a row -- after they scored two in the first and before they scored five in the sixth. In his second start, he was excellent -- one run and three hits in seven innings against Milwaukee. Grade: B

Francisco Liriano: In 13 starts, he has allowed four or more runs in nine times. In 26 starts last year, he allowed four or more runs in seven times. His ERA has skyrocketed from 3.02 to 4.54. He dominated left-handed hitters better than any pitcher in MLB in 2013 -- a .321 OPS-against. Clayton Kershaw’s was .477. This year Liriano's is .923. Grade: F

Charlie Morton: After a wobbly start, a 4.35 ERA in April despite six shutout innings in his first appearance, Morton has come on to be the rock of the rotation. In his past eight starts, only once has he allowed more than two runs. Since the end of April, his ERA is an excellent 2.37. He remains outstanding at getting ground balls and seemingly has solved his one-time weakness against left-handed hitters. Grade: B+

Wandy Rodriguez: This was the batting line opposing hitters had against him in 129 plate appearances before his release: .325/.366/.693 -- 1.059. Every batter was Ted Williams. Grade: F

Edinson Volquez: He’s looking like another free-agent gem from Neal Huntington and not the laughing stock some portrayed him through his struggles. Last night’s seven shutout innings left his ERA at a most respectable 3.89 and his WHIP at 1.19, which is top 20 in the NL. He had a bad stretch from late April to mid-May, but otherwise has been surprisingly good. Grade: B

On to the relievers, who are fourth in ERA and WHIP and sixth in BAA:

Jeanmar Gomez: His work has been adequate, but the back end of the bullpen has so raised expectations that fans tend to considering giving up runs as a sign of massive failure. Grade: C

Jason Grilli: After an early stint on the disabled list, which followed a terrible April, by almost all accounts he is close to being the dominating closer he was for much of last season. In seven innings since his return, he has allowed one run on four hits. His K/9 is 10.20, good but down considerably from 2012 and 2013 when it was in the 13 range. He blew three saves in April. Grade: C

Jared Hughes: He’s been a pleasant surprise after an up-and-mostly-down 2013. His ERA is 1.88, his WHIP 1.13, which are very good numbers a front end of the bullpen reliever. He has been scored on only once in his past 12 appearances. Grade: B

Vin Mazzaro: He made two very good back-to-back long relief appearances -- one run in 6 1/3 innings. Earlier and shorter work wasn’t as good. ERA: 3.48. Grade: C+

Mark Melancon: He had the second best ERA, the fourth best OPS-against and the eighth best WHIP among NL pitchers in 2013 so a decline was inevitable. But not by that much. His ERA is 25th but his WHIP is seventh and his OPS against third. He blew two saves in May while filling in for Grilli. Grade: B+

Bryan Morris: An adequate front end of the bullpen reliever, but one who never quite lived up to expectations. He had a 3.80 ERA before being traded to Miami, but it was 5.68 in May. Grade: C-

Stolmy Pimentel: He’s been on the DL more than the active roster. He has a 3.18 ERA and a .213 BAA in six appearances. Six walks in 11 1/3 innings. Grade: C-

Casey Sadler: He had four two-inning appearance in two stints. Unscored on in the first two, six runs in the second two. Four walks in eight innings. Grade: D

Tony Watson: His 0.87 ERA is third best among all National League pitchers. He has not given up a run, earned or unearned, since April 22. He is handling right-handed hitters better than left-handers. Grade: A

Justin Wilson: No one will accuse Wilson of being a LOOGY. Left-handed batters are hitting .313 against him. He’s much better against righties -- .175. In 18 appearances since April, he has been scored upon seven times and has an ERA of 5.77. Grade: C-

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