HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL FOR THE PITTSBURGH PIRATES
The Pittsburgh Pirates have journeyed north from their spring training home of Bradenton, Florida each year since 1993 with high hopes of success, only to end each season with a losing record. The team’s streak of 20 consecutive losing seasons is a record for major professional sports in this country.
The 2012 Pirates appeared to be well on their way to ending the futility with a superb record of 16 games over .500 on August 6, but a devastating collapse to the end of the campaign resulted in a sub-.500 mark at 79-83.
In 2013, the Pirates will field a roster with some top-notch starting pitchers, and a number of hard throwers in the bullpen with records of success. The following lists include brief information on the pitchers selected for the Opening Day 25-man roster, as well as three key ones who will start the season on the disabled list.
1) A.J. Burnett: The 36-year-old Burnett returns for a second season as the ace of the Pirates’ staff. In 2012, he was 16-10 with a 3.51 ERA. He racked up 180 strikeouts in 202.1 IP and had a 1.24 WHIP.
2) Wandy Rodriguez: Rodriguez was acquired from the Houston Astros in July of last year. The southpaw hurled over 200 innings in 2012 and went a combined 12-13 with a 3.76 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. He will be relied on with Burnett to give the Pirates a standout 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.
3) James McDonald: The enigmatic McDonald needs to put together a solid season from April to September in 2013. He has above-average pitches with his excellent fastball velocity and big curveball break, but loses command of them far too often. He was 12-8 last year, and was one of the National League’s better starters up to the All-Star break, but finished the year poorly.
4) Jonathan Sanchez: A surprise addition to the rotation to start the year, Sanchez is an accomplished pitcher whose control woes wrecked his previous two seasons. An indispensable member of the pitching staff for the San Francisco Giants when they won the World Series in 2010, Sanchez spent last year between the Kansas City Royals and the Colorado Rockies and pitched terribly. Injuries to other expected starters for the Bucs will give Sanchez a chance to prove he still can pitch effectively and win games.
5) Jeff Locke: Locke is a 25-year-old lefty who had chances to impress in September the past two years, including eight games in 2012, but with mixed results. He will get a chance from April this year due to injuries. Locke is a finesse pitcher who must keep hitters off balance and hit the corners to be effective.
Jeff Karstens: Karstens was expected to contend for the #5 spot in the rotation, but a balky throwing shoulder has shelved him for the early part of the season. He went 5-4 in 15 starts with a 3.97 ERA in an injury-plagued 2012.
Francisco Liriano: A one-time ace for the Minnesota Twins, the 29-year-old Liriano split last year between the Twins and the Chicago White Sox. Liriano struggled with inconsistent velocity and his control on the way to a combined 6-12 record in 2012, and has had various elbow ailments over the years. He broke his non-throwing arm in an offseason accident, and will not be ready for major-league action until May.
Charlie Morton: Morton is a right-hander with seemingly overwhelming stuff that generally produces underwhelming results. Still, the Pirates are expecting him to contribute to the starting staff from sometime around the All-Star break. He went 2-6 in nine starts in 2012 before needing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Jason Grilli: Grilli is a veteran righty who will assume the closer’s duties this season. A journeyman-type pitcher prior to last season, Grilli was a top NL set-up man in 2012. In 64 appearances, he amassed 32 holds, while striking out 90 batters in just 58.2 IP.
Mark Melancon: Acquired from Boston in the offseason for former stopper Joel Hanrahan, Melancon struggled in his lone season with the Red Sox. However, the Pirates believe his solid late-season work in Boston is a better gauge of how he should perform as a set-up man in a return to the NL.
Jared Hughes: Hughes, a sinkerball specialist, became a key part of the Pirates’ bullpen in 2012, while appearing in 66 games. The durable Hughes will need to replicate his performance of last year for the Pirates to have a strong ‘pen this year.
Tony Watson: A hard-throwing southpaw, Watson usually dominated the opposition in 2012. In 68 games, he struck out 53 batters in as many innings, with only a .198 BAA.
Justin Wilson: Another young lefty with an excellent fastball for manager Clint Hurdle to utilize, Wilson made nine appearances out of the bullpen last year, with 16 strikeouts in 15.2 IP.
Jeanmar Gomez: With the injuries to Karstens and Liriano, Gomez is probably another beneficiary with an Opening Day roster spot. He works with a fastball that has a sinking action, but it did not do that enough last year as he recorded a 5-8 record and a less-than-inspiring 5.96 ERA in 20 games with Cleveland.
Chris Leroux: Leroux is also a pitcher slated for middle relief who might have a hard time keeping his job if Karstens and Liriano return to action about the same time. Leroux has appeared in 33 games for the Bucs over the past two years, but with few positive results.
Patrick Hattman is a long-suffering Pittsburgh Pirates fan and longs for a return of the Pirates of his youth when they put some of the city’s best-ever baseball teams on the carpet at Three Rivers Stadium.