Is Huntington Shopping for Starting Pitching?

Ahh, the PhotoShop junk pile.   Heading into the 2010 season, the Pirates front office felt the starting pitching was a strength.  Looking back, the signs were pointing to it not being the case. 

This offseason we looked at the pitching to determine what to expect.  We spent a long time analyzing Charlie Morton with our article Smells Like Charlie Morton.  Zach Duke was red hot to start last season, but not so much in the second half.  Paul Maholm pitched hurt.  Ross Ohlendorf showed signs of regression, then spent the offseason in D.C, he hasn’t pitched well all year.   The fifth starter was a tossup between Kevin Hart and Daniel McCutchen.  We know how that turned out.

The Pirates starters looked fine from the outstide.  Surely, each of them would make a few strides to improve this year.  It hasn’t been the case.

Everyone knows Morton has been bad.  Duke appears more hittable than ever.  Maholm struggled again yesterday, but has been the best of the bunch.  Ohlendorf has been hurt and that fifth starter job, well, it hasn’t gone well either.   Each starter shows signs of being on empty quite possibly from the pressures of a weak offense.  Each has displayed signs of trying to pitch perfectly and the impact of not doing so has taken its toll. 

So what or perhaps more specifically where is the answer to fill the starting pitching void?

1.  Brad Lincoln could be a little bit away.  The question seems to be his changeup.  We saw this at AAA Indy announcer Scott McCauley’s blog the other day.

RHP Brad Lincoln is on a roll and closing in on a promotion.  The 24 year-old (he will turn 25 on Tuesday) improved to 5-2 and lowered his ERA to 3.77 with Saturday’s win over Gwinnett.  Many in the Indians clubhouse feel that Lincoln will make one more start with the Indians and then get the call to the big leagues.  Lincoln isn’t looking to far ahead, “I’m getting ready to make my next start against Charlotte.  They got me pretty good last year and I hear they have a small park.”  Lincoln’s worst Triple-A start came last summer against Charlotte.  The Knights scored 7 runs on 9 hits sending Lincoln to the showers after only 3 innings.  Since that loss on August 9th Lincoln has a 9-2 record (13 starts) with a 3.46 ERA. 

The question that has followed Lincoln is when will he develop a third pitch?  He throws a fastball (4 seam fastball between 93-96 mph and a 2 seam fastball between 90-92 mph) with a awesome curveball.  His curveball is the pitch that jumped off the charts a season ago.  He can throw the curve with a big bending 12:00 to 6:00 drop or throw it hard to give a hitter a sluvy (curveball + slider) look.  As season ago current Pirates coach Ray Searage helped Lincoln develop a change-up.  It was his weakest pitch, but he found out that he needed it to get hitters out.  This season that change-up has morphed into a splitter.  Well, at least that depends on who you ask. 

Me:  “Does Lincoln throw a change-up or a split finger pitch?”

Manger Frank Kremblas:  “It’s a change-up with a split look.  It’s a change-up.”

Pitching Coach Dean Treanor:  “It’s a change-up, but he splits his fingers on the grip so it drops like a split, but has the action of a change-up.”

C Erik Kratz:  “I think it’s a split and that sounds a lot cooler than a change-up.  It it too hard to be a change-up, but it’s effective enough that is acts like a change-up.  It say it’s a splitter.”

Brad Lincoln:  “We are going to go with a change-up.  A split sounds cool, but because of the change up action I have to call it a change-up.”

Based on other conversations my best guess is that last year he had a change up, but this season he is throwing it between 86-88 mph hour and it looks like a splitter.  The Pirates tell me it’s a change up so that will be the final official word.  Still, a split finger pitch sounds nasty and much cooler than a change up.

We still don’t see Lincoln being more than a middle of the rotation pitcher for the Pirates.  I don’t blame Huntington for waiting.  We watched him last year and weren’t blown away.  Playing with Pedro in the Gold medal game,  Lincoln was good at best.   If you remember, he was pulled from the game.

We can only trust Lincoln has improved greatly.  He is needed desperately by the Pirates.  But should Huntington call a guy up like Lincoln to pitch for a team that can’t score more than three runs a game?   The pressure will be heavy on Huntington to do so.  But, that could be disaterous.

We applaud his patience.

2.  Would Donnie Veal work?  No, Veal is going to see Dr. Andrews I heard Neal say on his show today.    An evaluation will be conducted and a recommendation will be forthcoming pertaining to Veal’s future.

3.  So what’s left?  That’s the problem.   In AAA Indianapolis pitching is scarce.   Hayden Penn hasn’t pitched well.  Penn has given up 30 hits in just over 19 innings pitched while opponents bat .345 off the right hander.  Kevin Hart doesn’t appear to be the answer, is hurt, and hasn’t started since April.   There isn’t much left in the Indy starting rotation.  Jeremy Powell was born in 1976, but hasn’t pitched well despite his advanced age for the AAA level. 

There just isn’t anything else at the AAA level.  So does Huntington deal for a one year lease on a starting pitcher?   It doesn’t appear so.   Unless that was the reason Garrett Jones was in left field yesterday?   On Huntington’s show he said he hadn’t spoke to Pirates manager John Russell, but he would analyze the move of starting Jones in LF and Delwyn Young in RF could be that Ryan Church is still nursing his wrist after being hit a few weeks back. 

So the questions remain for the Pirates.  What was considered a strength by management has turned into a glaring weakness.  So what does the GM do?

For now, Jeff Karstens will be striding out to the mound tomorrow to fill the void.  But will the Pirates pitching staff wake up and pitch well enough to make a Huntington  deal unnecessary?

Huntington usually gets the team what it needs, even if the immediate results from Karstens, Ohlendorf, and Morton isn’t what he thought it would be when they were acquired.  It might be too late.  Huntington could have made up his mind already.  When he said yesterday that Lincoln is a ways off, does that mean he is riding it out the storm with what he has?  Perhaps setting up the Bucs for the top pick in the draft next June?

God we can only pray for the top pick, but it just sounds so awful to write.  Here is hoping the pitching turns around, because if it doesn’t it could keep the call for backup delayed until after the All-Star break.  If we’re lucky.

Tags: Charlie Morton Garrett Jones Jeff Karstens John Russell Neal Huntington Paul Maholm Pirates Blog Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Pirates Pittsburgh Pirates Blog Ross Ohlendorf Ryan Church Zach Duke

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