Apr. 8, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez (51) throws during the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates: Who steps into rotation if Wandy Rodriguez heads to DL?

It has been an outstanding first seven games for the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff, as the Bucs are the only team in baseball not to allow more than three runs in game this season.

A big part of the early success- and any potential long-term success- is Wandy Rodriguez, who after an outstanding first start, had to leave Monday night’s start against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the third inning with tightness in his left hamstring.

March 20, 2013; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Kyle McPherson (38) reacts during the game against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

Rodriguez is a vital part of the Bucs rotation as he has made 30-plus starts in each of the past four seasons. In addition to his durability, I look for a good season from Rodriguez and it will hurt the rotation a great deal if he is expected to miss any time. He is set to get further tests on Tuesday, but the question is who steps into his place if Rodriguez is forced to head to the DL?

It’s actually a scary thought.

Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton and Francisco Liriano are all injured, so any perceived starting pitching depth that the Bucs had on paper just isn’t there right now.

Before I look at the situation any further, cross Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon off the list. It’s not going to happen.

If the Pirates need to recall a starter from Triple-A, it really only comes down to two pitchers- Kyle McPherson or Phil Irwin.

McPherson is the most likely candidate as he showed some ability last season and after he lost out on the fifth starter spot to Jeff Locke, Pirates’ general manager Neal Huntington mentioned that they would be comfortable giving him a few starts early in the season if needed.

But there is also the fact that McPherson didn’t pitch particularly well in spring training and got off to a rough start in his 2013 debut for Indianapolis when he allowed three runs in three innings. McPherson is set to pitch on Thursday, so it could turn into an audition if the Pirates do indeed need another starter. With the off day on Thursday, Clint Hurdle could elect to bump James McDonald and Jonathan Sanchez up a day, which would line McPherson’s next start up with when Rodriguez would be scheduled to pitch next.

Irwin is a bit more intriguing to me.

He had a nice spring and is coming off of a strong start in which he allowed only one run and struck out five in six innings of work. If Hurdle elects not to bump up J-Mac and Sanchez, then Irwin could take Wandy’s spot on six days rest.

There are also some options on the current roster in Jeanmar Gomez and Justin Wilson, although I don’t like either option. The Pirates bullpen is pitching well and I like everyone’s role right now. Then there is the fact that neither guy is stretched out enough to make a start or two this early in the season.

If Rodriguez is headed to the DL, the good news is that it is early in the season and hopefully he won’t be out long.

If he is forced to miss a start or two though, I think it’s pretty certain that McPherson will get another opportunity to show that he belongs.

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Tags: Kyle McPherson Phil Irwin Pittsburgh Pirates Wandy Rodriguez

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