Although the Pittsburgh Pirates are riding a season-long four-game losing streak as they prepare to close their series with the Washington Nationals, they have at least one reason to be optimistic.
The club announced Saturday that former No. 1 overall draft pick Gerrit Cole has been cleared to return to the Pirates’ pitching rotation after completing a four-start rehab stint with Triple-A Indianapolis. The 23-year-old right-hander has been off the MLB roster for more than a month while rehabbing from a sore right latissimus muscle in his back.
While initially there was uncertainty as to where Cole would slot into the rotation, the situation gained some clarity when struggling starter Charlie Morton was placed on the 15-day disabled list with right hip discomfort. Morton has allowed four or more runs in five of seven outings, including a three-inning mess in Friday’s loss to the Nationals.
Morton had surgery on his left hip three years ago and missed about a year due to Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2012. The 30-year-old has thrown 152 innings this season, the second most in his seven-year MLB career; he tossed 171 in 2011, after which he needed a hip labrum replaced.
Perhaps sitting for a couple of starts could rejuvenate Morton, who has a 3.84 ERA this season after posting a 3.26 mark last year. Despite allowing more runs this season, Morton has a career-high strikeout rate of 7.1 per nine innings and a career-low WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) of 1.27.
Morton’s fastball velocity was noticeably down Friday, which may be explained by his hip ailment. He was scheduled to start Wednesday against the Braves, so it appears likely Cole will make his return on that date.
Cole hasn’t pitched since July 4, when he removed himself due to back soreness. He had previously missed time in June because of a bothersome right shoulder strain.