Pittsburgh Pirates: Where Will Jeff Karstens fit in Upon His Return?


With all of the talk about how awful the Pittsburgh Pirates bats have been, it makes it that more impressive how well the entire pitching staff has performed since the season began.

Currently the Pirates have the fourth best team ERA (third in National League) at 3.26, trailing only the Washington Nationals (2.92), Los Angeles Dodgers (3.20) and Texas Rangers (3.23). It hasn’t just been the starters, who have been very well, but it’s also due to the fact that the Bucs have the best bullpen in the National League, posting a 2.41 ERA (third best in baseball).

With that being said, what is Clint Hurdle supposed to do with Jeff Karstens when he returns?

Karstens threw 45 pitches Monday — 37 in a rehab start with Class AA Altoona, eight more in the bullpen afterward — and reported no ill effects or pain. He allowed two hits in three scoreless innings. Karstens is scheduled to pitch four innings or until he reaches 60 pitches Saturday.

If that all goes well and Karstens nears return to the Pirates roster, who goes and what role does he fill?

You can’t really make a case for him in the starting rotation given the way the five current guys are pitching.

James McDonald, Charlie Morton, Erik Bedard and A.J. Burnett aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Looking at the bullpen, how do you make a case for anyone of : Jason Grilli, Joel Hanrahan, Chris Resop, Juan Cruz, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson or Brad Lincoln, not to be a part of the big league roster when Karstens returns? These guys get batters out and do it very effectively.

So while Karstens can pitch out of the bullpen, there’s no spot for him and carrying 13 pitchers should not be an option.

That leaves only one man for Karstens to potentially replace and that’s Kevin Correia.

Yet while Correia’s numbers suggest he’s a 1-5 pitcher with a 4.50 ERA, he’s been much better than that at times. You also have to ask yourself if Karstens gives the Bucs a better chance to win every fifth day than Correia?

That answer is probably a yes, but it’s not an overwhelming yes.

Correia’s career ERA is 4.60 while Karstens is 4.52. Both guys are hit-able, as neither have over-powering stuff. Throughout their careers, Correia has allowed 9.5 hits per nine innings and 1.1 home runs per nine. Karstens has allowed 9.8 and 1.3.

They are practically the same pitcher and while you can point towards Correia’s struggles the second-half of 2011, Karstens wasn’t very good in August or September either.

Basically that means the Bucs pitching staff isn’t getting an upgrade by adding Karstens back into the fold.

However the Bucs are loyal to Karstens and he’s done some good things in a Pirates uniform, so I would expect him to take Correia’s spot in the rotation when he’s healthy.

That would make a roster move necessary and Correia could likely be dealt. However don’t expect Neal Huntington to be able to get much for him and they definitely won’t be able to improve the offense in a Correia deal.

So while Karstens is working his way back to Pittsburgh, you have to wonder where he really fits in upon his return?

Follow City of Champions Sports on Twitter

Follow Matt Shetler on Twitter and Facebook