PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — The Pirates’ impressive pitching depth continued to be on display Monday night at PNC Park. They’ve had to lean on that depth with a number of injured hurlers still working toward a return–whether it’s this season or next.
All-Star closer Jason Grilli remains in the rest, treatment, and rehabilitation phase after being diagnosed with a strained flexor tendon in his right (pitching) arm. Concurrently, the team announced last Friday the 36-year-old reliever would not need surgery, but the best-case scenario seems to point toward a September comeback.
Grilli suffered the injury while aiming for a National League-high 31st save in 32 chances at Washington last Monday. He has posted a 2.34 ERA this season with 66 strikeouts against just ten walks in 42 1/3 innings.
Elsewhere in the bullpen, right-handed reliever Jared Hughes continues a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis. In his last five appearances for the Indians, he has tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out six, walking three, and scattering four hits.
Hughes, 28, has had trouble following a largely successful 2012 campaign with the Bucs, posting a 4.66 ERA in just 16 1/3 innings of big-league work this year.
He went on the DL June 8 due to shoulder inflammation that, as he later said, had gotten progressively worse before he was deactivated.
Looking at the Pirates’ rotation, left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez and right-handed starter James McDonald each continue to work through a return to a throwing program.
This, perhaps as much as anything, is a factor in the Pirates’ reportedly serious interest in acquiring one of Rodriguez’s old teammates, veteran Astros righty Bud Norris, by tomorrow’s MLB non-waiver trade deadline. In the meantime, it has given rookie Gerrit Cole job security.
Rodriguez, 26, joined the Bucs prior to last year’s deadline, and, in parts of two seasons with the club, has gone 11-8 with a 3.66 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. This year, prior to suffering a left elbow injury June 5 in Atlanta, he had gone 6-4 with a 3.59 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 46 K’s, and just ten free passes in 62 2/3 innings.
He received a platelet-rich plasma injection July 1 in an effort to help the healing process. The Pirates, overall, have gone 8-4 this year in games he started.
Meanwhile, the beleaguered McDonald has battled control issues since late last season, and GM Neal Huntington admitted his minor-league rehab yielded mixed results. He was placed on the 60-day disabled list May 1 after being diagnosed with a strained right shoulder.
McDonald, 28, has managed just a 2-2 mark with 25 strikeouts, 20 walks, and a 5.76 ERA in just under 30 innings of big-league work this year.
Spot starter Phil Irwin and right-hander Jeff Karstens, like McDonald, are not expected to pitch competitively in the immediate future, as both continue the post-surgical rehabilitation process.
However, according to Tim Williams of PiratesProspects.com, there is a chance Irwin could be back at some point in September as he recovers from an ulnar nerve transposition operation on his right elbow that took place July 3.
Karstens, who was cut and later re-signed by the Pirates coming off a 5-4 season with a 3.97 ERA, was projected as a possible fifth starter before going on the 60-day DL with a right shoulder ailment of his own late in spring training, and has been out ever since.
Irwin, a 26-year-old righty and 2009 draftee, made his Major League debut Apr. 14, going 4 2/3 innings, fanning four, walking four, and allowing four earned runs on six hits in a 10-7 win over the Reds at PNC Park. He received a no-decision.
In parts of two seasons with Indianapolis, he has gone 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA, 36 strikeouts, ten walks, and 25 hits allowed in 31 innings before going on the minor-league disabled list with what was deemed “arm fatigue.”
On a separate note, as rumors persist of interest in White Sox right fielder Alex Rios, right fielder Travis Snider remains in the rest, treatment, and rehabilitation phase after going on the 15-day DL Sunday with a toe injury, according to the team.
Snider had been hitting just .219 overall, with one hit in his last 14 at-bats.
The Pirates, by the way, have no further update on backup catcher Michael McKenry, who joined Snider on the 15-day DL this week with a left knee sprain and will be re-evaluated soon.
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