By Matt Popchock

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — The Pirates have gotten some stability back in their scrappy pitching staff, as veteran Charlie Morton has officially survived an injury scare, and rookie Gerrit Cole has officially survived his mid-season job hunt.

Fox Sports MLB reporter Jon Paul Morosi learned from Pirates GM Neal Huntington that Cole will not be shut down. While Huntington would not comment on specific possibilities for the team’s playoff rotation, a spot on the postseason roster is imminent for the 23-year-old right-hander and 2011 top draftee.

“We’ve been asked before, ‘Is he an option out of the bullpen?’ ” Huntington told “If we (have) four starters who are better, then, sure, he can be an option out of the bullpen. But it wouldn’t be a move to the bullpen because of pitches.

“Every one of our pitchers has a hard pitch count. But based on where he is right now and where we project him going forward, he should be available to us through the World Series as a starting pitcher.”

Click here to read the full report by Morosi.

After a 3-1 win over the Cubs at PNC Park Thursday night, the Bucs shrunk their magic number for playoff entry to nine. Therefore, playoff pitching matchups, with the end of a two-decade postseason drought on the horizon, has been one of the topics du jour.

Cole may not be their choice to start a Wild Card contest, but he has otherwise earned his keep with a respectable 7-7 mark, 3.48 ERA, and 1.16 WHIP in 16 starts. He has gone at least six innings in each of his last five appearances, and in Arlington he out-dueled Rangers ace Yu Darvish for the Bucs’ historic 82nd win earlier this week.

He began his big-league career by putting a devastating fastball on display, but he struggled with pitching to contact and limiting damage while fine-tuning the rest of his stuff. Nevertheless, he’s posted a much-improved 4.17 strikeout-to-walk ratio in the second half of the season, and, as he demonstrated Monday, has been particularly dominant on the road.

The Pirates entered Friday tied, once again, with the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL Central lead with 16 games left after watching them bow to the Milwaukee Brewers by a 5-3 count at Busch Stadium Thursday. The Cincinnati Reds, who were idle Thursday, trail the Bucs and Cards by 2.5 games entering Friday.

If the season boils down to a win-or-go-home game against the Reds, it wouldn’t be outside the realm of logic for the Pirates to go with Morton, despite strong campaigns from front-end guys Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett.

Morton, the Pirates’ resident ground ball specialist, is 7-4 with a 3.44 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 16 starts since returning from Tommy John surgery. He will pitch Friday night against Chicago at 7:05 on SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan despite leaving Sunday’s 9-2 loss in St. Louis with a recurrence of plantar fasciitis in his left foot.

He won his only start against the Reds in Cincinnati June 18, a 4-0 triumph in which he scattered three hits over 5 1/3 innings. His five career wins over the Reds are more than he has over any other National League club, and he’s eaten more innings (77) against them than any other opponent.

In stark contrast, Morton is now just 2-9 lifetime against the Redbirds after that ill-fated contest, with an ERA over 6.00.

Cole will oppose fellow righty Scott Baker, who is making his first Major League appearance of 2013 for the Cubs, Saturday night at 7:05 on The Fan.

Meanwhile, the team, notably manager Clint Hurdle, has not ruled out the possibility of a near-miraculous return by tough-luck lefty Wandy Rodriguez, who threw a simulated game before watching the Bucs extend their winning streak to four.

The pitching depth of this team has been tested, and, with a solid 3.31 team ERA, the Pirates have passed the test. Now a position of strength seems to be getting strong again at the right time.

Stay tuned to SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan, your flagship home of Pirates baseball, for the latest.


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