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Pirates

Colin Dunlap: Feeling Apprehensive About Pirates

(Photo Credit: Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

(Photo Credit: Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

dunlap-head-shot Colin Dunlap
Weeknights, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Colin grew up in Sharpsburg and...
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The page on 2013 has been turned.

At some point, we had to do it; had to move on even as the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates gave us a thrill-a-night ride.

Now, with just a week before Opening Day of the 2014 season, there should be overwhelming enthusiasm, undeniable anticipation and an incredible eagerness to get the season started.

That’s all there.

But so is some weighty apprehension.

Just being honest, just being frank.

How can you not be somewhat apprehensive after the things that happened —- and didn’t happen —- during this offseason?

First, and let’s get this out of the way right off the jump, Pirates brass demands our trust at this point. General Manager Neal Huntington and company, time and again, beat a drum about how they were going to turn this club into a winner through drafting and development, how patience and tolerance through lean times from the fanbase would pay off with meaningful baseball in the latter portion of the schedule.

That all happened.

But where’s the windfall? Where is that big-time free agent marching into Pittsburgh as a result?

Sorry, I can’t get excited about Edinson Volquez being signed and becoming part of the rotation. No matter if he’s fully healthy or a bit dinged up, had a great or terrible spring, gets everyone or no one out in Bradenton, there’s nothing that excites me about Volquez — and it has been that way since the day he signed.

This could be a prediction that ends up being totally wrong, but I feel Volquez doesn’t make your rotation stronger, but weaker.

For that, there’s some apprehension going into the season.

Just over the past few days, the guy at the top of the rotation, Francisco Liriano has come up with a gimpy groin. On his radio show over the weekend, Huntington didn’t seem all that troubled, saying of the slated Opening Day starter, “He’s day-to-day. Not a major concern at this time. The focus now is on trying to get rid of it while still getting him ready.”

I sure hope Liriano shakes this thing off in short order. But the top-of-rotation pitcher having an injury this close to the start of the campaign is never a good thing.

For that, there’s some apprehension going into the season.

Then there’s the first base situation. Just a week before the season is set to start, it looks as the Pirates still aren’t settled on who will play the platoon role against right-handed pitching.

Will Gaby Sanchez just hit against pitchers from both sides?

Will Andrew Lambo — he of the four hits, non-existent power and average that hasn’t reached .100 all spring — earn the platoon role?

Will Travis Ishikawa make this club, pushing Lambo aside?

The unsettled nature of first base, this close to the real games beginning, is, well, unsettling.

For that, there’s some apprehension going into the season.

It has also come to light recently that prized prospect Jameson Taillon has a sore elbow, the full extent of the injury not known. Now, Taillon is unlikely to be ready for the start of the season in Indianapolis — where he was undoubtedly headed. This could set back the timeline for his advancement to Pittsburgh, which was most likely set to follow the template put in place by Gerrit Cole last season, when he got added seasoning in Class AAA before pitching for the Pirates in June.

For that, there’s some apprehension going into the season.

Certainly, there’s plenty to get really, really excited about as the first pitch of the Pirates season is only a week from now.

There is that National League Most Valuable Player in centerfield in Andrew McCutchen, flanked by Starling Marte, one of the most explosive young outfielders in the game.

There is that big bat on the corner in Pedro Alvarez, a player who has a real chance at leading the National League in home runs. There is Russell Martin, who makes everyone on the staff better. There is the continued development of Neil Walker, the bullpen that seems to be an asset every season and Cole and Charlie Morton, who have looked strong from that right side.

There is a lot to like for these 2014 Pittsburgh Pirates.

However, with just a week before the season gets going, there seem to be an exorbitant amount of questions for a team coming off a year where they won 94 games and captured a Wild Card victory.

For that, there’s some apprehension going into the season.

Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at colin.dunlap@cbsradio.com. Check out his bio here.

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