Battle for Final Two Pittsburgh Pirates’ Rotation Spots Amongst Six Pitchers

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The Pittsburgh Pirates‘ final starting pitching rotation isn’t quite as set as once thought. Right-hander Jeff Karstens, who was thought to be in line for the fourth slot, is now out of the mix with a lingering shoulder injury. That means the Pirates have two spots left in the rotation, with six pitchers trying to make the cut.

The first three spots in the rotation are set, with A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez and James McDonald all looking solid, but the loss of Karstens creates a big hole in that fourth spot, as he was viewed by many as being ready to step up and take a bigger role in the starting rotation.

Right now the pitchers who are looking to work their way into the starting five are Jonathan Sanchez, Jeanmar Gomez, Jeff Locke and rookie Kyle McPherson. Also Francisco Liriano and Charlie Morton, who are both rehabbing injuries, are both possible candidates, but wont be figured into that mix until they are healthy enough to pitch.

With his performance so far this spring, Jeff Locke is one of the leaders in this group. Locke is a three-pitch guy, who works off his fast ball about 70 percent of the time. He was primarily being looked at at the number five man in the rotation, but has more than likely been bumped up with the loss of Karstens.

Bewteen Sanchez, Gomez and McPherson, you’d probably have to give McPherson the edge. Right now Sanchez has an opt-out clause in his contract that the Pirates have to decide on by Tuesday, when he’ll either have to be released or placed on the 40-man roster. Sanchez hasn’t pitched well since leaving the San Francisco Giants in 2011, and would likely be the first man out in this group. The Pirates are high on McPherson, and he’s shown a lot of promise this spring.

If either Locke or McPherson falter early on in the season, the Pirates do have Liriano and Morton, who are both veterans, to fall back on once they are healthy. If the rotation is solid, any of the four could be used for possible trades in July or as long relief if the Pirates bullpen looks shaky.

While losing Karstens wasn’t ideal for Pittsburgh, it doesn’t end up creating a huge problem with all the options the Pirates have available.

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Michael Collins is a Rant Sports Senior Writer, and Atlanta sports columnist. Follow him @GaSportsCraze on Twitter and here on Facebook

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