When A.J. Burnett made the commitment to sign a contract with the Philadelphia Phillies in February, it all but left two guys who would have the best chance at earning the fifth spot in the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ starting rotation: RHP Edinson Volquez and LHP Jeff Locke.
Volquez came to the Pirates by way of free agency in December, with the Pirates overpaying to the tune of $5 million for a pitcher with some upside, but a lack of demonstrated success. After the Pirates had uncertainty about Burnett returning, they wanted to sign a guy to automatically assume the role of the team’s fifth starter, but that hasn’t been going according to plan so far.
Volquez has been lit up so far this spring, posting a 14.29 ERA over 5.2 innings of work. In those 5.2 innings, Volquez has surrendered nine runs on nine hits — three of those being home runs.
Locke, on the other hand, was an All-Star with the Pirates in 2013, having one of the best pre-All-Star-break performances of any pitcher in MLB. His success certainly came as a surprise to most, but it quickly deteriorated after the break. So far this Spring, he’s been limited to only two innings of work, fairing pretty well. Recently, he’s been sidelined due to “tightness” in his right side, a reported oblique strain. It’s uncertain how long he will be on the shelf, but once he returns, he’s going to need a bit of time to rehabilitate, which leaves some uncertainty about his Opening Day status.
So as it sits right now, the Pirates’ original plan of having Locke and Volquez battle for the fifth spot isn’t working out. If neither of them can improve, the Pirates may need to consider turning to one of their younger candidates in Stolmy Pimentel or Casey Sadler.
Hopefully Wandy Rodriguez doesn’t spike himself on his way to the Gatorade cooler while he’s riding the pine pony between scheduled starts. That would cause some real troubles for the rotation.