Pittsburgh Pirates: With Steven Brault Out, Who Steps Into Rotation?

Photo Credit: Matt Freed/Post Gazette

The Pittsburgh Pirates were hit with a pretty big blow on Wednesday, finding out that they would need to shut down pitcher Steven Brault for at least a month to help rest his arm.

Throughout his time in Pittsburgh, Brault has jumped in and out of the rotation, filling out multiple roles for the team. Entering this season, however, Brault was a lock to be in the rotation to start the season.

Now with him out, an already cloudy picture when it comes to the rotation just got even cloudier, as the Pirates will need to find out who can fill in the innings they were counting on Brault to fill.

Before you can start talking about who may find themselves in the rotation with Brault out, who may have to circle back and determine who is already in - again something that isn't the easiest of things to identify. 

The 'Locks'

Mitch Keller

For better or worse, this is the year that the Pirates completely take the reigns off of Keller and let him do his thing. There was a time where he was one of the most hyped pitching prospects in the game, and at 24-years old Keller still isn't past a point in which he can put it all together.

But so far in Spring Training it's been more of the same for Keller. There is no doubting his stuff, but he can rarely locate it and when he does he gets hit hard. In 8 1/3 innings pitched this Sprint, Keller has surrendered 22 hits. TWENTY-TWO.  That's almost three per inning. He's also allowing almost two earned runs per inning. 

Not good. But he did have his moments last year, and you can still never count out his stuff.

Tyler Anderson

One of the few Major League free agent deals the Pirates made this offseason, Anderson has the pedigree as a former first round pick, but has yet to put it all together in the majors during his career. He won a career high seven games in 2018, but also allowed 30 home runs.

In 14 Spring Training innings with the Pirates, Anderson has been taken deep five times. He hasn't walked anyone while striking out 16, an impressive feat. Limiting walks is going to be key so he can pitch deeper into games and rely less on a bullpen that figures to be busy this season.

Chad Kuhl

One of the feel good story for the Pirates last season, Kuhl pitched in the majors for the first time in almost two years due to injuries. To help ease him back in, the Pirates used him in a 'piggyback' role with Brault, with one starting and the other jumping in later on in the game. 

Kuhl has thrown six innings and has struck out nine while just walking two.

J.T. Brubaker

I do believe it'll be down to Brubaker and Kuhl in who will get the Opening Day nod. They both have good stuff, but I do think that Brubaker is the better option and could emerge as the team's top pitcher this season, especially if Keller falters.

In his last start on Wednesday, Brubaker allowed two home runs to Austin Riley but outside of that allowed just one other hit and struck out six over five innings. He has nine strikeouts in ten innings this Spring, while only walking one.

Each of these players have started at least three games this Spring, so they are the obvious ones and them along with Brault would have given the Pirates five starters. There has been talk of a six-man rotation, which now opens the door for two open spots now.

Here are some potential options

The Rest of The Group

Wil Crowe

One of the players acquired in the Josh Bell deal, Crowe did not have a strong debut in the majors last season. In three starts with the Washington Nationals, Crowe allowed 11 earned runs and five home runs in just 8 1/3 innings.

This Spring he has looked like a different pitcher, one more liken to his second round draft status. The 26-year old has allowed just one earned run in 9 2/3 innings, striking out seven and walking three. He was most likely heading to the minors where the Pirates could keep him stretched out as a starter, but with potentially two spots open, he may find himself back in the majors.

Trevor Cahill

It seems all but certain that Cahill is going to break camp with the Pirates, but with only one appearance in the books, it seems unclear what role that's going to be in. 

Cahill has bounced back and forth between being a starter and out the bullpen, but the former 18-game winner has done more of the latter the last couple of years. In a more ideal scenario, he's more of the long-relief man who comes in to throw a couple of innings when the starters don't go deep.

Cody Ponce

The 26-year old pitched in five games last year, three of which were starts. The shinning moment was his 5 2/3 innings of shutout baseball against the St. Louis Cardinals.

He has only appeared in two contest for the Pirates this Spring, only throwing two innings total. He's less likely to find himself in the rotation to start the season.

Chase De Jong

27-year old journeyman with 54 innings of major league experience has reinvented himself this Spring, and has been one of the Pirates' better pitchers so far. 

In 11 2/3 innings this Spring, De Jong has only allowed seven hits, one earned run while striking out five and walking three.

While he has certainly worked himself into position to make the roster breaking camp, now with Brault out he could very well find himself in the rotation as well now.

Miguel Yajure

The main piece in the Jameson Taillon trade this offseason, Yajure has looked the part of a potential major league starter, but even in a scenario in which an extra roster spot has opened up, he will likely start the year in the minors to fine tune his game.

The 22-year old Yajure made his major league debut last season with the New York Yankees, throwing seven innings in three relief appearances, striking out eight in the process.

This Spring he has seven strike outs in six innings, allowing three earned runs overall.

Predictions

It's hard to really see where the Pirates might go with it, but my best guess would be a rotation that looks something like this;

1. Brubaker

2. Kuhl

3. Keller

4. Anderson

5. De Jong

6. Crowe

If the Pirates go with a six-man rotation to start the season, I'd expect Crowe to be the last man in. If they go with five, then he goes to the minors to keep pitching as a starter. 

Ponce probably pencils in as the next man after that, so that Yajure can get some more experience, but would expect the latter to hold down a rotation spot by the end of the season.

One more name to watch, potentially, is Sean Poppen. He's thrown eight innings this Spring, and is penciled in to start Thursday's game. He's never started in the majors before, and isn't on the 40-man roster either.

What do you think the rotation will look like going into Opening Day? Who gets the Opening Day start against the Cubs? Let us know in the comment section below, subscribe to the site at the link above, and follow me on Twitter @AJ_Murfy.

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