Who Steps Up In Burnett’s Absence?

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

As the Pittsburgh Pirates face stiff competition over the next 11 games, and deal with the loss of AJ Burnett for at least a month, now would be a good time to ask the question, who is going to put on their big boy pants and step it up for the Bucs’ rotation?  Let’s take a look at the 3 options that lead the pack, starting with tonight’s starter.

Newly acquired JA Happ debuts for the Pirates tonight.  Happ (4-6, 4.64 ERA) will face Jake Arrieta (11-6, 2.62 ERA) at 7:05 at PNC Park.  There would be no better time than the present for the new Pirate to impress his new bosses.  Happ is 1-5 in his last 10 starts, giving up 32 earned runs in 44.1 innings for an ERA of 7.11.  He’s pitched at least 7 innings 7 times in his 20 starts this season, failing to make it past the 5th inning 7 times.  To sum it up he hasn’t been not good, and nowhere near good enough against the Cubs, who are 6-4 against the Pirates this season.  Happ is prone to giving up the long ball, surrendering 13 in 2015 so far.  Of the Cubs’ starters that he’ll face tonight, Chris Denorfia has had the most success, owning a .286 BA and a 1.119 OPS, with 2 HR, 2 RBI, a double and 3 runs scored. For whatever reason, the 6 hole in the lineup has given Happ fits this season.  Batters in the sixth position have combined for a .435 BA and a 1.252 OPS, with 4 HR, 4 doubles, and 13 runs scored. If I’m a betting man, my money is not on Happ to be the golden boy in this scenario.

Charlie Morton had a fantastic outing in Cincinnati on Sunday, going 7 innings with 7 K’s and 0 BB in the Pirates’ 3-0 win.  Morton (7-4, 4.19 ERA) is a groundball specialist, and his numbers recently in that category suggest that he can be successful if his defense backs him up.  The knock on Morton has been his health, both physically and mentally.  Morton has always been known to let the little things get to him, but this season, with the exception of a 9 runs in 2/3 of an inning nightmare in Washington on 6/21, he’s been mentally tough.  His physical well being has held up so far in 2015, and that will continue to be a question until he provides the answer.  A lot of Pirates fans are looking to Morton to carry the load of Burnett’s injury, and fill the gap.

For me, the pitcher with the biggest opportunity in front of him is Jeff Locke.  The 27 year old is 6-6 with a 4.21 ERA this season.  Locke, who has been the definition of inconsistent for the majority of his career, has come on as of late.  In his last 10 starts, he is only 3-3, but he has shown flashes of dominance throughout those performances.  When Locke is getting the calls on the corner, he is almost un-hittable.  To his detriment, when he’s not getting those calls, he’s been downright meh.  Locke needs to not worry about striking every batter out, as he sometimes does.  There have been several outings this year where  it’s the 4th inning, and he’s nearing 80 pitches.  He needs to concentrate on just getting people out, no matter how, and he will be the one that fills the hole of Burnett’s absence.

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