Francisco Liriano lasted just 3 innings yesterday in the Pirates 6-5 win over the Dodgers, throwing 79 pitches. Manager Clint Hurdle said after the game that Liriano was not removed due to injury, but rather to ineffectiveness. Speculation swirls that Liriano is indeed injured, but its not known to what extent. Liriano said that he expects to make his next scheduled start on Thursday in St. Louis against the division leading Cardinals in the third game of a critical three game series. But does the word “expect” leave the door open
for the possibility that he might not? And, if not, who takes his place? Joe Blanton relieved Liriano in the 4th inning yesterday, and pitched very well, going 3 innings and allowing 2 hits and a walk while striking out three. Blanton would be available as a spot starter. JA Happ would also be available, although the Pirates felt that he wasn’t good enough to keep a spot in the rotation after a miserable outing against the Cubs last week. Do the Pirates try and trade for a quality starter? Everybody knows that James Shields is out there for the taking, but nobody seems willing to take on the $21 million that he is owed on his contract. Could the Pirates make that deal? In a word, yes. Will the Pirates make that deal? Probably not. This management team’s history doesn’t trend towards making such a deal. And the Pirates are in a curious spot in the playoff picture. They are 6 games behind the Cardinals, and 6 games looks like an impossible mountain to climb. But, the Pirates play the Cards nine more times this season, beginning with that 3 game series on Tuesday in St. Louis. So, maybe not quite as impossible as originally thought. But the Pirates need to have their best 9 players on the field when they face the Cardinals, and a Blanton or Happ compromises that. GM Neal Huntington may sit back and see how the team performs this week, and then make his decision based on where the Pirates stand a week from now. But, could that be too late? Stay tuned.