STAMINA & STRENGTH: Pirates got young arms to pave the wave of the future

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Monday, April 3, 2017

Pirates got young arms to pave the wave of the future


Liriano, the Pirates' opening day starter each of the past three seasons, has a new home. When the Pirates set their rotation Saturday, their only starter who was in the rotation a year ago is Gerrit Cole, who will start opening day Monday in Boston.
Consider Cole, too, and four-fifths of the Pirates rotation is homegrown talent, either drafted or developed in their farm system. The pitchers themselves credited the Pirates' development team.
On Saturday, four days before his season debut at Fenway Park, he added another line, saying, "You have to expect there will be some
bad days, but you can let that bad day turn into five bad days."

MONTREAL-- It's strange to see baseball back at Olympic Stadium, and even stranger to see crowds totaling 95,382 occupy the former Montreal Expos ballpark for a weekend jamboree-- two exhibition games between the Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays. Perhaps the strangest sight for the Pirates, however, was left-hander Francisco Liriano wearing a white Blue Jays jersey.
Liriano, the Pirates' opening day starter each of the past three seasons, has a new home. Do Jeff Locke, Jon Niese and Ryan Vogelsong. When the Pirates set their rotation Saturday, their only starter who was in the rotation a year ago is Gerrit Cole, who will start opening day Monday in Boston.
The elder statesman of the all-righty rotation, the only starter over 26, is 30-year-old Ivan Nova. Alongside Nova and Cole are three right-handers who started last season together as promising young pitching prospects in the Class AAA Indianapolis rotation-- Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow and Chad Kuhl, who started opposite Liriano Saturday in Montreal.
" It's exciting," Taillon said Saturday, standing on the top step of the third-base dugout at Olympic Stadium. "I think it's something a lot of Pirates fans have dreamed about for a while."

The youth infusion presents the Pirates a high-risk, high-reward scenario. Their approach last season didn't pay off either, as an ineffective and oft-injured rotation had a 4.67 ERA and averaged 5 1/3 innings per start.
" Last year's group had a lower ceiling, but a higher floor," general manager Neal Huntington said. "This year's group has a lower floor, but a higher ceiling. We love the upside of this group."
It was 384 days ago, March 14 of last year, when the Pirates made their first cuts from major league camp. They sent down eight, including the five who would form their Indianapolis rotation-- Taillon, Glasnow, Kuhl, left-hander Steven Brault and right-hander Trevor Williams.
After meeting with the players that morning at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, Fla., Huntington told reporters, "The future is bright. ... You put that group of five together, it bodes well for our future. It's a very interesting group for the near future as well as the long-term future."
That day, Taillon said, he swore to himself he would never again be cut from big league camp. Taillon was promoted to Pittsburgh in June, turning in a 3.38 ERA in 18 starts, and secured his spot in the rotation.
A year after they were tapped on the shoulder and beckoned into manager Clint Hurdle's office for first cuts, four-fifths of the 2016 Indianapolis rotation is on the Pirates' opening-day pitching staff. Three are in the rotation, and Williams is a long reliever.
" It's crazy it's already been a year since that moment," Kuhl said.
Consider Cole, too, and four-fifths of the Pirates rotation is homegrown talent, either drafted or developed in their farm system. Hurdle joked that's only a point of pride "if they go out there and pitch to their capabilities." The pitchers themselves credited the Pirates' development team.
" It's a good place to learn how to be a pro," Cole said.
For the Pirates to return to the postseason, they will rely on their rotation to grow up quickly. For Cole, who broke into the majors at 22, it's important for young starters to have perspective.
" There's a lot of games," Cole said. "Every game is equally important, but, at the same time, you can't ride too much emotion on one game.
Starters, particularly young ones, expect to have a bumpy ride sometimes.
Taillon summed it this way after a Grapefruit League start last month: "You have bad days and good days. You try to just shorten the gap between bad and good." On Saturday, four days before his season debut at Fenway Park, he added another line, saying, "You have to expect there will be some bad days, but you can let that bad day turn into five bad days."
With starters aged 23, 24, 25, 26 and 30, it's easy to worry inexperience could be an issue.
" I think it's a moot point," Cole said. "Obviously, we have less experience, but by the time we get to the postseason guys will have a full year's worth of experience. As long as we stick to the process and can stay within our own mindset, we should be fine."

 

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