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Pittsburgh Pirates: Pitching prospects give rotation options

By Walter Villa, The Sports Xchange
Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI
Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

MIAMI -- The pressure is on Francisco Liriano, especially after his team dropped its third consecutive game Thursday and lost four players to injury. The Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander, off to a slow start this season with a 4.63 ERA, is scheduled to start Friday's game against the visiting Los Angeles Angels.

There was no word on whether the injured players -- center fielder Andrew McCutchen, catcher Francisco Cervelli, first baseman David Freese and shortstop Jordy Mercer -- would be available Friday.

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Regardless, Liriano better be ready. He can't expect to get too many more starts -- not with the way he has been pitching lately and not with the way the Pirates' top three prospects, Jameson Taillon, Tyler Glasnow and Chad Kuhl, are pitching in the minors.

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Liriano had success as a relief pitcher previously, and sending him to the bullpen could be an option for Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.

Once the Super 2 deadline has passed -- which should happen by mid-June -- some observers expect the Pirates to promote Taillon, a 24-year-old right-hander, from Triple-A Indianapolis.

Taillon, who is 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, was the No. 2 overall pick in 2010. The Pirates have waited a long time for him to blossom -- he missed all of 2014 and 2015 due to elbow and sports hernia surgeries.

With a high-90s fastball and a hammer curveball, Taillon started this week ranking fourth in the International League in ERA (1.82) and strikeouts per nine innings (9.30). He was third in opponents' batting average (.196) and first in fewest walks (0.91).

It is his improved command and control that have him on the brink of the big leagues.

He is not the only pitching prospect the Pirates are counting on this season, though.

Glasnow, a 6-8, 225-pound right-hander, won't turn 23 until August. A fifth-round pick out of a California high school in 2011, Glasnow had a 2.39 ERA in three minor league levels last year, from Class A to Triple-A. This year, he posted a 2.07 ERA in his first 11 starts. He is also 33-18 in his minor league career.

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Kuhl started the week leading the International League in ERA at 1.03. Kuhl, 23, is not nearly as highly rated as Taillon, but he is outpitching him at the moment.

Kuhl, a 6-3, 215-pound right-hander, was a ninth-round pick in 2013, signing out of the University of Delaware.

The Delaware native doesn't throw as hard as Taillon but has a low-90s sinking fastball that has proven to be effective. He is very accurate with his command, fields his position well, holds runners on base and is highly competitive.

Kuhl has a career 32-15 record with a 2.62 ERA, giving the Pirates a nice problem.

Pittsburgh's rotation includes has one sure thing in Gerrit Cole, who went 19-8 and made his first All-Star Game last season.

Jeff Locke (4.33 ERA) bought himself some time with his three-hit shutout on Monday.

Jon Niese, Liriano and Juan Nicasio, though, are all vulnerable to losing their spot to Taillon, Glasnow and/or Kuhl.

With what could be a pitching surplus in a couple of weeks, Hurdle is imploring his veterans not to have any wasted motions on the field.

"The first pitch is an important pitch," Hurdle said, underlining the intensity he wants from his pitchers. "Either you impose your will on the batters, or they impose their will on you."

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