A.J. Burnett will not make his scheduled start Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers according to Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Burnett is said to be suffering from a calf injury, and there aren’t any indications whether or not the injury will land the National League’s strikeout leader on the disabled list.
The Pittsburgh Pirates put starter Wandy Rodriguez on the disabled list a few days ago with tightness in his left forearm. Fellow Pirates' starters James McDonald, Jeanmar Gomez (who will probably return in a bullpen role) and Jeff Karstens are all currently on the shelf nursing injuries of their own. Charlie Morton—who has missed the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery—is making his season debut tonight in place of Rodriguez.
There are three logical answers and four logical candidates as to whom could start in Burnett’s place Friday night. Here they are in order of likelihood:
James McDonald comes off the disabled list and makes his first start since April 30. McDonald’s numbers so far this season have been the most disappointing of any starter, as he went into the season as the Pirates No. 3 starter. J-Mac was 2-2 in six April starts this season, with an ERA of 5.76.
According to Yahoo! Sports, McDonald made two rehab starts in Double-A Altoona on May 27 and June 1 and two starts in Triple-A Indy on June 6 and June 11, but was expected to make a third rehab start in Indy before Pirates management reevaluated his situation (http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/teams/pit/report)
With Burnett’s injury, the plan for McDonald to make another start in Triple-A might have to be altered. If McDonald sees success and Burnett is able to make his next scheduled start, don't be surprised if the Bucs look to move McDonald for another bat.
Justin Wilson and Vin Mazzaro
Relievers Justin Wilson and Vin Mazzaro could make a spot-start. The Pirates did this earlier in the season with Jeanmar Gomez, who saw success in the rotation. The two relievers have had starting experience, and the move would allow the Bucs to replace Burnett without making a roster move.
The Pirates could elect to call up a starter from Indy, most likely lefty Andy Oliver. Oliver, who was acquired from Detroit in December, has been lights-out in Indy this year, posting a 3-2 record, a 3.27 ERA and 72 strikeouts in just 66 innings.
Oliver has similar numbers to fellow Indy starters Brandon Cumpton and Kris Johnson, but is the only one of the three on the 40 man roster (which means if Pittsburgh calls him up, they don’t have to purchase his contract). In a similar situation earlier this year, righty Phil Irwin was called up and immediately sent down. If the Bucs elected to go with Oliver to replace Burnett, they would probably send either reliever Ryan Reid or outfielder Alex Presley to Indy.
Burnett's health is extremely important to the Pirates starting staff and to the bullpen due to his ability to routinely pitch into the seventh. It's very likely that the Bucs are just being careful with Burnett, but that is just speculation.