Pittsburgh Pirates Should Consider Six-Man Rotation Down the Stretch

Matt ShetlerCorrespondent IAugust 3, 2011

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 31: Starting pitcher Jeff Karstens #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates delivers a pitch during the game against the  at Citizens Bank Park on July 31, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

It's borderline comical that for the last 18 seasons, the only thing that Pittsburgh Pirates fans wanted was the .500 mark. Now that they sit at that mark during the first week of August, criticism of this team is at a season high level.

I've never viewed that as an acceptable goal and neither should the fans or players. However, with the club playing possibly it's worst baseball at the worst possible time, it's understandable how panic has set in.

Even though they sit 5.5 games behind the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers as I write this, the chase for the National League Central crown isn't a lost one. Sure it's now an uphill climb, but it's doable. But it's going to take beating some very good teams consistently.

The way to do that is with good starting pitching.

It's almost sad that the same five guys that are the sole reason why the Bucs are in contention at this point of the season are also a major reason for the Pirates recent five-game skid.

The starting rotation as a whole has overachieved to this point, but still has a chance to finish strong and make an impact during the season's final two months. Yet with the starters looking fatigued and the bullpen a bit overworked, there is an option for Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.

I've never been a fan of this, but with the Pirates desperate for wins and quality starts, going to a six-man rotation is something that should be considered.

Jeff Karstens (126.2 IP) has been phenomenal, but has already reached a career high for innings pitched. Both Charlie Morton (111.1) and James McDonald (114.1) have been up and down of late and have also already surpassed their previous highs in innings pitched. While Karstens seems fine, Morton and McDonald could be effected by arm fatigue down the stretch. An extra day in between starts could help.

Even veterans Paul Maholm (145.2) and Kevin Correia (135.2), who should be expected to give a full season's work, are on pace for career highs for innings. Consistency has also been an issue the past couple of weeks.

Keeping everyone as fresh as possible could be the way to go.

In the case of Correia, going to a six-man rotation could give Hurdle the option to shuffle his rotation to keep Correia away from PNC Park where he has struggled mightily.

In 13 road starts, Correia has a 2.76 ERA and opposing hitters have an OPS of .649, which is in the range of what Lyle Overbay had before being designated for assignment by the Pirates on Monday.

In 11 home starts, Correia's ERA is a whopping 7.71 and opponents have an OPS of .967, which is what sluggers Joey Votto and Prince Fielder currently post.

To try and steal the division, it would make more sense to play to your team's strengths instead of running them out there when they have no shot to succeed. There are no Roy Halladays on this staff. Despite their success, none of these guys have to have the ball every fifth day.

If a sixth starter were an option, the Bucs have several candidates to choose from. Ross Ohlendorf is close to being activated from the disabled list. While I'm no fan of his, he's a fresh arm down the stretch that could steal a few wins.

Brad Lincoln is also another guy that can help the Pirates before a likely September call up is warranted. Rudy Owens is another guy that has been throwing the ball very well of late in the minors. While calling a rookie up in the middle of a pennant race isn't ideal, it has happened before.

Aside from those guys, a guy like Brian Burres, who had decent success last season, could get a look. Another rookie, Justin Wilson, is a guy that could come up and be thrown right into the fire.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and that may mean expanding to a six-man starting rotation.