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Perrotto: Much-Needed Reinforcements Could Be on Way for Pirates

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Marco Gonzales, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — There was good news for the Pittsburgh Pirates before the game Friday night. Then the rest of the evening turned sour.

The Pirates were beaten by the Tampa Bay Rays 10-3 in the opener of a three-game series at PNC Park. After winning all three of their bullpen games this season – including two last weekend against the Colorado Rockies – the Pirates were unable to piece together another victory.

The fact that the Pirates had their third bullpen game in a week is indicative of two things. One is they’ve had some tough injury luck with their starting rotation. Secondly, the Pirates have been exposed for their lack of starting pitching depth.

So that is why what happened before the game was much more encouraging than what happened during the game.

The Pirates announced that left-hander Martin Perez will begin a rehab assignment Saturday night with Triple-A Indianapolis. He has been sidelined since May 27 with a left groin muscle strain.

If all goes well at Indianapolis, Perez could be activated to pitch next weekend during a three-game series against the Braves in Atlanta.

Another lefty, Marco Gonzales, threw live batting practice on Friday afternoon. It was the first he had faced hitters since going on the IL on April 14 with a left forearm muscle strain.

Gonzales isn’t far enough into his rehab to set a timeframe for a potential return, and he would likely need three or four rehab starts in the minor league before being ready to be activated. However, Gonzales seems to have a chance to rejoin the rotation sometime after the All-Star break in mid-July.

Yet another starting pitcher is making progress in his return from injury.

Rookie Quinn Priester threw live batting practice at Indianapolis on Friday and is likely to make a rehab start for the Indians next week. Priester has been shelved since June 3 with a right lat muscle injury.

The Pirates have a strong quartet of starting pitchers with Paul Skenes, Jared Jones, Mitch Keller and left-hander Bailey Falter. However, the time will be coming soon when the Pirates are going to need more than that in the rotation.

The Pirates aren’t going to allow Skenes and Jones – both rookies – to throw an unlimited number of innings. Skenes has pitched 66.2 innings this season between the Pirates and Indianapolis a year after logging 129.1 innings combined in college at LSU and in the minors.

Jones’ innings count is 79 going into his start Saturday against the Rays. He threw 126.1 innings in the minor leagues last season.

The Pirates won’t say if they have an innings cap on Skenes and Jones, but it stands to reason they aren’t going to push them to as high as 180. At some point, the Pirates are going to have to slow down both, either by skipping some of their turns in the rotation or giving them extra days off between starts.

The Pirates aren’t going to be able to protect Skenes and Jones with a four-man rotation and a bullpen game every fifth day. They are eventually going to need more innings covered than the ones Luis Ortiz, Josh Fleming and Daulton Jefferies provide as bulk relievers following an opener.

The Pirates seem to take joy in having bullpen games, giving the impression they are outsmarting the opposition. However, bullpen games can also blow up in a team’s face like what happened on Friday night.

Good starting pitching wins a lot more games than running a relay race of relievers. That is why the injury updates on Perez, Gonzales and Priester are encouraging.

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