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Inbox: Who will Taillon replace in rotation?

Beat reporter Adam Berry answers questions from Pirates fans
MLB.com

NEW YORK -- Before the Pirates begin a two-game series with the Orioles on Tuesday night, let's open up the Inbox and answer your questions about Jameson Taillon and the rotation, Felipe Rivero, Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen.

I can't believe "Jamo" is pitching so soon after his surgery, but I am glad to see he's close to coming back. I hope he's in good health. What will happen to the rotation when he's back?
-- Jim M., Erie, Pa.

NEW YORK -- Before the Pirates begin a two-game series with the Orioles on Tuesday night, let's open up the Inbox and answer your questions about Jameson Taillon and the rotation, Felipe Rivero, Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen.

I can't believe "Jamo" is pitching so soon after his surgery, but I am glad to see he's close to coming back. I hope he's in good health. What will happen to the rotation when he's back?
-- Jim M., Erie, Pa.

I don't think anybody was expecting Taillon to return to the mound so quickly following his May 8 surgery for testicular cancer. It's a remarkable story. He has pitched well in two rehab starts, and it's not as if he's not rushing back. They are proceeding carefully and prioritizing his health.

When Taillon comes back, potentially as soon as next week, he will knock one of the Pirates' young starters out of the rotation. Will it be Tyler Glasnow, Chad Kuhl or Trevor Williams? That question has been complicated by Glasnow and Kuhl's recent struggles, as well as Williams' steady improvement.

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Manager Clint Hurdle wouldn't indicate which way the Pirates are leaning after Williams threw seven strong innings in Sunday's win.

Williams has made a strong case to stay. He owns a 2.83 ERA in five games since his first start, an ugly outing at Dodger Stadium. During that same stretch, Glasnow has put up a 7.71 ERA with Kuhl at 6.56. I just don't get the sense they're ready to send down Glasnow or Kuhl, because what's left of their development probably needs to take place in the Majors, and I think they believe in both as starters, not relievers.

I asked Hurdle on Sunday about the balance between development and results, specifically with Glasnow. If they stick with both, Williams would get bumped back to long relief when Taillon returns.

Shouldn't Felipe Rivero be the closer?
-- Todd P., Bradenton, Fla.

Rivero has been one of the best relievers in baseball this season, and his stuff completely backs up his statistics. There's definitely an argument in favor of Rivero. There is also a case for keeping him in a setup role for now. Specifically, it frees up Hurdle to more aggressively use the young lefty -- he's appeared in 29 games to closer Tony Watson's 22 -- for four-plus outs or to face the middle of the opposition's lineup in the seventh or eighth inning.

Video: NYM@PIT: Rivero tosses clean 9th inning

Watson has blown three of 13 save opportunities this season, and many of his peripheral numbers are down from when he was one of the game's best and most underrated setup men. But Watson has earned the Pirates' trust, and I don't see them switching roles while he remains in Pittsburgh. Rivero's time will come eventually, however, just as Watson's did.

Watson is a candidate to be dealt before the July 31 Trade Deadline, just as Mark Melancon was last season. Even if he stays put this season, Watson will be a free agent at the end of the year.

What is up with Gerrit Cole this year? Can he be sent down to Indianapolis to get him back on track, like we have done with our cold bats?
-- Brandon M., Louisville, Ky.

Cole has had four rough starts this season: Opening Day and each of his last three. The former was the result of one bad inning getting away from him, and the latter have been largely the product of home runs -- eight in 14 2/3 innings.

The hard-throwing right-hander attributed the homer surge to a recent lack of quality strikes. He's also given up 28 hits with opponents batting .400 in his last three starts. Before that, there was nothing wrong with him. He lowered his ERA to 2.84 on May 17, the last of seven straight quality starts.

Video: WSH@PIT: Cole tosses seven innings of one-run ball

Cole isn't going anywhere as long as he's healthy. He just has to work through whatever flaws have led to this scuffling. He's never been particularly homer-prone, and I'd be surprised if this trend continues much longer.

Is Cutch back? How long until he's back in the three hole?
-- Matt S., Upper St. Clair, Pa.

He certainly looks better. Since his time off in Atlanta and move down to the sixth spot in the lineup, Andrew McCutchen has hit .387 with a 1.242 OPS in nine games. Does that mean he's "back"? We'll see. McCutchen had a good stretch last August and September, too.

Video: PIT@NYM: McCutchen hits three-run homer to pad lead

At the very least, his swing is in a better place than it was two weeks ago. If he's right mechanically, he's going to be a productive hitter.

I wouldn't be in a rush to move him up the lineup, though. Give it a little more time, keep the pressure off him and let his confidence grow through continued success. In other words: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

The top of the order is pretty well set, anyway, with Adam Frazier, Josh Harrison and Gregory Polanco (who has proven to be "back" when healthy, slashing .328/.371/.552 over his last 17 games) in front of David Freese and Josh Bell.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.

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