PITTSBURGH -- Even with their season paused due to their postponed series against the Cardinals, the Pirates have been bitten by the injury bug.
The Pirates placed starter Joe Musgrove on the 10-day injured list on Tuesday. Musgrove was scratched from his scheduled start Sunday at PNC Park due to right ankle soreness, but the club placed him on the injured list due to right triceps inflammation.
“He has an ankle issue that he’s been battling. He’s also been battling some triceps stuff,” manager Derek Shelton said after the club’s off-day workout at PNC Park. “We just thought with where we were at, just making sure that he was fine, that we were going to give him the 10 days.”
The Pirates now have 12 players on the injured list, including nine pitchers. Nearly all of them were expected to play an important role this season or have done so in the past.
Jameson Taillon (August 2019 Tommy John surgery) was the team’s Opening Day starter a year ago. Chris Archer (neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome surgery) was acquired for a huge haul of young talent in 2018. Musgrove was the Bucs' Opening Day starter this year. Mitch Keller (left oblique strain) was their top prospect and No. 3 starter. Nick Burdi (right elbow injury), Michael Feliz (right forearm/elbow strain), Kyle Crick (right shoulder/lat muscle strain), Clay Holmes (right forearm strain) and closer Keone Kela (COVID-19) were all expected to work important innings out of the bullpen.
Taillon, Archer, Burdi and Feliz are all on the 45-day injured list and won’t pitch this season. The Pirates transferred Holmes to the 45-day IL on Tuesday as well. They also have three position players who are on the 45-day IL and out for the season: catcher Luke Maile (fractured right index finger), utility man Kevin Kramer (hip surgery) and infielder Phillip Evans (concussion and fractured jaw).
“Organizationally, it’s challenging for us,” Shelton said. “That’s why the guys coming from [the alternate training site in] Altoona are extremely important and the work those guys, the group in player development down there, are doing. Obviously we didn’t know coming in to this year what it was going to be like. No one is going to feel sorry for you, so we just have to continue to execute, to get better, to continue to teach and get guys out there.”
The Pirates will make a corresponding move on Wednesday to replace Musgrove on their active roster heading into Thursday’s series opener in Cincinnati, which right-hander Trevor Williams will start. It’s entirely possible that will simply be activating Kela, who threw 18 pitches in a live batting practice session on Tuesday.
Crick, one of Kela’s primary setup men, is also on the road to recovery after throwing a bullpen on Tuesday**.** Kela missed the entire Summer Camp training period and the start of the season after testing positive for COVID-19. His return would be a boon for the Pirates’ inexperienced and overworked relief corps.
“Ball looked good coming out of his hand,” Shelton said of Kela. “We’ll have a conversation with him tomorrow to see how he feels and kind of move from there.”
But Musgrove’s injury creates another hole in the Pirates’ rotation. That group now includes Williams, Derek Holland, JT Brubaker and the tandem-starter duo of Steven Brault and Chad Kuhl. Shelton said “there is a possibility” the Pirates will split up Brault and Kuhl to fill Musgrove’s spot, but he wouldn’t commit to that idea. Keller should return later this year, as he’s expected to resume playing catch within the next four or five days.
The Pirates have a scheduled off-day next Monday, which would allow them to get through their coming series against the Reds with a four-man rotation
“I wish you guys could be in our clubhouse to see how much we have each other's backs and how we're attacking this adversity,” Williams said. “This is something that we can easily just kind of put our heads down and put our tails on the sand and say, ‘Woe is me.’ I can tell you guys confidently that we're all in this for each other. We know that ‘next man up’ is a tremendous opportunity for that player and guys are going to make the most of it.”
In the meantime, Pittsburgh’s front office will continue to add arms wherever possible to maintain their depth. After agreeing to a Minor League deal with former Marlins starter Henderson Alvarez on Sunday, the Pirates claimed right-hander Nick Tropeano off waivers from the Yankees on Tuesday and optioned him to their alternate training site camp.
Tropeano, 29, is 12-14 with a 4.51 ERA over 42 appearances in the Majors, including 39 starts, in parts of four seasons with the Astros and Angels. He was designated for assignment by the Yankees on Saturday.
“I think it’s very apparent that, with pitching depth being thinned out because of the number of guys that we’ve had injured, if there are people out there we think can help us and give us innings, then we’re going to make acquisitions,” Shelton said.