Hutchison's spring struggles continue

Right-hander is competing with Glasnow and Williams for Pirates' last rotation spot

March 29th, 2017

BRADENTON, Fla. -- An hour before the Pirates' penultimate Grapefruit League game, general manager Neal Huntington made it clear that right-hander didn't enter Spring Training with any sort of advantage over his competition for the final spot in Pittsburgh's starting rotation.

His $2.3 million salary won't factor into the decision. Nor will his status as the Bucs' lone return in the deal that sent and two prospects to the Blue Jays. The decision will come down to each pitcher's qualifications and performance.

"He's going to have to earn what he gets here just the same way our other guys are," Huntington said.

Hutchison hasn't done much to help his cause lately. The right-hander struggled again Tuesday night at LECOM Park, giving up nine runs on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings in a 9-2 loss to the Red Sox.

"It's extremely frustrating to have an opportunity and not perform to the level you expect yourself to perform to," Hutchison said.

The frustration reaches back to Hutchison's last three appearances. He began the spring with three encouraging outings, mixing his pitches well as he allowed only two runs on six hits and three walks while striking out nine over his first nine Grapefruit League innings.

Over his last three, though, including two starts against Boston's fearsome lineup: 21 runs on 27 hits and six walks in 11 2/3 innings. He found trouble in the first inning Tuesday, same as he did Thursday at the Red Sox's home ballpark. This time around, Boston pounded seven hits, including two homers, during a six-run first.

Hutchison rebounded with a clean second and a perfect third inning, but he then allowed three more runs in the fourth before being removed with two outs. He attributed his issues to overall execution and pitch-sequencing. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle agreed.

"I just think it's inconsistent execution. A lot of strikes, but a lot of strikes in the lap area," Hurdle said. "After the big inning in the first, he started sequencing better and executing better. … Too many balls were out over the plate tonight. It's inconsistent execution."

Where does that leave Hutchison in the rotation competition? He's still in the mix, and he's still the only one with significant Major League experience.

The field was reduced to three on Tuesday, when the Pirates optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis. That leaves Hutchison, , the Pirates' No. 1 prospect according to, and right-hander . Whereas Hutchison has faded recently, Glasnow and Williams have come on strong.

One of those three will claim a spot in the rotation, and another could land a job in the bullpen. At least one of them will start the season in Triple-A as rotation depth along with Brault. As the Bucs learned last year, their seventh and eighth starters could be just as important as their fifth on Opening Day.

Huntington has said that Spring Training statistics factor minimally into their thought process, but ultimately, performance matters. Huntington also said the Pirates have not yet made their decision, but they do have "some ideas of where we're going."

"Each guy has things that we like. Each guy has reasons why they could or should be in the rotation or in the bullpen," he added. "How we acquire them is not one of the factors that we're weighing at all."