Brubaker expected to begin season on IL

McCutchen building arm strength after right elbow injury

March 27th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Plans can change at the drop of a hat for every ball club during Spring Training. It's part of the game.

On Monday, starter JT Brubaker was scratched from his scheduled start vs. the Twins with right elbow/forearm discomfort, per Pirates director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk. Tomczyk said that Brubaker beginning the season on the IL would be "a fair assessment," though they are still gathering information.

"After his most recent start, up until a day or two ago, he just wasn't recovering," Tomczyk said, "and he continued to express that this just wasn't the way he would feel coming out of a start."

While Brubaker's 5.19 ERA over five spring starts may not turn heads, his ability to miss bats and get strike three calls did. Over 17 1/3 innings, the 29-year-old fanned 26 hitters while walking just three. Last season was Brubaker's most successful as a big leaguer, as he made 28 starts and compiled a 4.69 ERA across 144 innings.

"It's obviously a difficult blow," said Rich Hill, who replaced Brubaker in Monday's 8-4 loss, "but somebody's got to step up and be ready to fill that role. He was having a great Spring Training. ... Hopefully, he is gonna be OK and gets healthy, and we get him back."

When asked if it was tough to see Brubaker being dealt this hand so close to the start of the regular season, manager Derek Shelton said, "Yeah, I mean especially this late in the spring, it's challenging. Our main focus now is just making sure he gets healthy."

As always, it's next man up in these situations, and a young arm is in the wings waiting for an opportunity to make his mark. For the Pirates, it's Johan Oviedo.

The 25-year-old right-hander was acquired by the Pirates last year at the Trade Deadline for José Quintana. Oviedo made seven starts for Pittsburgh in the second half, compiling a 3.23 ERA over 30 2/3 innings while striking out 28 and allowing just one homer. The Cuban native, who was poised to start the year with Triple-A Indianapolis, now has a greater chance of starting the year in the rotation with Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, Rich Hill and Vince Velasquez.

"I think there's a good chance it could be Oviedo," Shelton said. "We're still working through things as we finalize our roster. But with the fact that he's the most lengthened-out of the group, I think there's a good chance we can see that."

What has Shelton liked out of Ovideo thus far in camp?

"[His] ability to use his breaking ball," Shelton said. "I think the last start out ... the execution of it was really important."

The 6-foot-5 Oviedo mixes his fastball and slider well, as the four-seam heater and slider were used at nearly the same rate (43.5% and 40.3%, respectively) last season. His arsenal also features a curveball and changeup.

A few weeks ago, Keller, who was named the club's Opening Day starter, said the group is prepared for instances like this.

“We’re right there with the best organizations in the game with our pitching and what we have,” Keller said. “It’s really exciting to see, because there is depth, and to know -- obviously, never wish anyone goes down or anyone has injuries, but if that does happen, it feels like we’re in a good spot to have that filled."

McCutchen ready to go
Since an undisclosed right elbow injury that affected Andrew McCutchen resulted in a few days off and lineup appearances in the DH spot only, the veteran outfielder is poised to again man the outfield as he always has over 14 MLB seasons.

“It’s all good,” McCutchen said. “I’m fine. I’ll be good. No worries.”

While McCutchen again took on the role of designated hitter Monday, Shelton speculated there could be some shuffling around to start the year defensively.

“We’ve got to see how [McCutchen’s] arm responds over the next few days," Shelton said. "He knows his body. He knows what he’s doing. He’s the last guy I worry about preparation-wise.”

As far as how McCutchen has been throwing, Tomczyk said, “He threw to bases the other day, but we’re going to keep him just more playing long toss for now, continuing to let some of the soreness subside, but he threw to bases the other day.”

If the five-time All Star and 2013 NL MVP needs more time to build arm strength, expect Connor Joe, who is fine after being hit by a pitch on his hand Sunday, to see more time in the outfield. McCutchen at DH could also result in Carlos Santana and Ji-Man Choi coming off the bench more than anticipated.