PITTSBURGH -- Juan Nicasio is back with the Pirates but out of their rotation.
Pittsburgh reinstated Nicasio from the restricted list Friday afternoon, designating reliever Jorge Rondon to make room for him. Nicasio returned home to the Dominican Republic last weekend to tend to a personal issue.
Rather than reinsert Nicasio into their rotation, the Pirates sent him to the bullpen, where he will work as a long reliever and occasional late-inning setup man. In his place, it appears prospect Chad Kuhl will make his Major League debut on Sunday night against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.
Kuhl was at PNC Park on Friday afternoon, stretching and throwing in left field, wearing a No. 39 Pirates jersey. Kuhl, Pittsburgh's No. 16 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, had been slated to start Saturday for Triple-A Indianapolis.
Instead, the Pirates are poised to call up the second of their three most intriguing Triple-A pitching prospects: Tyler Glasnow, Jameson Taillon and Kuhl.
"We've turned down I can't even think of the number of trade requests for Chad over the years," general manager Neal Huntington said last month. "Chad's very quietly been a guy that we've put our arms around and felt like he could help us at the Major League level as a starter, certainly in the bullpen. ... We see Chad being able to help us at some point this summer."
It's unclear if Kuhl will stick in the rotation, but Sunday's start is open for him because the Pirates elected to end Nicasio's time in the rotation. He earned the assignment with a standout Spring Training, but he inconsistently pitched to a 5-5 record and 5.05 ERA in 12 starts.
"We've had conversations since we acquired him on how does he best fit, what can we do to help him grow and develop," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We saw some things we needed to see, and we saw some things that continue to say, 'Well, is it time to try something different?'"
Turning over lineups proved to be problematic for Nicasio. He held hitters to a .235/.299/.459 line the first time through, but those numbers leaped to .326/.410/.596 the second time.
"It's a challenge," Hurdle said. "It's holding onto that mentality when he was able to be consistent with just throwing the next good pitch."
Nicasio pitched well out of the Dodgers' bullpen last season, posting a 3.86 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings. Pittsburgh's relief corps could use another reliable arm, entering Friday night with a 4.35 ERA, the seventh-highest mark in the Majors.
"We'd really like to explore the opportunity now of the strength that he showed last year out of the bullpen," Hurdle said. "Obviously the help that we could use out there as well. I think it's a good fit, good timing.
"I think last year was an eye-opening experience for him to have the success that he did out of the bullpen, because I think there's just a big ol' kid in there that wants to start."