Last season, many were clamoring for the Pirates to call up Tyler Glasnow to make his major league debut when the starting pitching was struggling in mid-June. Jameson Taillon had been previously called up earlier in the month and impressed, giving up only three runs in six innings in a no decision against the Mets and their ace Noah Syndergaard.
It seemed almost appropriate that Glasnow would follow his AAA Indianapolis teammate to the majors next. But that wasn’t the Pirates plan, even though the club was calling up pitchers to make their MLB debuts left and right. In all, five pitchers beginning with Taillon were called up across a month’s span. Thirteen days after the first, Wilfredo Boscan made his debut against Johnny Cueto and the San Francisco Giants, and he was feasted on for the tune of 7 runs (including 2 home runs) in only 3 innings in a game the Pirates lost 15-4. This was only start for the Venezuelan rookie and was relegated to bullpen duty, then back AAA, before being waived by the club in early August. Boscan’s now trying to make it with the Mets after pitching with the Braves AAA team to close out the season.
Just five days removed from the mugging by the Giants, the Pirates again didn’t do any favors with Chad Kuhl. Not only did they have this kid make his first start against the best pitcher in the last half decade in Clayton Kershaw, but it was on Sunday Night Baseball, a platform that once avoided Pittsburgh like the plague for years. Inside of folding under the pressure of the moment, Kuhl delivered perhaps the most impressive performance by a Pirates pitcher in all of 2016. Thanks to a 4 run outburst by the offense in the 2nd inning, he was able to outduel Kershaw and pick up his first major league win, going 5 innings and surrendering only 3 runs while striking out 5. Kuhl will be the fourth starter when the Pirates head north at the end of this month.
As the calendar turned to July, it seemed more and more likely Glasnow would make his debut with the big club before the All-Star break. A series in St. Louis looked to be the target date for his call up, but he would not be the first pitcher to make his first major league start. Two days before Glasnow’s debut, Steven Brault became the latest pitcher to give the Pirates a great start in their first out in the Show. Though the left hander only lasted 4 innings after throwing 82 pitches, he only gave up 1 earned run (another was unearned) while striking out five. Luckily, the offense was able to get to Mike Leake in the 5th and 6th innings and rally for a win.
After much anticipation, it was finally time for Glasnow to make his major league debut. Unfortunately, his first start came on the last leg of a 10 game road trip that jumped from Seattle to Oakland and finally to a 4 game series with their NL Central Division rival. To top it off, the Pirates were riding a 7 game winning streak into the matinee day game, which started at 12:45 pm local time. And to make matters worth, Glasnow became the latest Pirate to debut against one of the best pitchers in the past decade in baseball, 3-time All-Star Adam Wainwright. Though he has been hampered by injury, Wainwright is still a tough, crafty veteran. Glasnow was able to duel Wainwright for the first 5 innings of the ballgame, giving up only two runs on a solo shot by Randal Grichuk and a wild pitch. But Clint Hurdle may have kept Glasnow in the game for an inning too long as things would unravel in the 6th inning. Greg Garcia would lead off the inning with a double and then two batters later he walked Matt Holiday to put runners on first and third, which would spell the end for his debut. Arquimedes Caminero came in and gave up a moon shot to Stephen Piscotty that clipped the rookie for additional 2 runs in his first ever start.
Though it wasn’t a stellar rookie season by any means for Glasnow, he showed the potential of being a main player in the Pirates rotation for years to come. In 16.1 innings over 4 starts, he averaged basically a strike out per inning, while giving up 9 earned runs. However, his wildness was on full display at times as walked 10 batters in those starts while hitting 3 batters as well. Coming into 2017, Glasnow was one of the many contenders for the fifth spot in the rotation. But it hasn’t gone so smoothly in Spring Training for the pitcher that cause drawn comparison to Nuke Laloosh from Bull Durham.
In 6.1 innings this spring, Glasnow has surrendered 6 runs, including 5 to the lowly Atlanta Braves, in his only start so far while walking 3. Five days earlier, he was shelled for the same amount of runs against the Dominic Republican team and walked 4 in 2.1 innings. I give Glasnow a pass on that game due to the fact that he was facing a juggernaut lineup that included two Pirates regulars. But this performance in Spring Training begs the question, should Glasnow begin the season in AAA? Some think his long term future with the Pirates is as a reliever in the bullpen. Essentially he would be a long or situational reliever and with guys like Jared Hughes getting blown up as well, this may not be a bad decision. Though I may end up being wrong on this because of how the club has used him in the past, what’s best for Glasnow’s future if he continues to have a rough spring is let him begin the year in AAA.
Being in Indianapolis for five or six starts will allow him to find his confidence and rhythm before he makes the trip to Pittsburgh. It may be even sooner with Drew Hutchinson slated to take the fifth spot and set to implode sooner than later. The former Blue Jay actually has done a solid job in Spring Training, giving up only 2 runs in 9 innings of work. Still, I project fans to be calling for the Pirates to replace Hutchinson by June and or even sooner. Even if Hutchinson doesn’t pitch his way out of the rotation, there will surely be a starter needed at some point, with injuries always seemingly popping up. Allowing Glasnow to get his mojo back for the first month of the season down on the farm, instead of throwing him into the fire out of the bullpen, may go a long way in benefiting the Pirates this season and for years to come.