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An early look at the fifth starter race

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As it stands right now, the Pittsburgh Pirates have four starting pitchers likely locked into rotation spots once the season starts.

Joe Musgrove, Chris Archer, Trevor Williams, and Mitch Keller will more than likely be those guys. The fifth spot is still open. The likes of Steven Brault, Derek Holland, Robbie Erlin, Chad Kuhl, and perhaps even JT Brubaker are currently competing for the job. All five have dabbled with some innings pitched this spring. Kuhl pitched for the first time since having Tommy John surgery yesterday.

The inside track

It is my guess that Brault is the leading candidate and will be the fifth starter once the season starts. He looked decent at times in the games he started last year. He can hit a little bit. Barring an injury, a spectacular spring for someone else, or horrible spring himself, Brault will more than likely be the guy.

“Great Spring” candidates

The Pirates have two veteran lefties also vying for the final rotation spot this spring: Holland and Erlin. Holland was one of the worst starters in baseball in 2019 but the year before, he was pretty good. Erlin started just one game in 2019 and 12 the year before. He wasn’t great. If I had to guess, I’d say that one will stick with the team in a bullpen role and the other will get cut.


Kuhl will have a chance to start later on in the season. To start though, it would probably be smart to ease him into the swing of things with a bullpen role. Once he is completely stretched out and ready to go, a return to the rotation makes sense. Brubaker will have a chance to start later on in the season as well. He was a candidate to get called up from AAA last season, but injuries held him back. Brubaker will likely start the season in Indianapolis. At this point in time, he is a depth piece.

Keep in mind...

Because of days off, the Pirates will not need a fifth starter until about two weeks into the season. This will give them a longer time to make a decision.