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With Vince Velasquez out for season, what’s next for Pirates?

It’s a big loss for the Buccos.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Tampa Bay Rays Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Vince Velasquez will not return to the mound in 2023. Pirates directorof sports medicine Tod Tomczyk announced over the weekend that the right-handed starter isout for the foreseeable future due to a season-ending right elbow injury.

Velasquez is projected to return to throwing in four months and full activities in 11-12, Tomczyk announced to the media.

The loss is a significant one for the Pirates. Velasquez, 31, was one of the most consistent and dependable starters in the Bucs young rotation as a stable veteran alongside Rich Hill. In 35.1 innings, he accumulated a 4-3 record, 3.06 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, .211 opponent batting average and 34 strikeouts before being taken out of his May 4 start in Tampa Bay with the injury.

He returned 23 days later against Seattle but only lasted two innings and allowed four runs on seven hits.

The Pirates are in a tricky spot with their rotation. Mitch Keller is in contention to finish top five in Cy Young voting after two months and change, but he’s also on pace for 200 innings. Keller has never thrown more than 159, which occurred last season.

Initially slotted for Triple-A or the bullpen to begin the year, Johan Oviedo has been a bright spot for the Bucs but may also be on an innings limit.

Roansy Contreras has fallen fast into a reliever, to back in the rotation but only recorded one out against the Oakland A’s - worst offense in baseball. His status is completely up in the air and could result in a longer stay in the ‘pen or an IL stint with his velocity continuing to be an issue.

Rich Hill has done good things to eat innings and seemingly has pitched during a lot of Pirates’ blowout victories.

After two rocky starts to begin his season in the bigs, 24-year-old Luis Ortiz has pitched solidly, delivering 7.2 innings of two-run ball to the AL West leading Texas Rangers and three runs through five innings to the Mariners.

The Pirates initially replaced Velasquez in the rotation with Ortiz, but now a flip with Contreras could be in the works.

In (should) come Quinn Priester. A 22-year-old righty who was selected 18th overall in the 2019 MLB Draft, Preister delivered a 3.29 ERA in 19 starts spanning 90.1 innings in 2022.

This season hasn’t been as fantastic. Preister holds a 6-3 record with a 4.63 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in 56.1 innings (12 starts). He’s allowed 58 hits and 25 walks after only issuing 30 free passes a season ago. The Bucs’ best pitching prospect is the likely answer for Ben Cherington and Derek Shelton moving forward.

The issue of Super-Two remains a concern, not knowing a firm date that prevents a further year of arbitration.

Priester started the same day as Contreras Wednesday and is in line to start Wednesday again, the same spot as Contreras.

Priester carried a poor April (7.78 ERA in five starts) to a strong May (2.81 in five) and a solid June (3.27 in two) to considerably drop his ERA.

Cherington stated last Sunday how June is the month for considerable promotions in the system, which prompted Henry Davis to advance to Triple-A. One week later, based on need and potential readiness - which has been a question mark - Priester looks next in line to pitch in the Majors.