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Pirates stuck with starters they've got

Amazing what a few lousy starts in April can do to your team ERA, huh? Dejan Kovacevic on what the Pirates can (or can't) do about their awful numbers:

Of signing a free agent, Huntington said, "By the time we could sign and stretch out one of the free agent options, we'll have internal solutions."

Of a possible trade: "No one has excess starting pitching they are willing to give up. Additionally, it makes little sense to panic and give up a legitimate prospect to acquire a short-term-fit, fringy, bottom-of-the-rotation starter that might be an incremental performance upgrade."

It is hard to imagine at this point what would not represent an upgrade over the Pirates' current rotation, with mild exceptions for Zach Duke and Paul Maholm. As Huntington indicated, few teams go legitimately five deep, but this staff has yet to firm up more than two, if that many.

That said, there also cannot be many teams struggling this much with the No. 5 starter.

Daniel McCutchen was hit hard yet again in the epic loss Thursday, six runs on eight hits, including home runs by Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, over 3 2/3 innings. His ERA through three abbreviated starts is 14.73, exactly as it was before the first pitch, and opponents are batting .360 off him with five home runs in just 11 innings.

He is a virtual lock to be optioned back to Indianapolis, and he seemed aware of that after the game as part of a visibly emotional interview session with reporters.

Huntington's confident about Ross Ohlendorf returning soon to the rotation, and he's pretty sure that Charlie Morton will pitch better (with a 16.55 ERA, he'll pitch better just by falling out of bed before his next start). The bottom line, though, is that when you know you're going to finish last (or close to last), there's little sense in spending blood or treasure on one more stopgap. You go to war with the guys you've got, and you hope that prospects Brad Lincoln and Tim Alderson -- first-round draft picks, both -- are ready to contribute at some point between now and next summer.

Things really will get better, if only because they can't get worse. But this just isn't a decent rotation, and never really had a chance to be.

Meanwhile, McCutchen is just another great example of the fungibility of No. 5 starters (or if you prefer, another, lesser example of my lousy prognosticating). Here's what I wrote about McCutchen just a few weeks ago:

He'd better be a better pitcher this year, because last year he was really, really lucky to post that 4.21 ERA in his six starts. In McCutchen's defense, in 43 career Triple-A starts he's 20-15 with a 3.72 ERA and an excellent ratio (4.45) of strikeouts to walks. Of course, most people think pitchers who rely on changeups have a rougher transition to the Show than other sorts.

All of which is moot, for the moment. As long as Kevin Hart's battling Steve Blass Disease, McCutchen can throw as many changeups as he likes. Because with Charlie Morton ahead of him, and Hart and a cast of nobodies filling the rotation down in Indianapolis, McCutchen might be the safest No. 5 starter in the National League.

Safe? Really, Rob? If McCutchen isn't the first No. 5 starter to lose his job, he's close. Of course, a 14.73 ERA is funny that way, especially when it's accompanied by more walks than strikeouts. Last season in the majors, McCutchen gave up six home runs in 36 innings; this year, five homers in 11 innings. McCutchen and Morton will pitch better. But it'll be mostly Triple-A hitters who have to suffer their wrath.