No lack of replacement pitching options on the way for Pirates

Richard tosses five shutout innings at Triple-A on Wednesday

No lack of replacement pitching options on the way for Pirates

PHILADELPHIA -- Whenever a need arises, the Pirates like to be able to call on "the next man up." If a call has to go out in the coming weeks for a replacement starter, there could be a lot of elbowing to be that man.

Two veteran pitchers on deck -- and a highly-rated prospect in the hole -- are making strides far from the glare of the big leagues, where, incidentally, the current Bucs pitchers are doing lights-out work.

Clayton Richard led off an intriguing couple of days for the squirreled pitchers with five shutout innings Wednesday afternoon for Triple-A Indianapolis, at Pawtucket.

Charlie Morton starts Thursday for Indianapolis, in the second start of a rehab assignment that began with Double-A Altoona.

Also on Thursday, Jameson Taillon is scheduled to pitch one inning in extended spring training -- the first time the right-hander will be pitching to get outs since his Tommy John surgery 13 months ago. MLB.com ranks Taillon as the Pirates' No. 2 prospect and the game's No. 31 prospect overall.

Manager Clint Hurdle, who got to see firsthand in Spring Training Taillon's eagerness to resume his career, is thrilled for him to reach this step in his recovery.

"I'm excited for his opportunity. Our entire organization is excited for him," Hurdle said. "Six months ago, he was pushing that sled around Pirate City [rebuilding his body], doing all that extensive physical work. It was good to have him in Spring Training and to see that enthusiasm."

Hurdle hadn't yet been briefed on the start by Richard, which consisted of five shutout innings on four hits. At that, it mirrored his lone start for Class A Advanced Bradenton, when he went six innings while allowing four hits and only an unearned run -- except for the fact against Pawtucket he got to face big league vets such as Allen Craig, Jemile Weeks and Quintin Berry.

"I know he had a very good outing at Bradenton," Hurdle said. "The velocity of his fastball was firm, the breaking ball played, he threw a handful of changeups. He's had no setbacks, no question marks, no health issues."

Richard, the two-time 14-game winner making his way back from surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome, hasn't had a misstep since the Bucs signed him to a Minor League contract on Dec. 3. He had a solid showing in exhibition play, and has kept it up in his Minor League rehearsals.

Richard had an April 1 opt-out on his deal if he had not yet been added to the 40-man roster, which he declined to exercise based on feelings that the Bucs were his best bet to return to the Majors. So his situation definitely bears a close watch.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.