Seven pitchers have started games for the Pirates this season, with ERAs ranging from 3.45 to 6.09. Tomorrow, that number will expand to eight, with the newly acquired Kevin Hart making his debut for the Diamondbacks. Going the other way in that trade with the Cubs was Tom Gorzelanny, who, quite bizarrely, wasn't included in the group of starters.
Despite some lingering questions about the health of his arm, Gorzelanny was considered one of the Pirates' building blocks two years ago, when he went 14-10 with a 3.88 ERA as a 24-year-old. A complete and total collapse followed in 2008, as he finished 6-9 with a 6.66 ERA. He allowed more walks (70) and homers (20) in 105 1/3 innings than he did in 201 2/3 innings the year before. He didn't miss time due to injury until mid-September, when he injured a finger ligament. He did complain of shoulder tightness in April, but he pitched through it.
When spring 2009 arrived, the assumption was that Gorzelanny would have every opportunity to win back his rotation spot. However, after some early struggles, he was sent down with still more than two weeks to go. When he was recalled in mid-May, it was to pitch out of the pen, a role he had never filled as a pro. The Pirates didn't even give him a couple of appearances in Triple-A for him to get used to it. He spent three weeks on the roster, giving up five runs in 8 2/3 innings, and then returned to starting in Triple-A. From that point on, he went on an incredible roll, posting a 1.17 ERA in eight starts for Indianapolis. Still, the Pirates opted to trade him without ever taking another look at him. It wasn't a money issue, as he's making barely more than the minimum. He's not going to be eligible for free agency until after 2013.
The Cubs wasted no time in putting Gorzelanny into the rotation after acquiring him, and he allowed one run and three hits over 7 1/3 innings in his debut Tuesday. He struck out six and walked just one. The now 27-year-old lefty looked nothing like the pitcher he did last year. He was throwing 89-92 mph consistently and showing an improved slider. As should have been obvious to anyone, he still has the stuff to win in the big leagues.
Of course, there's no guarantee it will last. Gorzelanny has had elbow issues in the past, and we know from last year that he can lose his command and become completely useless in the blink of an eye. He's also not exactly a slave to conditioning. But the Pirates treated him as little more than a throw-in in a deal that brought them two expendable pitchers from the Cubs. This wasn't Ian Snell, who failed in back-to-back years and no longer wanted to pitch for Pirates. This was a guy who had one bad year. It's mindblowing that the Pirates never gave him a second chance. If Tuesday's performance was any indication, they'll be regretting it soon enough.