The Pittsburgh Pirates have a starting rotation (with the possible exception of James McDonald) that would be kindly described as “undistinguished.” They do, however, have strong late-innings pitchers in Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek.

But the Pirates have unexpected pitching strength where one would least expect it in a core of middle inning relievers who can pitch long.

Dan McCutchen, who’s one of these relievers, was a last-minute substitution for Paul Maholm on Friday night. He is someone with a “final inning” problem, with the fifth being the inning he’s likely to crumble.

So management started him for four innings in which he gave up only one run, then used another long-middle reliever, Chan Ho Park (who got the win) to blank the Marlins for three frames. If put up by one man instead of two, the combined seven-inning one-run performance would have been worthy of a Cy Young candidate.

Charlie Morton pitches well about half the time. Like Zach Duke, he has a “first inning” problem. He’ll sometimes give up as many as 10 runs in the first and/or second inning.

But if he doesn’t, and settles in, he’s likely to pitch well for the rest of the start. With one such (but low paid) person on staff, we don’t need another one in Duke.

Basically, Morton has to be lifted early (first or second inning) or late (after five or six), but seldom after three or four. Long relievers are an important part of the strategy of using him. On some other night, McCutchen will be the middle reliever who gets the win.

The back of the Pirates rotation, Jeff Karstens and Brian Burres, are basically long middle reliever types who have nonetheless been pressed into service as starters. They can do the job, at least on a good night, but need more backup relief than most.

If the Pirates have McDonald, Ohlendorf, Maholm and Morton all in the rotation, Karstens, Burres, and McCutchen can contribute one starter and two long relievers between them.

Park, who’s now aged 37, probably won’t be signed for another season. A younger hurler, Chris Resop, claimed off waivers on the same day as Park, might serve this turn, however.

James McDonald, originally “typecast” as a reliever, has turned out to be the most durable (longest lasting), and potentially the best of Pirate starters.

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