The Pirates have shut lefty Steven Brault down for the next month or so due to a “moderate arm muscle strain,” director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk tells reporters (Twitter links via Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic and Jason Mackey of the Post-Gazette). Because of the fairly lengthy shutdown, Brault will need to be built back up before returning to a game setting. His total absence could stretch anywhere from 10 to 12 weeks in length.
Brault exited his most recent Grapefruit League start with tightness, which the club eventually revealed to be a lat strain. The team’s update today did not specify the grade of the strain, but a fairly lengthy absence for Brault nevertheless alters the team’s rotation outlook substantially. After trading away Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon this winter, Brault was the team’s most experienced incumbent option on the starting staff.
Holdovers Chad Kuhl and Mitch Keller are virtual locks for the Pittsburgh rotation, as are offseason signees Trevor Cahill and Tyler Anderson, both of whom signed guaranteed Major League deals for the 2021 season. Other candidates to take the ball early in the year include righties Wil Crowe and JT Brubaker. Crowe, acquired from the Nats in the offseason trade of Josh Bell, has thrown quite well so far in Spring Training. Through 9 2/3 innings, he’s held opponents to one run on seven hits and three walks with seven punchouts.
Brault’s timeline for a return will be particularly worth monitoring given his status as an obvious summer trade candidate. The 28-year-old (29 in April) drew interest over the winter and, as a player who is controlled for just two years beyond the current campaign, is a logical trade chip for a rebuilding club like Pittsburgh. Because he’s controlled through 2023, there’s no real urgency to move him this summer — particularly if he doesn’t have much time demonstrate his health prior to the July 31 trade deadline.