It could be up for the taking in September, when Triple-A starters Ross Ohlendorf and Tom Gorzelanny are almost surely going to be penciled into the rotation. And it could be hanging in the balance next spring, when competition for five starting spots is expected to be much deeper than in the past.
So, in essence, Jason Davis took the mound at Busch Stadium on Wednesday mindful that he is continually auditioning for the right to stay in that rotation. After an ugly 11-2 loss, now he can just hope he gets another chance.
"You don't think about that," Davis said of the now-jeopardized starting spot. "You just think about doing your job and going out there and competing. I put enough pressure on myself to go out there and perform. I don't need any added pressure."
The tone behind the disappointing outcome was set early, as Davis allowed the Cardinals' leadoff hitter to reach base in each of the four innings he began. His fastball command never sharpened, his breaking pitches stayed over the plate, and of the 23 hitters he would face all night, six would draw a quick 2-0 count. It was an immediate recipe for trouble.
"[I was] falling behind guys and having to come after them and give them something to hit," said Davis, now 1-3 this season. "You do that against a good club and it's going to beat you. I just didn't make the adjustments tonight, and it carried over inning after inning."
Davis escaped the first unscathed before putting Pittsburgh in a two-run hole in the second. Back-to-back leadoff walks and a wild pitch put the Cardinals in easy position to score on a sacrifice fly and subsequent single.
Davis never recovered. His pitches stayed up, which allowed a St. Louis offense that stayed quiet one night earlier against Ian Snell to tee off.
"He left some balls over the plate and they took advantage of them," manager John Russell said. "It's tough to keep their offense down a couple nights in a row. He's thrown the ball well -- he just didn't make his pitches tonight."
Stung particularly hard by a two-run homer off the bat of St. Louis outfielder Rick Ankiel and a three-hit game from Skip Schumaker, Davis would be out of the game after 3 2/3 innings. It wouldn't help, either, when diving first baseman Adam LaRoche couldn't come up with a grounder in the fourth that could have sealed the second out of the frame.
That error would be followed by two hits, a sacrifice fly and two walks as the Cardinals hastily pushed their run total to eight (six earned) against Davis. That last walk, which came on four pitches with the bases loaded, would mark the end of the night for Davis.
"My job is to go out there and keep the team in it and eat some innings, and I didn't do that tonight," Davis said. "If you just chalk it up [to bad luck], the domino effect can happen. You've just got to figure it out."
The start, Davis' third since joining the Pirates on July 27, was a significant aberration from his previous two. The righty had earned himself a stay in the rotation with consecutive quality starts in which he combined to allow only two earned runs.
Both of the Pirates' runs would come courtesy of Ryan Doumit, who launched a two-run homer off St. Louis starter Todd Wellemeyer in the third to temporarily tie the game at 2. The Pittsburgh catcher finished a triple short of the cycle to notch his second three-hit night of the series.
Outfielders Jason Michaels and Brandon Moss each finished with multihit games as well. Moss had returned to the lineup after missing two games recovering from a twisted left ankle. The recovery process was expected to take longer, but Moss forced his manager to put him in on Wednesday after showing no ill-effects running or hitting on Tuesday. He passed the test on Wednesday, too.
"There's a little soreness and stiffness just from not playing," Moss said afterward. "But it wasn't anything I couldn't play through. The off-day [Thursday] should help."
The offense would put together the framework of a potential comeback rally in the eighth as two hits and a walks loaded the bases with one out for shortstop Jack Wilson. No damage would be done, though, as Wilson grounded sharply into an inning-ending double play.
"We got down pretty big early," Russell said, "and couldn't do much after that."
On a positive pitching note, reliever Romulo Sanchez calmed the Cardinals' offensive storm by limiting the team to just one hit in his 2 1/3 scoreless innings of work. Reliever Craig Hansen wouldn't fare quite as well, however, as he allowed three runs on three hits and two walks in two innings.
With the loss, the Pirates split the short two-game series against the Cardinals to finish the season 5-4 at Busch Stadium. The winning record on the Cardinals' home field was the first for the Bucs since going 4-2 in 1999.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.