CHICAGO -- Let the Gerrit Cole Watch begin.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle on Friday jump-started the buzz about Cole's possible Major League debut by declaring open the spot for Tuesday night's start against the World Series champion Giants at PNC Park. Cole is ranked by MLB.com as Pittsburgh's No. 1 prospect.
That assignment in the opener of a six-game homestand falls on Wandy Rodriguez's turn. Rodriguez had to depart Wednesday's game in Atlanta after one-third of an inning with forearm tightness and, although he is presently not going on the DL since an examination did not reveal any ligament damage, he is not a candidate for that Tuesday start.
Instead, if the lefty proves capable of making his next start, that would come Thursday.
Which leaves a hole for Tuesday.
While Cole's name never came up, Hurdle seemed aware of sparking a brushfire of speculation by being vague on who might take the mound that night.
"We have internal options. We have a nine-man bullpen, so we could also piggyback," Hurdle said.
Of relevance is the fact Rodriguez and Cole both took the mound on Wednesday. While Rodriguez made the injury exit, Cole turned in his best effort of the season with Triple-A Indianapolis, blanking Durham on three hits for seven innings, walking one and striking out three. That outing improved Cole's season line to a 5-3 record and a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts.
Neither of the Pirates' two rehabbing veteran right-handers -- Charlie Morton and James McDonald -- are considered ready to jump back into the rotation. In his latest rehab start for Indianapolis on Thursday, McDonald got through only 3 2/3 innings on 77 pitches and, most alarmingly given the team's heightened emphasis on controlling the running game, allowed seven stolen bases.
As for Rodriguez, plans are for him to throw a bullpen session Monday in Pittsburgh. If he "comes through it with flying colors," Hurdle said he would make the Thursday start. Otherwise, he would go on the DL, retroactive to June 6.
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. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.