John Russell on the hot seat? Hell, he may have gotten a contract extension!

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I still stand by all the stuff I said yesterday about Ken Rosenthal’s Pirates report and the art of rumor-mongering in general, but this business with John Russell and the Pirates seems to quickly be turning into a bad example of an otherwise sound theory.

To review:  Ken Rosenthal reported on Tuesday night that John Russell was close to being fired by the Pirates. Team president Frank Coonelly denied it.  That’s where my little essay fits in.  But the story goes on!

Yesterday Rosenthal walked it back a bit, saying that Pirates’ officials still talked about Russell’s fate, but maybe Coonelly wasn’t part of those talks.  Possible, but it certainly means that the likelihood of Russell getting canned was way, way down once it became apparent that the guy who would pull the trigger wasn’t on board, right?

Today is the topper: Rosenthal reports that, not only is Russell not likely to be fired soon, but that it’s possible he has been given a contract extension!  Rosenthal is sticking with his report that those above and below Frank Coonelly still seem to want Russell gone, but if Coonelly is extending him, those sentiments are rather academic, aren’t they? At least for the purposes of running with a “Russell is on the hot seat” kind of report?

Look, I still think that Rosenthal is a good reporter and — for the reasons I said yesterday —  one need not get off a story just because someone in power has denied it.  But at this rate it seems like John Russell is going to own the Pirates before he gets fired by them, so maybe it’s time to excise the “but sources with the team say Russell is toast . . .” part of this article and go on to the next thing.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.

Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery could share Cubs’ rotation spot in 2017

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 01:  Mike Montgomery #38 of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 1, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).

Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.

Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.

Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.