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Pitching injuries are forcing some less familiar names into important roles early in the season

“Next man up” is a phrase you hear a lot in football, but maybe it's time to apply it to starting pitching in the major leagues.

Baseball has been overrun lately by injuries to star pitchers that are forcing teams to make contingency plans they'd have loved to avoid. Here are a few top starters who have gone down — and what's being done to replace them.

Gerrit Cole, Yankees: New York had an extra spot in the rotation because of Cole's elbow problems, and Luis Gil — himself back from Tommy John surgery — earned it with a strong spring training. He's allowed three runs in nine innings so far, and his 14 strikeouts and seven walks are a good indication of why he didn't make it through the fifth inning in either of his two starts.

Spencer Strider, Braves: A 20-game winner last year, Strider is done for the season after elbow surgery. Allan Winans started Thursday against the New York Mets and allowed six earned runs in five innings. Top prospect AJ Smith-Shawver is off to a rough start at Triple-A. Darius Vines, a 25-year-old righty, is expected to start Monday at Houston.

Shane Bieber, Guardians: It's been over a week since Cleveland learned Bieber needed Tommy John surgery, but with a rainout April 7 and an off day Thursday, the Guardians have been able to get by with their other four starters. That changes in this next series at Boston, when Xzavion Curry and Ben Lively are set to make their 2024 debuts.

Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez, Astros: Houston has been without Verlander all season and just lost Valdez for at least a little while. Ronel Blanco has certainly filled in nicely, throwing a no-hitter April 1, but it's been tough going otherwise. After the Astros scratched Valdez last Monday, starter Blair Henley retired only one of his nine batters. Top pitching prospect Spencer Arrighetti gave up seven runs in the third inning Wednesday night for Houston.

Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, Rangers: DeGrom and Scherzer haven't pitched yet for the defending World Series champions, but Cody Bradford is 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA. Of course, now he's on the injured list, too, with a back strain.

Various Miami Marlins: It's been a nightmarish start for Miami, which is without Sandy Alcantara and Eury Pérez for the season because of Tommy John surgery. Edward Cabrera and Braxton Garrett have also missed time. The Marlins are 3-13, but the rotation hasn't been a total disaster, with Max Meyer going 2-0 with a 2.12 ERA.

TRIVIA TIME

Chicago Cubs rookie Shota Imanaga is one of two qualifying starting pitchers (with at least one inning per team game played) who has not allowed an earned run yet this season. Who is the other?

COMEBACK OF THE WEEK

Plenty of good candidates this week. On Sunday alone, the Tigers, Braves and Guardians each came from behind to win in their last at-bats, and the Athletics rallied from a five-run deficit in the sixth inning.

But the most daunting deficit was San Diego's on Monday, when the Padres trailed the Chicago Cubs 8-0 in the sixth. San Diego scored seven runs that inning — Jake Cronenworth and Xander Bogaerts hit two-run homers. Then Fernando Tatis Jr. hit a two-run shot in the eighth to send the Padres to a 9-8 win.

San Diego's minimum win probability during that game, according to Baseball Savant: 0.6%.

LINE OF THE WEEK

At least for now, the Kansas City Royals are near the top of the AL Central, boasting baseball's best run differential. Shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. makes the future look bright for the Royals, and Thursday against Houston, he went 4 for 5 with two homers, five RBIs, four runs and a stolen base. That 13-3 victory capped a seven-game winning streak.

TRIVIA ANSWER

Oakland's Paul Blackburn.

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB