The performance of the bullpen has played a role in the the Pirates’ winning ways, especially given the many close games they have won. Pittsburgh’s relievers are ranked 2nd in the National League in ERA, 3rd in strikeout percentage and 4th in FIP.
Justin Wilson may see more late-inning relief outings in place of Mark Melacon. (Photo credit: David Hague)
That success has not come without a cost, though, or at least a mortgage. Mark Melancon (0.96 ERA, 1.74 FIP) has pitched the 10th-most innings in the NL, while Justin Wilson (1.45 ERA, 3.10 FIP) has pitched the 4th-most. Tony Watson is on pace to throw the most innings of his career by far, Jason Grilli could pitch many more than last year, and Vin Mazzaro has been used in many games during his first season as a full-time reliever.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle monitors the innings of his high-leverage relievers, but points out that “on pace” innings often do not come to fruition for several reasons, specifically citing a point last year when Joel Hanrahan was on pace to make 90 appearances.
“And I had trouble getting him a save opportunity the last month of the season,” Hurdle said. “One thing I think we’re gonna need to do a better job of is to create some separation offensively. That’s one way to take care of that.”
Possible fatigue for Melancon is probably of greatest concern, as the set-up man has appeared in 28 of the team’s 52 games this season. Hurdle said that number is “high,” and that he may back away from some of Melancon’s opportunities going forward.
If Melacon can’t pitch every 8th inning with the lead, Hurdle named Wilson, Mazzaro and Watson as candidates to start pitching more of those high-leverage situations. Wilson is ready for such outings in his first full Major League season.”
“When the phone rings and your name is called, you just get ready like it’s any other inning,” Wilson said.
Jaws In The Clubhouse
The bullpen’s “Shark Tank” nickname got some teeth Wednesday afternoon, as an aquarium was plopped into the Pirates clubhouse. It was Jason Grilli’s idea, and the tank has three inhabitants: a yellow and black banded cat shark, a coral cat shark and a blowfish.
“They said [Mike] Zagurski brought that,” Hurdle said. “You need to have some fun in this game.”
Grilli told me he saw the buccaneer-themed aquarium accessories like a pirate ship and skull and got an idea. The tank was donated by Gary Knabe, a Pirates season ticket holder who owns Elmer’s Aquarium in Monroeville. They are small sharks, but Grilli doesn’t mind.
“They’re kind of just dormant until feeding time. That’s kind of how we are in the bullpen,” Grilli said.
The two sharks do not have names yet, but Grilli suggested “Teke” for one as an homage to Pirates bullpen great Kent Tekulve.
Morton Still Rehabbing
Charlie Morton’s rehab starts have gone since April 18, due to a setback in early May.
Charlie Morton is scheduled to make another rehab start Sunday in Columbus for the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians with a pitch count of 80 pitches and a focus on pitch selection.
“He’s gotta nail the sinker, throw the curveball and the changeup,” Hurdle said.
Morton was in the clubhouse talking about his newborn baby, Charlie V, who was born last Thursday.
As for Morton’s spot when he returns to the Pirates? Hurdle said “there are a lot of different things to consider,” but gave kudos to Jeanmar Gomez for the job he had done in the rotation.
“He was one of the guys we took a flier on,” Hurdle said. “The way it’s played out? Nobody had that. He deserves a lot of credit.”
Prepare for plenty of strikeouts Wednesday night at PNC Park. Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez has struck out the fifth-most hitters in the AL and Burnett has struck out the most in the NL.
The PNC Park game record for most pitcher strikeouts is 16, set by Randy Johnson on August 28, 2001. Never in the ballpark’s history have two pitchers recorded 10+ strikeouts in the same game.
On appreciating the job the Pirates have done so far: “I do think you need to enjoy the ride. Too many times we get caught up on ‘head down, go hard’ and when we do well, we’re supposed to, and when we don’t, then we punish ourselves. That’s not a way to live.”
On Miguel Cabrera, who he compared to Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols: “He’s as good as we’ve got going in the industry… You know if he’s gonna hit again [in the game].”
On avoiding DH Victor Martinez in a National League ballpark: “It looks like he’s starting to get hot too, so I’ll be glad we’re done with him in about two more days.”
On opposing manager Jim Leyland: “[He] can do this in his sleep, National League or American League. The game’s not going to present anything to Jimmy that he can’t handle or that he’s not ahead of.”
Detroit Tigers (29-20, 1st place, AL Central)
LF Andy Dirks (.252 batting average)
RF Torii Hunter (.312)
3B Miguel Cabrera (.373, 14 HR)
1B Prince Fileder (.273, 9 HR)
SS Jhonny Peralta (.339)
C Alex Avila (.177)
2B Omar Infante (.303)
CF Don Kelly (.186)
RHP Anibal Sanchez (5-4, 2.38 ERA)
Pittsburgh Pirates (32-20, 3rd place, NL Central)
LF Starling Marte (.297)
2B Neil Walker (.259)
CF Andrew McCutchen (.290, 7 HR)
1B Garrett Jones (.269)
C Russell Martin (.255, 6 HR)
3B Pedro Alvarez (.197, 10 HR)
RF Travis Snider (.262)
SS Jordy Mercer (.288)
RHP A.J. Burnett (3-5, 2.57)