Home Pittsburgh Sports College Football Pirates middle relief situation one to watch

Pirates middle relief situation one to watch

The Pittsburgh Pirates lost Saturday afternoon to the Washington Nationals, 5-4, in the second game of a weekend series book-ended by off-days on Thursday and Monday.

Pittsburgh (17-13) led the Nats (16-15) for the majority of the game as Starling Marte and Clint Barmes rang the bell twice with two-run dingers in the third and fifth inning, respectively, off Washington phenom Stephen Strasburg.

But Jeff Locke ended his day responsible for four runs himself, after two sacrifice flies and a two-run single by Wilson Castro off Justin Wilson scored the two runners Locke allowed to reach base leading off the sixth inning before manager Clint Hurdle pulled him.

“Watching the game, I thought he was in and out of his delivery a little bit,” Hurdle said. “I thought we’d be best served to pinch off that inning, maintain a lead, and not try and mess with the other side of their bullpen.”

From there, the Pirates’ bullpen needed to seal a victory for the Buccos as Wilson replaced Locke with a 4-2 lead. But Wilson’s inherited runners scored, and the Pirates never saw the lead again Saturday.

The most interesting facet of Hurdle’s management of relievers through the first month of the season is the situations in which he uses certain relievers. More importantly—and sometimes costly—are the situations in which he does not insert certain relievers.

Those certain relievers also happen to be the pitchers who have been absolutely dominant out of the bullpen thus far—a big reason why the Pirates won the most games in April since 1992—and are 13-0 when leading after seven innings, and 17-0 when leading after eight innings.

Jason Grilli was named the Delivery Man of the Month for the month of April, and owns a league-high 12 saves along with a 0.69 earned run average alongside 21 strikeouts in 13 innings of work.

Mark Melancon set up nearly every single one of those saves earning 11 holds so far. Melancon himself sports a near-spotless ERA of 0.56.

But in situations like Saturday’s in which the contest remained tied at 4-4 until the top of the ninth inning when Tyler Moore drove in the game-winning run with a sacrifice fly to right field (the third such time the Nats scored on a sacrifice fly Saturday), Hurdle made it clear that neither one of the Pirates’ best pitchers will pitch.

“We’re not going to use Grilli in that situation, plus if you look at the rest of the bullpen I had one long guy left [in Vin] Mazzaro, [Jose] Contreras is a one-inning guy, we used Watson and Wilson, so Grilli’s not going to pitch in certain situations when the game’s tied at home in the ninth inning, just because of the usage that we want,” Hurdle said. “There might be times we will, today was not one of them.”

As for Melancon, the answer from Hurdle was simply “No.”

“Melancon’s only going to pitch right now when we’re ahead in the eighth inning,” Hurdle said.

With Melancon and Grilli out of the picture in games when the Pirates are tied or losing in late innings, the responsibility then falls onto pitchers like Watson, Wilson, and even Jose Contreras or Vin Mazzaro.

“You just gotta go out there and every time you go out there no matter what inning it is, we’ve all said it before, but sixth, seventh, fifth you got the lead you’re like a closer out there,” Watson said. “You just gotta go out and get three outs, especially in a tight game.”

So far, it remains to be seen what the Pirates will receive from the pitchers in that role. Watson himself owns a 4.80 ERA and took the loss Saturday.

Wilson earned his first major-league win April 21 against Atlanta, and picked up his second the next day in Philadelphia. Wilson has arguably been the best option in middle relief thus far, pitching 20 innings and allowing just seven hits and three runs for a 1.35 ERA.

Jared Hughes, who performed well in a mid-relief role a season ago, struggled in his start to 2013 and was optioned Friday to Triple-A Indianapolis to create room for Contreras on the active roster. Hughes allowed seven runs in just 13 and two-thirds innings pitched, picking up two losses in 13 outings.

It’s only been five weeks. But the front and back ends of the Pirate pitching staff have been almost as good as one could expect, save for the Jonathan Sanchez debacle. Now, it remains to be seen how the middle of the staff shakes out and if it can be effective when Grilli and Melancon are unavailable–or made unavailable–in certain situations.

Previous articleIslanders rally to knot series
Next articlePens regain series lead with OT win