Share This Page

Fresh start for Pirates' setup reliever

| Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, 11:43 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher Mark Melancon delivers during a bullpen session at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher Mark Melancon throws during a workout at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
Pirates pitcher Mark Melancon delivers during a bullpen session at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. (Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review)
Christopher Horner
Video promo for pitcher Mark Melancon, who came to the Pirates from Boston as part of the Joel Hanrahan trade. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

BRADENTON, Fla. — Professional athletes often fight to keep their emotions in check so they don't get too amped up in the heat of competition. Pirates reliever Mark Melancon used to have that problem — only in reverse.

“Sometimes, I wouldn't use that energy as much as I should and could,” Melancon said. “I've always been the guy who doesn't want to stand out. It's a team game ,and no individual is going to win that game on his own. I still have that mentality, but it's important to use that energy. Instead of pushing it away, start using it.”

That approach still is a work in progress for Melancon. Once a top prospect in the New York Yankees and Houston Astros systems, the right-hander notched 20 saves in his first full season in the majors. Last year, however, he struggled and spent much of the season in the minors.

Rather than tweak his mechanics, Melancon sought other ways to earn a trip back to the big leagues. That's when he started to channel his emotional energy into every pitch.

“I tried it midway through the year, and it really worked for me to use that energy in a more positive way,” he said.

Melancon, 28, joined the Pirates in late December as part of the trade that sent Joel Hanrahan to the Boston Red Sox. One ripple effect of that deal was Jason Grilli's promotion to the closer's role with the Pirates.

This season, Melancon, Jared Hughes and left-hander Tony Watson will fill Grilli's old job. When a righty is needed, Melancon likely will be the first choice as he has a bit more major-league experience (147 games) than Hughes (78).

“I love the depth we have,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

Melancon has an over-the-top delivery and can hum his fastball at 92-94 mph, sometimes touching 96 mph. He also uses a cutter (a relatively recent addition to his arsenal), a changeup (which has room to improve) and a 12-to-6 curveball (his out pitch).

Pitching coach Ray Searage was encouraged this week after watching Melancon throw his first two sides of spring training.

“I said, ‘Dude, whatever you ate today, make sure you eat it the rest of the year. Because you're on,' ” Searage said. “The fastball is there. It's got good angle and carry to it. He was spotting up the cutter. The curveball was real, real good. All he's got to do is trust his stuff ... easier said than done, I know.”

Melancon was switched from a starter to closer at the University of Arizona, where he set the school's single-season (11 in 2005) and career (18) saves records. He had Tommy John surgery in October 2006 but rose rapidly through the minors after he healed.

After a breakout season (8-4, 20 saves, 2.78 ERA) with the Astros in 2011, Melancon was dealt to the Red Sox for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland. He had an up and (mostly) down career with Boston — the low point coming April 17 when he allowed six earned runs without getting an out against Texas.

Melancon is happy to be back in the National League and eager to show he can handle high-leverage outings.

“I enjoy the later innings more, simply because that's my mentality,” Melancon said. “When the game's on the line, it's more that childhood dream feel.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.