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Pirates' Hughes emerges as bullpen force

| Monday, June 11, 2012, 10:46 p.m.
Christopher Horner
Pirates reliever Jared Hughes has a 1.78 ERA in 23 appearances this season. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

In a 5-4 win Thursday over the Cincinnati Reds that he called as satisfying a victory as he's experienced in two seasons with the Pirates, manager Clint Hurdle stressed one performance that shouldn't be overlooked — that of rookie reliever Jared Hughes.

Hughes didn't get a win, save or even a hold. But he retired all three batters he faced in the sixth inning — after entering with runners on first and third — to keep the score tied.

“The job Hughes did coming in ... and he's got no outs, I mean, that's good stuff out of a rookie,” Hurdle said of Hughes. “That's good stuff out of anybody, but for him to come in and do that ... that, for me, was as important as anything that happened all night.”

Hughes, a 26-year-old right-hander, was back at it Saturday night against Kansas City. He earned his second win of the season (2-0), pitching 2 13 scoreless innings for his fifth consecutive run-free outing. It was the 12th win of the year by a Pirates reliever, trailing only the Reds (14) and the Orioles (13) in bullpen wins.

In 23 relief appearances and 30 13 innings with the Pirates this year, Hughes has a 1.78 ERA and has been scored on once in his past 16 appearances.

“He's not afraid,” Pirates reliever Chris Resop said. “He's got good stuff. That sinker he's got, that's a blessing. He throws hard, and commands it, too. As much as that ball sinks, he commands it very well.”

Another aspect of Hughes' performance that hasn't been overlooked by teammates is the transformation he undergoes from happy-go-lucky guy in the clubhouse to a bulldog when he's on the mound. A 6-foot-7, 245-pound frame can be intimidating to hitters, but teammates know better.

“He's a super-softy, too. He puts up this front, and we always ask him why he's doing that,” Resop said. “Like, ‘Who are you trying to scare, big guy?' Tongue out, spitting and drooling. But, hey, whatever works. Keep it up.”

Hughes said when he was a kid, even board games with his sister would turn into shouting matches. It's just the way the competitor in him comes out, and he agrees that it's not nice.

“You know what? I am mean out there,” Hughes said. “I get angry and just want to attack. I want to throw the ball through the bat. I don't want to miss the bat, I want to throw it through the bat.”

As a starter in the minors — he made 11 appearances between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis in 2011 — Hughes said he had to tone down the aggression enough to last through 100 pitches. Pitching in relief doesn't require the same restraint.

“Out of the bullpen, it's just this pitch,” he said. “(I'm throwing) everything I've got, right now, so there's no holding back.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7980 or kprice@tribweb.com.

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