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Pirates notebook: Watson savors two-inning save

| Sunday, April 28, 2013, 5:06 p.m.
The Pirates' Brandon Inge scores ahead of the tag from Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina during the sixth inning Sunday, April 28, 2013, in St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS — After notching his first career save Thursday, Pirates reliever Tony Watson shared the good news with friends and family. Manager Clint Hurdle suggested one more name for the list.

“Clint said maybe we should call Teke and razz him a little bit,” Watson said, grinning.

Watson worked two innings for the save, which was not an unusual practice when Kent Tekulve was the Pirates' closer in the 1970s and ‘80s.

“It was real nice to see Tony do it,” Tekulve said by phone from Pittsburgh, where he watched the game in the Root Sports studios.

These days, a multi-inning save is rare. According to Elias Sports Bureau, out of 1,261 saves last season, only 19 went to pitchers who worked at least two innings.

“That's what they call a grown-man save,” Hurdle said. “That kind of save makes Goose Gossage and Tekulve smile. It makes all the old warriors smile.”

Gossage had 310 saves over his 22-year career, which included a stint with the Pirates in 1977. Nearly half of his saves came via outings of two-plus innings. The all-time leader in multi-inning saves is Rollie Fingers, who got 135.

“The hardest part is, after you pitch your first inning, you have to sit down and then ramp it up again for the next inning,” Tekulve said. “And you don't have any wriggle room.”

Watson became the de facto closer Thursday only because closer Jason Grilli and righty setup man Mark Melancon needed a day off.

“That's the irony of it — they only had five guys in the bullpen,” Tekulve said. “That's what we had to deal with all the time. We didn't have lefty or righty specialists and seven-man bullpens.”

After the final out, third baseman Pedro Alvarez hung onto the ball and gave it to Watson. It will go on Watson's shelf, next to the balls from his first big league strikeout and victory. Was getting a save on his bucket list?

“Well, not in the way it happened,” Watson said. “But, yeah, definitely, it's something I'll always remember.”

Sanchez in limbo

Jonathan Sanchez continues to maintain his innocence after getting a six-game suspension for hitting Allen Craig with a pitch. Sanchez appealed MLB's penalty and is awaiting a hearing.

As of Sunday morning, the date and location of that hearing had not been set.

“They've got to hear my version of what happened,” Sanchez said. “I respect their rules and I respect the game. I want them to respect me, too. I hit the guy, but I didn't mean to hit him.”

Sanchez said he was surprised that he was suspended and by the penalty's length.

Until the appeal is heard, Sanchez remains eligible to pitch and was in the bullpen Saturday and Sunday. His next scheduled start would've been Wednesday against the Milwaukee Brewers, but the Pirates have not yet listed a pitcher. That decision will be made Monday, with Jeanmar Gomez being the top candidate.

Hurdle said lefty Francisco Liriano (broken right arm), who's on a rehab stint with Triple-A Indianapolis, is not an option to start Wednesday against the Brewers. Liriano will start Tuesday for Indy, with a limit of six innings or 90 pitches.

Given Sanchez's struggles (0-3, 12.71 ERA, 2.56 WHIP), the Pirates could opt to demote or release him before his hearing.

“My understanding is, the suspension doesn't impact any potential roster moves,” GM Neal Huntington said.

Planet of the aches

Hurdle said Neil Walker (cut on right hand) should be able to play before his stitches are removed and will try to throw and swing a bat before Monday's game. Walker didn't sound optimistic: “Play with my stitches in? Maybe, if I'm wearing a hockey glove,” he said. ... Reliever Jose Contreras (elbow surgery) pitched in games Friday and Saturday for Indy, and is scheduled to be off Sunday and Monday. If all goes well, he might join the Pirates as soon as Tuesday. ... RHP Jeff Karstens (shoulder) will remain with the Pirates this week instead of continuing his rehab in Florida. He will throw a two-inning simulated game Wednesday. ... RHP Charlie Morton allowed one run and three hits in six innings for Double-A Altoona. He struck out four and walked one while throwing only 70 pitches.

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

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