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Pirates notebook: Melancon relishes rare save opportunity

| Thursday, May 23, 2013, 2:42 p.m.

Mark Melancon loves pitching in the ninth inning.

“It's so much fun to be out there, closing out the game,” Melancon said. “It's my favorite thing.”

Pirates closer Jason Grilli was not available Wednesday, so Melancon got the final three outs of the 1-0 victory against the Chicago Cubs. It was Melancon's first save since Aug. 26, 2012, when he was with the Boston Red Sox.

In 2011, Melancon racked up 20 saves in 25 chances for Houston. He was the only reliever on the Astros' Opening Day roster to stay with the team all season. That winter, he was traded to Boston.

Melancon was scored upon in each of his first four outings with the Red Sox and ended the year with just one save and a 6.20 ERA. After he was dealt to the Pirates this past offseason, manager Clint Hurdle told Melancon he'd be used as the main setup guy.

“I love the fact that Mark's been battle tested,” Hurdle said. “He's had some good opportunities, including some that have not worked out well. He's dealt with adversity. Those have become strengths for him. He is in a good place, personally and professionally. He's taking care of today and what opportunities he has today. Who knows what the rest of this season will provide?”

This season, Melancon has been lights out. He's been scored upon only once in his past 17 appearances and has issued one walk in 25 innings.

He got the save Wednesday, but it wasn't smooth sailing. Alfonso Soriano stuck out swinging at a wild pitch and reached first when the ball rolled away from catcher Russell Martin. Wellington Castillo also singled in the inning. Still, Melancon escaped unscathed.

“It's different (in the ninth) in that the crowd is really into it, and hitters are really battling because they know it's their last chance,” Melancon said. “Sometimes you can get more swing and misses that way because they're feeling so desperate. It's do or die, and they're not as relaxed. They might rush their swing or take more aggressive hacks.”

Melancon was glad to be working again in the marquee inning, if only for one night.

“In the eighth inning, I try to take the exact same approach and make it my inning to finish,” Melancon said. “For me, it's not a whole lot different, in the sense that it's a different approach or anything like that. It's still the same feeling.”

Switching roles

Grilli was not available Wednesday because he threw 34 pitches in the ninth inning the night before, and Hurdle doesn't want to burn out his closer. Another one of Hurdle's bullpen usage rules is he dislikes to “push the button” three days in a row with any reliever.

“It changes roles,” Hurdle said. “It gives guys different opportunities. In the back of everybody's mind, you know, they'd like a little bit more. So it's, ‘You're a seventh-inning guy, but now here is an eighth-inning opportunity. What are you going to do with it?' That can work out both good and bad. If they nail it, great.”

It worked that way Wednesday, when Tony Watson moved into the setup role ahead of Melancon. Watson tossed a scoreless inning to notch his eighth hold of the season.

“We try to establish some parameters to roles,” Hurdle said. “But at the end of the day, it's get the ball to the closer.”

Around the horn

Hitting coach Jay Bell got permission to fly home to Phoenix to attend his son Brantley's high school graduation. Bell will rejoin the team this weekend in Milwaukee. ... All the players and coaches are wearing Penguins jerseys when traveling on this road trip to Milwaukee and Detroit. Brandon Inge took it a step further by skating into in the clubhouse Thursday morning in full hockey attire — helmet, pads, gloves, stick and in-line skates.

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

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