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Mazzaro a relief for Pirates

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Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates reliever Vin Mazzaro pitches against the Phillies on Thursday, July 4, 2013, at PNC Park.

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Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, 11:33 p.m.
 

Vin Mazzaro was excited about the possibility of a fresh start when he was traded from the Kansas City Royals to the Pirates last fall along with Clint Robinson in a deal for a pair of minor league arms.

He was told he would get a chance where the Pirates thought he fit best. After a strong showing in spring training, Mazzaro said he felt he'd earned a spot as a reliever. The Pirates had other plans, however, and the right-hander was one of the last cuts of camp.

Mazzaro wasn't happy, and pitching coach Ray Searage wouldn't want it any other way.

“We want them to be ticked off when we send them down, and he was,” Searage said. “He thought he should have made the club, and that's fine because that lit a fire under him down in Triple-A, and look where he's at now. He's in one of the best bullpens in baseball right now and being a key piece for us, too. Things have a way of working themselves out.”

Mazzaro was promoted April 16 after Chris Leroux was designated for assignment, and the Pirates were in need of fresh arms. Since then, the 26-year-old has become a jack-of-all-trades reliever, capable of pitching an inning in the seventh or multiple innings. He earned his first save July 22 and has a 0.82 ERA when he works more than one inning (33 IP, 3 ER).

Mazzaro pitched two scoreless innings Wednesday for his third straight scoreless appearance (four innings) and got the win in game one of Tuesday's doubleheader to bring his record to 6-2. The six wins match a career-high set in 2010, when he went 6-8 as a starter with Oakland, the team that drafted him in the third round in 2005.

Pitching in relief is still relatively new for Mazzaro. The former starter began to pitch consistently out of the bullpen at the end of 2012 for the first time in his career, he said.

“It was a change, and I kind of went with it,” Mazzaro said. “I embraced it. I feel comfortable now going back-to-back days, and the bounce-back time is pretty good, which is mainly what I was worried about.”

Upset as he was at not making the club out of camp, Mazzaro said he hung in there.

“I went down and kept going, didn't give up on myself, and that's all you can do,” he said. “Just battle and grind it out until you get the call. I just kept fighting and working even harder to get back up here.”

Mazzaro works primarily with a 94 mph sinker and a slider, and Searage said they're working to mix in a changeup more, primarily for when he works multiple innings and faces left-handers.

Now-closer Mark Melancon has been impressed with how well Mazzaro has taken to his role.

“He doesn't get the acknowledgement that he should,” Melancon said. “He's got great life on his fastball, a tremendous slider, and even though he's been a starter, he's really transferred into the bullpen great. He's able to give us multiple innings, go back-to-back nights. He's everything in a reliever that you can really ask for.”

Karen Price is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at kprice@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KarenPrice_Trib.

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