Pirates' minor league call-ups perform well

Rob Biertempfel
| Monday, Aug. 12, 2013, 10:42 p.m.

DENVER — In any of the past 20 seasons, solid outings by Pirates rookies such as Vic Black, Brandon Cumpton and Tony Sanchez would have counted as little more than on-the-job training.

This year, however, is different. The Pirates have counted on clutch plays and spot starts from unexpected sources, even while posting one of the best records in the majors,

“It's something special,” Black said. “To be a part of that ... it's nerve-racking, but it also gets the blood pumping a little bit more than normal. It's an important time in Pirates history, so to be considered a valuable asset and someone who can help out is something I take great pride in.”

Black was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis to help round out the bullpen while Jared Hughes recovered from a shoulder injury. Black was with the Pirates for a short time and pitched four innings.

It wasn't a shock that Black got a chance to pitch in the majors. He's on the 40-man roster and was impressive during spring training. Black might've been called up sooner if not for an oblique injury that shut him down in late May.

Cumpton's arrival, was surprising. He was not on the 40-man roster at the start of the season and made only a handful of starts for Indy before being called up to make a spot start June 15.

“Coming out of spring, I think he was 13th on our starting pitcher depth chart,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “You trust the people who you work with, and they've been confident about Brandon's improvement since he joined us.”

Cumpton got a no-decision in his debut, pitching against the Los Angeles Dodgers in place of injured A.J. Burnett.

On July 30, Cumpton got a spot start in the second game of a doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals and picked up his first victory. The win catapulted the Pirates into first place in the NL Central, and they've been on top since.

“They told me before I went out there this was going to be the biggest game of my life so far,” Cumpton said after holding the Cardinals to three hits in seven innings. “Between each outing, the nerves are starting to settle down a little bit more. It's been easier, but it's still what you dream about. You still have some anxiety.”

Fellow rookie Sanchez was Cumpton's catcher against the Cardinals. Although Sanchez had already played a couple of games in the big leagues — he was the designated hitter twice during a brief call-up in June — the Cardinals game was his first time behind the plate with the Pirates.

“It was unbelievable,” Sanchez said. “I couldn't have asked for a better first night. Do you know how hard it is to sweep a doubleheader against the Cardinals? I'm back there thinking, ‘Well, let's see if my good is good enough.' I don't even care that I went 0 for 3 (at the plate). I caught a shutout and we got a win.”

Sanchez became the seventh Pirates catcher to work a shutout in his first game behind the plate. He said had no trouble fitting in after being called up from the minors.

“We're all pulling for each other,” Sanchez said. “They've welcomed me with open arms, like I'm the newest member of the family. Granted, I'm the runt of the litter; I still feel like I'm part of the family.”

When Sanchez made his first, quick stint with the Pirates in June, Black still was pitching out of Indy's bullpen. Black also watched from afar as Cumpton made his spot starts. Hearing their stories of what it's like in the majors was fuel for Black to get there.

“They come back (to Indy), and you love the fact that they had success,” Black said. “But when they come back, you almost don't want to hear all of it because there's that anxiousness to get there yourself to experience it and taste it.”

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

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